How To Soothe Your Child’s Anxiety. Being a parent is the most important job in the world. We want to protect our children and keep them safe from physical and emotional distress. We all have anxiety to a certain degree. When stressful situations come up anxiety can fall off the charts. As adults we sometimes know how to manage it. And when we don’t we find a resource to help. Hopefully that resource is healthy and doesn’t exacerbate it. Anxiety can trigger fight or flight responses that trigger the release of chemicals that ramp up heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure to mobilize the body for action. With that, kids who become anxious may scream, cry, shake, cling, hide, become quiet, be silly, feel sick to their stomach or act out (bad behavior). It can take about a half hour for the body to return to normal.
courtesy Seattle Children’s
As a Marriage and Family Therapist, In those moments, parents tend to try and reason with their kids saying things like “you’ll be fine” “calm down” “be brave” “stop crying.” Sometimes anxiety in children can look like defiance (when they act out) where parents punish them. But none of that is helpful. Until the fight or flight feelings are reduced it is not helpful nor effective to minimize or fix any symptom. What is helpful is to show empathy for how they feel and validate they are not feeling/doing well. “I can see how afraid you are” “it must feel awful to feel scared” “let’s sit it out until you feel better. The last thing you want to tell someone with anxiety is that it’s all in their mind. Not addressing the anxiety creates more anxiety. And for God’s sake don’t rush someone to calm down because your schedule doesn’t permit it.
When my eldest daughter was entering middle school she was excited and nervous at the same time. She had a wonderful time in grade school but didn’t know what to expect in middle school. She went from a private school to public. Anxiety was understandable. On the first day of school she said she had a stomach ache. I said, “it’s understandable if you feel a little scared.” I told her I felt a bit nervous during my first days of school. When she came home she said she had a great day. The next day, same thing. She had a stomach ache. I asked her if she would like to see her pediatrician to rule out anything physical. She said, “let’s wait and see.” I reassured her we would go this week if that’s what she wanted. The pediatrician said there was nothing wrong as I expected but was relieved to know she was ok. I knew she was experiencing anxiety. I asked her how she felt about the new school, new friends, etc. and how she felt about the change. She was pretty good about sharing. With her expressing her feelings and the peppermint antacid we gave her the next morning she felt much relief.
Here are some tips to manage your child’s anxiety:
- Take deep breaths (belly breaths) / meditation
- Show them some empathy
- Talk about what could be upsetting them
- Don’t minimize their feelings
- Insert some humor (laughing can distract and relax muscles while releasing endorphins)
- Develop a plan for prevention (can help to understand and tolerate stress)
These tips can help kids, as well as adults, calm down, regain their sense of safety, and address their anxiety.
As we are still in social distancing mode, I commend parents who are home with their children as some are teacher and parent. Talk about anxiety for both parent and child. It’s important to set limits and put appropriate boundaries in place so all can thrive. This apparent “new normal” is creating much anxiety for all. Don’t push your limits and be good to yourself. If you don’t take care of you, your children suffer the consequences.
Call me at (858) 735-1139 or visit my website at CouplesCounselorSanDiego.com if you need help managing anxiety within your household.