By Karen DeVaney, Director of Children’s Clinical Services
It can make you feel worried and helpless as a parent to see your child experiencing anxiety, or to hear from their school that this is the case. It’s natural to jump into panic or defense mode—but take a deep breath! While the word “anxiety” has become quite loaded, it’s important not to jump to conclusions.
Most children will experience periods of anxiety at some point in their lives. For some children anxiety is truly a clinical matter that requires professional intervention, but there are important steps you can take at home to address anxious behaviors as you determine your child’s needs.
Resist Overindulgence: No parent wants to see their child struggling, and in order to help your child overcome anxious behavior, you may have to tolerate an uncomfortable amount of your own distress.
- Ask Yourself: “Is this a behavior they are developmentally capable of?” If it is, find ways to ease them into it.
- For Example: Say your five-year-old is experiencing anxiety around being alone in the bathroom. Rather than overaccommodating by going in with them, start by standing outside the door or talking to them while they’re in there. As they get more comfortable, you can phase out that extra support, until they are performing the behavior as expected.
- Remember: There is a delicate balance between being validating your child’s experience and overaccommodating their anxiety—which could be counterproductive to progress.
Make Plan A, B, C, and So On. For children who feel anxious about new experiences or environments, it can be helpful to talk through what they might expect and plan for how they’ll respond, especially if things don’t go their way.
- Ask Yourself: “How can I help them feel comfortable without making promises beyond my control?”
- For Example: If your teen is feeling pressure around college acceptances, their entire school experience may suddenly be causing anxious feelings. Talk through the best- and worst-case scenarios with them. “If you don’t get the grade you want on this one test, how will that impact your class grade? What can you do to make sure you still are happy with your overall GPA? What are other strengths you’ll be able to highlight on college applications?”
- Remember: You can’t control your child’s entire world, but you can equip them with strategies to help them react appropriately if something goes wrong.
Seek Support When Needed. While anxiety has become a go-to explanation for all manner of behaviors, for some children, clinical support is necessary.
- Ask Yourself: “Is my child’s behavior consistently disrupting family life? Is my personal life, work life, or happiness suffering as a result?”
- For Example: If you are having to interrupt your day, cancel events, or sacrifice time spent with a partner or other children, it might be time to consider a therapeutic intervention.
- Remember: Your child’s anxiety is not your fault, and it is not your responsibility to support them alone.
At CCY, our clinicians and parent coaches are always here to listen to your concerns, meet with you and your family, and create a plan to help you forward. Reach out to us at any time.