How many of you have had “that” morning with your kiddo - one where they don’t want to go to school because “my tummy hurts”? You stay calm and reassuring at first, but as things escalate, frustrations set in and you end up getting angry. You rush them out the door or into whatever activity inducing their self-proclaimed tummy issues. You feel terrible and defeated, right? We have all been there!
Did you know that 40 million Americans suffer from anxiety, including 1 in 8 children?
On top of the regular anxiety we face, in March 2020, words like “fear” and “worry” surged in the Google searches online.
Anxiety is not a one-size-fits-all with respect to its signs and symptoms, or its treatment. Let’s talk about a few simple things you can try for yourself and your child in the midst of worry and anxiety:
Stop reassuring your child
Your child worries. You know there is nothing to worry about, so you may say things like “trust me” or “there is nothing to worry about.” We all wish it was that simple. Why does this fall onto deaf ears?
It’s not actually the ears that are not listening, but the brain itself. During periods of anxiety, there is a dump of chemicals into the brain throwing it into survival mode. The prefrontal cortex, or the more logical part of the brain, is put on hold while the more automated, emotional brain takes over. When this happens, you can’t think clearly, use logic, or remember basic tasks. Therefore, rationalizing worry away may not be as effective.
FREEZE: Pause, take a deep breath, reverse the autonomic nervous system, and send O2 to the brain.
EMPATHIZE: Anxiety is scary. Your child wants to know that you get it!
EVALUATE: Once your child calms down, it is time to figure out possible solutions.
LET GO: Let go of your guilt. You are an amazing parent working to give your child the tools necessary to manage their anxiety!
Be a Thought Detective
Remember: Worry is the brain's way to protect us from danger, so we must evaluate what “danger” is really happening and move distorted thinking toward positive, more accurate thinking.
Ask yourself: What are my concerns? Is the concern likely to happen, a remote possibility, or an impossibility?
Then, ask yourself: If it did happen, what would be the worst possible outcome? The best? The most likely?
If it’s likely to happen and a problem, is there something you can do about it?
If so, what are your options?
After thinking through these questions, you can move on to choose your course of action.
Allow Worry Time
Instead of saying “don’t worry about it" or "forget it,” do something with it! Limiting worry time can be helpful and healthy.
Create a “worry jar” to put all your worries into after writing them down.
Allow yourself to have “worry time” each day for a pre-set amount of time.
Stop Avoiding Everything that Causes Anxiety
Disable not enable: Avoidance makes anxiety worse. A little bit of exposure in small amounts, along with remembering the good parts of how a situation went or felt, encourages the behavior or activity. Set mini goals and work your way there!
Make a Worry-Free Coping Card
"I am a good problem solver, so when I am ready, or it is necessary to face the problem, I have the skills to face it."
"I don’t need to figure out everything ahead of time. It’s ok to not have it all figured out."
Jot these phrases down on post-its to keep around as reminders. To see it and to say it is to believe it!
Having a child with anxiety can be painful, frustrating and confusing. DO NOT blame yourself. You are a GOOD parent and you are not alone!
If you need any additional support or information feel free to reach out to District Social Worker, Leslie Hamman, MSW, LSW at firstname.lastname@example.org