Pumping the Breaks on your Child's Revving Engine of Anxiety.
Updated: Jul 24, 2019
The experience of anxiety is a normal and necessary part of life. However, an anxiety disorder is a persistent feeling of worry that does not go away and gets worse over time interfering with daily activities and relationships. For our children the current staggering statistic is that 1 in 3 will suffer some kind of anxiety disorder before reaching adulthood, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. There is a whole host of reasons documented and speculated about why this is happening, but if your child is that one in three what matters most now is how to help them overcome it.
The brain is amazing and is designed to rev up when danger is detected, becoming vigilant and ready to protect us from harm. However, persistent anxiety changes the brain pathways creating a quicker response and sensing danger when there might not be any, heightening anxiety and sending one into a downward spiral of fears. Anxiety disorders is an engine that never stops revving. It's not how it's suppose to work, the brain center that senses danger and helps us too stay safe should be in neutral most of the time.
Innately parents are their children's protectors. It's instinct to remove or put barriers around what worries them. It's a learned skill and can be difficult to discern when we should allow or push a child to face a fear and when a barrier is necessary. Learning this skill is the key.
Acknowledging the fear/worry/anxiety is the first step, you can do this by telling your child, "I know you are worried, together we will get through this". Building a repertoire of relaxation skills to use proactively is another key component to managing anxiety. Erasing phrases like "don't worry about it" & "it will be okay" from your vocabulary is a must, it can actually make anxiety worse and if that worked you wouldn't be reading this. Now it gets tricky depending on what the anxiety is about. There are many do's and don't that will help. When these tried and true strategies aren't working it's time for a parent to get help for themselves. The support of a social worker, professional counselor, or psychologist will help you to navigate through complicated decision making. You will also learn the skill of how to sit with the uncomfortable feeling of watching your child struggle in their effort to work through and overcome her/his anxieties which is the most essential component. If you can't sit with that discomfort, how is your child going to?