Walking with your child through Anxiety

Struggles with Child Anxiety: Is there really a way through this?

After our first blog entry of the series, I wanted to dive deeper into our family’s journey with anxiety and how we best combat it together. I have a sweet, soft hearted daughter, who can take life too seriously at times. She can err on the side of making others happy at her own expense and gets anxious about things that face her. This child anxiety has shown up at different parts of her development, be it separation anxiety in going to school, fear about monsters at nighttime in her bedroom, or fear about nightmares disrupting her sleep.

1. I Soothed Myself as a Parent

Seeing her develop these fears was so scary for me, because I’ve struggled with anxiety during my life. The last thing that I’ve ever want is for her to struggle the way that I have. And so I teetered on panicking when she started symptomizing and going to the worst case scenario – my daughter has an anxiety disorder and will struggle throughout her lifetime with this. After getting support for myself, I was able to make the switch to believe that I would be able to soothe her and could say to myself, my daughter is anxious at the moment (which is developmentally on par), but I can parent her through this and teach her how to manage these symptoms from early on, and she will be stronger and wiser growing up with learning how to
manage these challenges.

2. I Let Her Emote

She’s such an emotional little girl, and when she would emote and seem so sensitive I would start to worry, going into futuristic thinking. Anxiety always takes us into the past or the future, where we can’t fix anything. It’s important to recognize this and to stay in the present. I took a deep breath and picked her up in these moments. I let her sit on my lap and just held her tight. I’d say something my mom would say to me, “hold me tight and squeeze all the sadness into me”. Eventually her breathing would calm, and I could wipe her eyes. After leaning in, in this way time and time again, I can confidently say that it’s rare that she emotes in this seemingly intense way anymore. She’s learned to regulate herself a lot better. That’s a skill that children learn through experience, through being soothed regularly.

3. We Developed Rituals

We are a Christian family, and so we started making her bedtime predictable, and we set some rituals in place that she could count on. We pray together each evening, I’d make sure that her closet door is closed, and I tickle her back while we sing a song together. Our song is based on Psalm 4:8 and focuses on a God who is soothing and protective. She’s come to rely on doing this every night and I believe that the structure gives her peace and that the touch soothes her nervous system. The skin is the largest organ we have, and skin to skin contact can be an effective way of soothing.

4. We Built Her Confidence

Helping children to be assertive, and especially to have a ‘come back’, is very important in American culture. When her brother teases her, and always had the upper hand because he’s older and therefor more resourceful with his cognitive brain, I have taught her to stand up for herself. For a long time, after a smart comment from him, she’d run to me crying, looking for me to step in and take care of the situation. Instead of always stepping in, I started walking her through ways to deal with him. I’d ask her, “well do you believe what he said? Is it true? If it isn’t, what is true? What should we say back to him”, and we’d brainstorm a number of comebacks. Things like, “Why are you making a big deal about this? You can’t seem to leave me alone? You’re the one who’s being silly”….and so on and so on. Two years later, these come naturally for her and she can hold her own in social situations. She’s still a sensitive, sweet child, but she’s confident and can assert herself when others are giving her a hard time.

5. Finding Her Intuition

We take time for meditation, to slow down and to listen to the spirit/soul/body. When she’s uncertain about what to do, before giving her answers, I’ll ask her what her gut says, and get her to slow down to listen inside. I believe that this vital for a child to learn, that they have an intuition and that it can guide them in life. This is still rather abstract a concept for her, but we keep practicing this.