As parents, we have a natural tendency to reach out to our children when they are anxious, scared, or stressed. What none of us can anticipate is how our children’s anxiety will cause us to feel anxious, helpless, hopeless, angry, or desperate. The next time your child is ridden with anxiety, repeat any of these phrases. You will be surprised that your child will likely mirror your reaction.
1. This too shall pass. Like all emotions, anxiety will pass. Our bodies cannot physiologically maintain the heightened level of awareness caused by anxiety for very long. Chances are that waiting ten to fifteen minutes will result in a change in anxiety levels.
2. Anxiety serves a purpose. Oftentimes we treat anxiety like there is something wrong with our child. In fact, anxiety serves an important biological function to keep us safe. Teaching your child to differentiate between anxiety that will help and anxiety that will hinder her/him is a valuable life skill.
3. Breathe. Deep breathing actually reverses the body’s stress response. When we are anxious, we tend to take shallow breaths. Taking three conscious, deep breaths will alleviate much of our anxiety.
4. We are on the same team. Have you ever watched two basketball players going for a rebound, fighting each other tooth and nail, only to realize they are on the same team? Remember, you and your child are on the same team and have the same goals.
5. I am my child’s guide. Remind yourself that your role is not to control the challenges your child will face but rather to be her/his guide through the experiences.
6. Observe. Observe. Observe. Instead of “doing something,” simply observe what is happening like an outsider. See if there are commonalities in your observations. By identifying triggers, you can help your child cope with them, thereby limiting your own sense of helplessness.
7. The only way to get across this swift, deep river is to go through it. Allow your own feelings, even if they are dark, to arise and pass. If this experience is like a river, it means there is also a riverbank waiting for you.
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8. Stick to the routine. Anxious children thrive on predictability. You may not be able to do anything about the trigger, but you can reinforce the routine. Bedtime, family rituals, and morning routines center our children, better preparing them for the outside world.
9. Meditate. At our darkest moments, hope is rekindled simply by taking the time to be still and focus on our breath for a few moments.
10. Help is available. Hopelessness usually means you have exhausted your ability to deal with your child’s anxiety. Having another set of eyes on the situation may make all the difference in the world. Whether a professional counselor, a relative, or another trusted adult, turn to those in your child’s circle for help.
11. My child’s anxiety is not a reflection of my parenting. Stop questioning whether you should or could have done something differently with your child. Focus rather on what you can do as their guide through their challenges.
12. What would make my child laugh right now? Whether it’s a funny noise, a silly story, or singing the wrong words to a favorite song, laughter is the fastest way to make you both feel better.
13. I’m going to take a break. It’s okay to take five minutes of quiet time or put yourself in a place to reconnect with yourself when you are feeling angry. Not only are you modeling appropriate behavior, but you also have a chance to take a few breaths and remind yourself of a few of these phrases.
14. I love you. I’m here for you. Your children will experience stress that they cannot control. They will receive an injection, perform in front of an audience, and face challenges. Reminding them that you love them and are here for them is reassuring, not just for them but for you as well.
15. In this moment, right now, what can I do to reboot my well-being? Some days it will be getting ice cream; others it will be going for a run. Whatever it is, make a long list for yourself that you can reference when you need it.
16. She/he does not know how to deal with this. Frustration over our children’s anxiety can sometimes result from forgetting that they are trying to learn how to navigate a world of unknowns. Regardless whether their fear is rational, or of how many times you have been through this, ask yourself how you can be their guide.
17. I am on a beach. There is a reason why guided imagery is used during labor and delivery to reduce pain. It works! Imagine yourself in a soothing, happy place before you speak.
18. I am the adult. Simply remind yourself that you are the adult; you have the power to remain calm and provide heart-centered advice to de-escalate an anxious situation.
19. My job is to help my child become a functioning adult. When you put it into perspective, you must teach your child how to acknowledge, reduce, and wade through anxiety if she/he is to be a functioning adult. Suddenly, when your anxious child is crying about going to school, you can approach the problem as just that—a problem to be solved.
20. I have control over my reaction. Ultimately, the only person you can control is you. Govern your feelings, control your reactions, and then help your child learn to do the same. You can teach your child the art of emotional self-regulation by modeling it.
21. Progress is never linear. Coping with anxiety is not a linear process. It takes time and practice for you and your child. Don’t assume you are at square one when you experience a setback.
22. I’m doing the best I can. In this moment, with the tools you have, you are doing the very best you can. Some days your reaction to your child’s anxiety may be cool, calm, collected, empathetic, and thoughtful—on other days, perhaps not as much. We are all a work in progress, and you are doing the best you can.