As parents, we would do anything for our kids.
We want them to be happy, carefree, and to love childhood. This is why as parents having a child with anxiety can be so difficult. We want to reason with them, to tell them that their worries are not founded in truths, and that they should just let these worries go. We want to help our children with anxiety know that they are safe and okay.
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If you are parenting a child with anxiety, you may find that logically explaining to your child why they don’t need to be worried isn’t helpful. It might feel like everything you are doing isn’t making a difference.
The research behind this says that during times of anxiety, there is a rapid dump of chemicals that goes into your child’s brain for survival. The prefrontal cortex (the logical part) of your child’s brain gets put on hold, while their emotional brain takes over. Basically, this means is that it is VERY HARD for your child to think logically when they are anxious. This is why, when you are trying to reason with them, nothing seems to stick. They aren’t ignoring you!
Instead of reacting to your child’s worries by saying “that won’t happen” or becoming anxious with them, I want to encourage you to try Nurtured First’s PAUSE method.
When your child tells you they are worried, PAUSE:
Instead of reacting, very calmly tell your child that you hear their concern. Take 5-10 deep breaths together before moving on. A natural reaction for us as parents is to come in and quickly try to fix everything that is going wrong! It makes sense, because we desperately want to help. But until we help calm down the nervous system, none of these attempts at calming will work. Deep breathing has been shown to help calm the nervous system down so they can start thinking clearly again.
Even if you can’t see the logical side behind your child’s worry right now, this worry feels very real to them. Instead of telling them to stop feeling a certain way, acknowledge the emotion that they are feeling. Communicate with them and let them know that you see their worry.
Meet your child where they are at in their worry. Ask them questions like, “Can you help me understand what is bothering you right now?” This will allow you to have a better understanding of why they are worried, so you can move forward in helping them. Don’t ignore or dismiss their worry.
S: Safety and Soothe
Remind your child that they are in a safe place and that they can trust you. With your child, come up with a list of strategies that will help soothe them. These strategies may include: deep breathing, taking a break from the activity, thinking about a happy place… Anything that will help bring your child back to a place of calm!
Join your child to help evaluate the worry, and help them in finding the truth behind their worry. Remind them that thoughts are not facts, and help your child come up with what is true.
Here is an example:
Thought: I’m worried my parents won’t come home.
Truth: My parents always come home, even when I worry they won’t.
The key part of the PAUSE method is that we are joining our kids where they are at, and not forcing our worries or ideas on them. As parents, it is our job to create safe spaces for scary thoughts and situations and be a calm place where our kids can land.
Please keep in mind that this is only one strategy to help children with anxiety, and there are many more out there. If you are concerned about your child please talk to a counsellor who can help you come up with individualized strategies for your kids.
If your child’s anxiety is stressing you out, make sure that you also get support. It is very difficult on a parent, and your mental health is important as well. When you are mentally well, you can best take care of your kids!