Mom's Release

The trials and tribulations of a mom of four great kids!

5 Ways to Help Your Anxious Child

on September 23, 2011

Anxiety…unfortunately, our house is filled with it!  Out of four kids, we have two with current anxiety issues, one *recovered* anxiety-ist, and one who has (so far) been spared the anxious gene.  There is one word I can use to describe parenting anxious children – exhausting!

When our oldest was 4 years old (and after four easy-going, simple years), for no apparent reason, he began having trouble doing things that had been easy for him in the past (birthday parties, swimming lessons, going to a friend’s house).   The poor guy struggled for about a year before starting school, until it really came to a peak when he flat out refused to go to school.  He actually went so far as to run out the door and up the street, heading for home.  Absolutely no amount of coaxing (and by that I mean both bribing AND/OR threatening!) worked to change his mind. At this point, we realized we weren’t equipped to deal with this on our own, so we sought help at our local children’s hospital mental health department – amazing folks and after a very short time (3 sessions!), our son was off to school, armed with several strategies he could use to help him deal with his anxiety and worries.  Problem solved.

Fast forward 7 years – our oldest daughter (now 11 years old), who is incredibly social and not afraid to talk to anyone(!),  suddenly started to become super-sensitive to physical sensations (heart racing, sudden increase in body temperature, etc) she’s feeling in certain situations.  This heightened sensitivity started to bring on panic attacks out of the blue and as a result, she started balking on activities and events that had always brought her much enjoyment and happiness.  Because of what we went through with our oldest, we felt we were pretty well-skilled regarding how to deal with an anxious child, but also found that the tools and strategies we used for a 4 year old weren’t necessarily transferable to a  pre-teen…so back we go in search of help from the local children’s hospital mental health department!  We’re now participating in a parent/child group session program aimed at helping anxious pre-teens get through their everyday lives just like everyone else.

In our quest to help our kids get through this, there are several key things we’ve learned – here are five of what we consider to be the most important:

1. Don’t be afraid to seek outside help – and by that, I mean outside of all of the “experts” in your extended family and friends (because there will be no shortage of folks you know who want to pass on their “expert” opinion!).  Anxiety issues that are causing your child to want to avoid (key word) situations and/or are starting to interfere with your child’s everyday life can potentially lead to more serious issues as they get older.  There are so many child psychologists who are real experts in the field – find one!  It works!

2. Read as much as you can on the subject – there are so many great books available and it really does help to see things in writing. Our favorite is Keys to Parenting Your Anxious Child, by M.D., Katharine Manassis

3.  Be supportive – recognize any successes your child achieves (no matter how small they might be), help your child by being consistent with your expectations (don’t tell them they have to go to school one day and then tell them it’s okay to stay home the next), and reinforce the tools and strategies they learn along the way.

4. Try to be patient – this may sound easy, but I can honestly say this can be a very difficult point to remember.  Dealing with an anxious child (or children) is very exhausting and can sometimes seem impossible.  It will try your patience and sometimes feel like the frustrations associated with it will never end, but try to remember how very real the fears/feelings are to your child and how difficult it must be for a young person to try and sort through them.  Try counting to ten when you feel like you can’t take anymore!

5. Hang in there…your kids are so worth it!

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