Supporting Our Children in Managing Anxiety, Part 2
SPMS "TRAIN YOUR BRAIN" COUNSELOR
When it comes to managing anxiety, we can never have too many tools in our toolbox. What works for one person, may not work for another. In this article, I’m rounding up some methods I have found helpful in supporting students during times of distress, and I hope some of these can help you in supporting your child.
Identify the Problem
Before we can help our child, it’s important to get clarity on what’s triggering the anxious feeling. Encourage them to be as specific as possible. If there is more than one stressor, have them prioritize what is worrying them, from biggest to smallest worry.
Normalize the Feeling & Empathize
It’s normal to worry when we experience a stressor event. Situations like taking a test, having an argument with your friend, starting the school year, or presenting in front of the class are typical experiences for a middle schooler that can lead to anxiety. We can express empathy and reassure the child that feeling worry about a stressor event is a human response. It is something adults experience, too.
Distinguish Between “False Alarms” & “True Alarms”
Check out the previous article on this topic https://spmspta.com/a-different-take-on-anxiety/
Once you have a grasp on the issue at hand, engage the child in coming up with a plan of action. In
other words, explore what is within their control and what can they do about it. Perhaps it’s studying, asking someone for help with something, or having a difficult conversation. Whatever it is, let them come up with some ideas to address the problem and help them explore the pros and cons of each idea, then have them select an idea or two to implement. More than one action may be needed, but the idea is for the child to identify what they can do about the stressor in order to increase their sense of control over the situation.
Learn to Let Go
Once a plan of action has been identified, there may still be worries left about things outside of their control, for example, what questions are on a test, how someone will respond to a conversation, or who they will sit next to in class. Worrying about things outside of one’s control generally increases one’s sense of anxiety because it’s easy to start making predictions that may or may not occur. Ask the child, “Is this a problem right now?”. If the answer is no, normalize their worry around factors that are not within their control, then ask, “Have we identified a plan of action for what is within your control with regard to this situation?”. If the answer is yes, then it’s time to let go of the rest. If the child expresses continued worry, make sure the problem was clearly identified, normalize the worry, and encourage them to execute their plan to address what is within their control.
Engage in an Uplifting Activity
In order to help your child let go of their worries once they’ve created a plan of action, encourage them to engage in an uplifting activity. Ask them what sort of activities they find fun and uplifting. If the child struggles to come up with activities, come up with a list together. Some common activities could be drawing, listening to music, calling a friend, taking a walk, playing with a pet, or reading a book. The important thing is that the activity is mood-lifting and helps shift their focus to something other than worry.
The way we navigate the stressors of life in front of our children, can be one of the most important ways we teach children how to manage their own anxiety. If your child sees you worried about something, you can tell your child a brief and age-appropriate explanation of the problem, normalize your feeling and let them know that you are working on a plan of action to reduce your stress. Let them see you engage in a mood-lifting activity to shift your focus from the stress. It’s not only okay for children to see the adults in their lives experience anxiety, it’s helpful for them to see them navigate anxious experiences in a healthy way.
If it Persists, Consult with a Professional
Sometimes anxiety can become a chronic issue for a child. When this occurs, it can often be helpful to turn to a professional for consultation and support. You may want to consult with your child’s pediatrician, school counselor, school social worker, or a mental health professional in the community.
Remember that everyone is unique and so is their situation. Problem solving with our child may work one day, while listening, normalizing and empathizing is what our child needs the next time. Though this is not an exhaustive list of tools you can use, I hope that you find this general framework of support helpful. Below are additional resources that can further assist in growing your knowledge around managing your child’s anxiety.
If you have other mental health topics you would like to read about, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thrivers: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine
By: Michele Borba, EdD.