Parenting An Anxious Child
Raise your hand if you are parenting an anxious child. Friend, you are not alone. Just recently, I posted the following question to a private Facebook group primarily made up of moms.
If you could solve one major problem that you are currently navigating with your child, what would it be?
The answers to that question revealed a lot of common issues that parents are facing. However, the number one underlying issue these moms were facing? I’ll tell you: parenting an anxious child.
I don’t think this comes as a shock with all that is going on in our world these days.
Whether your child has a formal diagnosis or not, so many of us are parenting at least one anxious child.
So what can we do when we are parenting an anxious child?
Parenting An Anxious Child
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Hope in Numbers?
Knowing that so many of us are parenting an anxious child can actually offer parents hope.
Why should we moms be hopeful when so many children are struggling with childhood anxiety?
Perhaps the one silver lining of parenting an anxious child is that we know that our children are not alone in this.
The more we moms speak up about the need to support our anxious kids, the more awareness.
When we are open with moms and professionals about parenting an anxious child, the more we can work together to best support our kids.
The Demands Of This World Create Greater Anxiety
The reality is that our children (whether or not they have a diagnosis) are bombarded by so much stimulation.
Whether through the demands of school work, social pressures and a world-wide virus, kids are stressed out.
Teen Anxiety & Bible Study
On a Saturday morning, I sat with a group of 9th grade girls from my church. We had just begun a Bible Study about their Identity in Christ.
Many of these sweet girls shared about their stresses at school. As I looked around this table of 7 typical teenage girls, it hit me.
Every single one of them struggled regularly with anxiety.
Friend, we are not the only ones parenting a child with anxiety.
Parenting an anxious child in my own home
I understand how debilitating anxiety can be and how much it can negatively impact life.
Coping with anxiety is hard enough on adults. Pushing through life with anxiety is beyond exhausting.
As our children begin to show signs of debilitating anxiety in greater numbers, we need to take note.
Signs That You Are Parenting An Anxious Child
You may be thinking,
“I am not parenting an anxious child. My child is just disobedient and angry.”
Here is the reality. Anxiety in children does not necessarily present the way we often think.
When children are anxious it can show itself in many ways. If we are not careful, we can exacerbate anxiety. We need to stop to recognize it.
How often do we see…
- A child who is throwing a “temper tantrum”
- The destructive child who cannot keep his hands to himself
- A student who appears to be checked out in class
- Tween girl who is struggling to turn in homework
- Student who bombs a spelling test that they were confident about the night before
- The child who complains of headaches and stomach aches
- A kid who cannot sleep at night
Often in our culture, adults see these types of behaviors as willful. We demand that a difficult behavior stop without finding the root behind it.
“Stop biting your nails. It is a disgusting habit.”
“Keep your hands to yourself or you will lose recess.”
“You are so irresponsible. You forgot to turn in your homework again!”
“Snap out of it! I told you to pay attention!”
These “difficult” behaviors are most often symptoms of fear, shame, embarrassment and anxiety.
Anxiety Needs To Be Released
Because most children do not have the vocabulary to identify what they are feeling, they often act out negatively.
These outward symptoms are simply a reflection of those emotions.
When parenting an anxious child and when we notice these behaviors, we need to pause. Like us, our children experience thoughts and big feelings daily.
We must be intentional to see these painful times as opportunities. We can use these anxiety-driven moments to equip our kids with the tools they need to work through their stress.
4 Simple Tools To Help When Parenting An Anxious Child
Here are 4 of my favorite tools that you can use at home to help your child navigate anxiety well.
These resources support children in their understanding of their own thoughts and feelings.
When we give our children a vocabulary to describe and understand their physical sensations, thoughts and feelings, we give them an incredible advantage.
1. Turn Around
This resource is phenomenal.
Several years ago, my oldest daughter suddenly developed severe separation anxiety. Overnight she became paralyzed with fear and could not leave my side for more than two months.
Because her fear was so intense, we immediately began Christian counseling. It was then that her counselor recommended this program.
This is a 10-day program. Each day includes an audio and workbook component. The story follows a group of children as they attend camp. Each of the characters struggle with some area of anxiety.
