If you are reading this post, you may have at one point worried about your child's level of anxiety. But what is Anxiety? And how can YOU, the parent, help deescalate this feeling?
Anxiety is a feeling that everyone experiences, and for some, may even help function well in difficult times. It’s a normal emotion that many feel when they are faced with nervous situations, such as taking a test, before an interview or even when making an important decision, and often presents as nervousness, worry or fear.
When faced with danger or a threat, anxiety acts as an alarm system to keep you from harm. It triggers your “fight or flight” response.
Children naturally have many more fears than most adults, although most fears eventually go away as they grow. When evaluating your child’s anxiety, it is important to keep in mind the age appropriateness of their emotional response.
Carolyn Webster-Stratton, Ph.D., from University of Washington, wrote a great article called, “Helping Children Learn to RegulateTheir Emotions”. This article explains and provides tools for parents to help their children learn to control anxiety in an effect and age appropriate way.
In summary, Carolyn explains many steps a parent can take to support their little one if they notice a heightened level of anxiety. These are nine of the twelve points that stuck out for me:
1. Provide as much stability and consistency as possible.
a. i.e. consistent limit setting, clear household rules, predictable routines & consequences, etc.
2. Accept your child’s emotions and emotional responses.
a. While emotional responses can be draining, your patience and acceptance are crucial factors in your child learning to cope with his/her emotional responses.
3. Talk about your own feelings.
a. Children learn from what their parent’s model. Your children will be less likely to resort to behavioral expressions of negative emotions if they see you use language to express your own emotional state.
4. Encourage children to talk about feelings – avoid directives about feels.
a. Avoid saying, “Don’t be sad,” or “You shouldn’t be angry about that.” Instead, try saying, “I see you are said about that: Can you tell me what happened?”
5. Model appropriate emotional regulation.
a. Similar to 3, it is important to model the behavior you expect your child to exhibit. Rather than exploding or using swear words to express yourself, you can say, “I feel disappointed that this is not going my way. I need to take a break.”
6. Teach your child positive self-talk.
a. Rather than saying, “I can’t do it,” or “I’m going to lose it!”, say “I can do it,” and “I can calm myself down.”
7. Identify triggering events and use them to teach problem-solving.
a. You want to teach your child to generate several possible solutions to a problem. This will give them confidence if/when they are triggered.
8. Use a Time Out for inappropriate emotional angry outburst.
a. Yelling at your child for misbehaving or giving in to your child’s emotional outbursts actually increases the likelihood they will continue in the future. Using a Time Out .
9. Praise your child’s efforts to regulate their emotions.
a. “I am really proud of you for working hard even when it was difficult.”
b. “That was great. You calmed yourself down.”
Additionally, I would add:
1. Use the “Size of the Problem” chart to identify appropriate level of response. – (see “Size of the Problem” post for more info.)
2. Create a “Worry Box” at home where your child can write down a “worry” or nervous feeling that can be left in the box.
a. I explain to students that when they have big nervous or worried feelings, they can write down or draw the feeling, then leave it in my worry box for me to hold on to. This way, they will not carry the feeling with them all day. I welcome them to come take it back at the end of the day if they feel they need it, but that I will keep it safe in my box for the day. (They almost never come back for the feelings). Having a worry box at home is a great tool for communication with you and your child. You can ask your child to write or draw when they have feelings they either don’t want to have or that they would like to talk about with you later.
3. Establish a safe zone at home such as a “Cool Down Corner” with tools where your child may defuse. Here are some helpful tools to keep in your corner.
a. Size of the Problem chart and/or Zones of Regulation poster.
b. Cool Down Tool Box
c. Lazy 8 Breathing
f. Pen & Paper – I even encourage using Mr. Sketch markers because they smell yummy and encourage students to take a deep breath when they smell the marker.
Or any cool down strategies or tools that work best for your family.
Mastering cool down techniques for anxiety takes time, especially for children. Keep in mind that anxiety is a normal and healthy feeling. If the feeling is not impacting your child’s daily functioning, do not see the behavior as a red flag.
In our school district, we are lucky to have a highly educated and dedicated staff of teachers who use amazing tools in their classes that help your children perform at their highest level. If you ever have concerns regarding your child’s anxiety, please do not hesitate to reach out to their teacher for support.
As an endnote, please keep in mind the time of year when evaluating your child’s level of anxiety. With the holidays around the corner, we will naturally see a heightened level of feelings, especially anxiety. Keep a few strategies in your back pocket and know that, not only is your child normal for feeling anxious, but you are normal for feeling overwhelmed!
On that note, happiest of Holidays to all of you! And when times are not so happy, remember to take a deep breath in….and now out.
Best to you all!