Supporting Your Anxious Child
Updated: Feb 14
Do you remember the last time you were terrified?
What did you think?
What did you feel?
How did you behave?
Chances are it was a really unpleasant experience that you were desperate to get in control of AND get out of. I ask you to sel
f-reflect for a moment as very often we observe behaviour in our children that appears oppositional, defiant, over the top, out of control - and very often what is underlying this is fear. Terror in fact. The child’s behaviour is simply about trying to get in control of a situation because they are terrified. Their brain is saying “run” and if they can’t run – they will fight. So I ask you, in that moment of terror I asked you to think about above, if I was to ask you to do the very thing that was terrifying you – what sort of response would you give me?
A stressed system does very poorly with added pressure! Think about any animal that is backed into a corner, they are going to fight. This is very rarely a choice, and is always a triggered survival response. The same can be said for the anxious child, they are just doing what they can, with the resources they have, to make themselves feel comfortable and safe. This is why you are experiencing resistance and emotional melt-downs from them, they are not misbehaving, they are trying to survive!
When working with parents of anxious children (or any child actually), I focus first on understanding the child’s behaviour. Behaviour is a tool of communication, and for young children or those with immature emotional skills, this will be the main indication of what they are trying to communicate to us. What is their behaviour trying to communicate to you? With the anxious child it is always “I am frightened”.
So understanding this now makes our jobs as Parents a little easier, because now we know our job is to provide a place of security and comfort to support our child. In doing so we will also be providing a safe base for them to start to learn to emotionally regulate themselves.
So what can you do to help your anxious child?
1. Emotion Coaching
Validation is extremely important as the child is in distress.
Putting more pressure into a wound up system will get you no-where.
Name the child’s feeling to them, let them know you understand, let them know you would feel that way too.
2. Support Emotional Language Development
Help child learn to express their feelings.
Sharing your feelings models the skills they need to learn.
Talking about feelings of characters in books, pictures, friends etc.
3. Help them relax their bodies:
Tightening and releasing their bodies.
Centering and Grounding.
4. Help them problem solve:
Mantra – “every problem has a solution”.
Step by step problem solving.
Pros and Cons. (See our blog on Helping Anxious Children With Decision Making).
5. Help them recognize their thoughts and get control of them:
Red and green thoughts/ helpful and unhelpful thoughts.
Thought challenging e.g. what is the most likely outcome vs best and worst.
All of the skills above take time to learn to master, so the first step is modelling them yourself, and engaging your child in practice. With time, and encouragement, your child will learn to take control of their anxiety, rather than their anxiety driving them to take control of a fearful situation through unhelpful behaviour.
If you would like further support in the above, please feel free to contact us for some Parent Coaching sessions. These can be offered in our rooms or online. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org