Parenting is hard. Parenting a child with anxiety is particularly challenging. At times, it may feel like your family has been taken hostage by your child’s anxiety. Things to remember:
Support your child, not their anxiety:
Parents have a tendency to gradually accommodate their child’s anxiety. For instance, if a child is worried that a door or window will be left unlocked a parent may repeatedly check the door to reassure the child that it is locked. If a child has contamination concerns, a parent may engage in cleaning compulsions or allow the child to avoid interacting with feared substances (e.g., taking out the trash). It is understandable for a parent to want to protect their child from uncomfortable situations. However, this response is not helping the child. In fact, it is promoting the child’s anxiety and essentially modeling to the child that they can’t handle the situation. You have to confront anxiety provoking situations in order to overcome it.
Do not punish children for their anxiety:
Children are not thinking rationally when they are anxious. If a child is in a state of panic, speak in a clam slow voice. Do not engage in a conversation at this time, if at all possible. Do not try to get your child to agree with you about the anxiety provoking situation. You will not be able to convince them of anything when they are actively panicking. If possible, give your child space to cool down. It is appropriate to give natural consequences for misbehavior, but children should not be punished for having emotions. If a child hits someone or destroys something natural consequences may include writing an apology, doing an act of kindness, repairing or replacing something that was broken, etc. Do not threaten or discuss consequences for misbehavior when your child is anxious. These discussions should occur once the child has cooled down. Discussing this while your child is anxious will escalate the situation.
Confront, do not avoid:
A child with anxiety will fiercely avoid what they fear. This may mean not going somewhere, not engaging in certain activities, not talking to someone, not going to school, etc. Anxiety can derail a family’s plans. The solution? Do it anyway. Model coping. Support your child. Validate their emotions without accommodating the anxiety. Remember, anxiety is a temporary discomfort not a danger. High levels of anxiety typically begin to dissipate in about 30 minutes. A qualified mental health provider can help your child learn healthy coping skills for managing discomfort and reframing anxious thoughts.
Remember to balance your attention among all your children (if applicable). Also be sure to take time for yourself and with your partner.
Do not let anxiety dictate how your family functions or how you interact with your child. Reach out to a qualified mental health provider today for additional support parenting a child with anxiety.