Following the audio session, there are workbook exercises for your child to complete. There are written and drawing exercises that help kids label and illustrate their fears in various ways.
The fact that the storyline follows a group of kids who understand anxiety is so beneficial. Children can more easily relate and invest in the strategies provided.
The strategies introduced to the child equip them to combat the thoughts and feelings that lead to anxiety. This gives these kiddos a greater sense of control.
My daughter was 12 years old when she used this set of materials. While she was very apprehensive when she started, she felt relief after the first day. By the end of the ten-day program, she was much better able to combat her anxiety.
Turnaround: Turning Fear into Freedom is recommended for children ages 6-13. I highly recommended it to moms parenting an anxious child.
Praise God that my daughter was quickly diagnosed with PANS (Pediatric Acute-onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome). She was treated and is back to her old self.
If you notice sudden-onset severe anxiety, aggression or OCD-type behaviors, please talk to your child’s doctor. For more about our story with PANS and PANDAS, check out this post.
2. The Zones
When parenting an anxious child, using the Zones of Regulation chart can be incredibly helpful.
The Zones were introduced to me through my son’s developmental pediatrician, Dr. Yasmin Senturias of Atrium Health.
Dr. Senturias has been a godsend to our family as we desperately searched for answers for our son.
The Zones of Regulation materials were developed by Leah Kuypers. She is an Occupational Therapist and has an education background.
She created this resource as a way to help children learn to develop emotional and self-regulation skills.
The materials are often used in schools as well as in mental health settings. The Zones are a visual representation of what a child may be experiencing internally at any moment-in-time.
The Zones of Regulation program contains a simple chart. This chart is made of color bands that represent specific feelings and thoughts. It is especially helpful for young children who learn well with visual cues.
By giving kids a visual representation and vocabulary for emotional states, they are able to move through tough feelings and bring themselves back to a “regulated state.” Using the Zones, you provide your child the ability to release and communicate that which they are feeling.
This is a wonderful childhood anxiety resource.
3. The Iceberg
The Anger Iceberg is a visual tool. It helps children understand the multitude of ways that anger displays itself.
All adults will benefit from understanding that anger and difficult behavior is just a symptom. Anxiety and fear is often the root of anger and rage.
By simply discussing the anger terms, parenting an anxious child will be less intimidating.
Quite frankly, it is important to learn to look behind the your child’s angry behavior. By doing so, you allow your child to release and process the underlying emotions.
If we don’t allow our kids the opportunity to understand and verbalize the stressors inside of them, they will come out eventually. Most often, anxiety and fear will come out in even more destructive ways.
Choose to discuss a few “anger” terms at a time. If your child does not know what a term means, explain it. Share a story from your life that applies to the specific anger word.
Simply engaging in these conversations will deepen connection with your child. This, My Friend, is the best medicine for anxiety. There is power in knowledge and relationship.
4. What to Do…
What to Do When You Worry Too Much by Dawn Huebner
This workbook series is an excellent resource to help children navigate many issues including anxiety, complaining, fear, etc.
It is an entire series based on varying issues that children will face throughout life. It is definitely worth checking out.
Parenting An Anxious Child And Our Kids Identity in Christ
One last thing to note if you are parenting an anxious child.
If you are a Christ-follower, may I encourage you to equip your child with practical knowledge of their identity in Christ?
We often talk to our kids about their identity in Christ and yet we fail (me included) to clearly explain what that means. Confusion just adds to fear, right?
Equip your child to know deeply what it truly means to have an Identity based on what God says and not based on what the world tells them.
Download FREE Identity in Christ Printables. Use them with your kids. Read them aloud daily, discuss them, and pray them over your child.
Friend, let me encourage you. God has chosen each one of us on purpose to raise our kids during this delicate time. You are exactly the right mom for your child even when you don’t do it perfectly.
God doesn’t expect us to do it all perfectly. So give yourself grace to do the best you can to love your child well during these hard seasons.
He is in this with you and He loves your child fiercely.
Would love to hear from you. We are in this together.
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