Parenting an Anxious Child can seem like a daunting task. Many parents bring their children to therapy who are struggling with anxiety or mood swings. This is a great first step! Very often, children with Anxiety or Depression are dealing with a difficult transition, an illness, or are having a school issue. As a result, children will experience challenges with mood management or accepting typical family routines.
Many parents feel like they are at a loss for how to support their child while they are going through this. It can feel like a battle between you and your child to figure out how to make it better. No matter what age or issues your child is experiencing, here are some basic go-to strategies to utilize that will increase your confidence in handling difficult situations.
Reduce Reactivity – This strategy will give you the biggest bang for your buck. It is the most challenging strategy as a parent, but absolutely the most effective. If your child is showing signs of distress: crying, arguing, refusing to talk or carry basic tasks, it is very helpful to REMAIN CALM and try not to engage in a debate about what it is they are upset about. Trying to yell louder or convince your child that they are wrong or that the situation is not so bad will translate into you don’t understand them. Instead, take several slow deep breaths (inhale 4 seconds and exhale 4 seconds) through the nose and out through the mouth while making eye contact with your child. Try to sit down and let them talk, and nod in agreement, even if it may not make much sense in the moment.
Matching- Matching means exactly what is sounds like. Restate what they are expressing to you in a calm, non-judgmental statement, not a question… For example: “You’re afraid you won’t do well on your test tomorrow;” or “It hurts that you didn’t get invited to the party.” Don’t bother saying that you understand. Matching will do that for you. Matching statements make your child feel like you “get” them. Matching also communicates that you are in this together, AND you are staying in control! Don’t worry if they say your matching statement isn’t correct…they will correct it for you and then you match to that.
Empathize – Let your child know that what they feel is real and you can see it from their point of view. “I would probably feel the same way if this was happening to me.” This communicates that their feelings are not strange or weird.
Acknowledge positive changes – Acknowledge ANY effort towards positive change, such as listening to your directives, using their words instead of yelling, or when they utilize the new skills learned in therapy. A big changes occur in very small shifts in their perceptions and coping, over time. Acknowledging when your child makes an effort on even a very small change, will further support their confidence and ease with self-soothing and emotional control.
If you would like to learn more about how to feel safer and get more advice about parenting an anxious child, call Specialized Therapy Associates at 201-488-6678 or check out our website www.specializedtherapy.com