How to Calm Your Anxious Child
Do You have an anxious child?
Parents today are overwhelmed with worry.
One worry a lot of my clients tell me they have is how anxious their child is. Almost all of these clients are seriously considering appointments with an occupational therapist, talk or play therapists, a psychologist for psychological evaluation, a psychiatrist for medication, etc. for their child’s anxiety problems.
As a certified parent coach, former teacher, and seasoned mom, I help moms respond to their anxious children whether their child has an anxiety disorder or not. Sometimes, some simple changes in parenting can calm things down so significantly that the parents can help their child self-soothe in a healthy way.
What is anxiety?
Effective parenting includes understanding what anxiety is. I teach my clients that anxiety mimics the stress response.
This stress response is hardwired into our nervous system. This is a good thing! It protects us. You may be familiar with the “fight-or-flight” response? Well, it’s a physical reaction to threats, that can save our lives.
Anxiety, mimicking the stress response, makes us feel like there’s an emergency when there isn’t one.
Children get anxious as a rational response to perceived threats, just like adults do. And when they do, their little bodies are flooded with chemicals that make it hard for them to think clearly. This can become difficult for them to hear and understand an adult’s reassuring words.
When your child is feeling anxious, in his mind, he is actually saying,
“Mom, I can hear the words you’re saying but my mind is telling me the opposite. You say that it's going to be okay but my brain and body are telling me that it’s not going to be okay! My heart is beating so fast, and I feel all sweaty. These feelings make me more nervous, and then my tummy hurts, and all I want to do is go home. I want to feel better, but it’s like my body is overruling your words.”
What’s a parent to do?
Respond to your child’s nervous system rather than trying to talk him out of his feelings.
Science tells us that five minutes of deep breathing can change us physiologically. And it only takes one minute to start to feel the calming effects of taking a few slow, deep breaths.
The next time your child is upset with anxiety, worried, or stressed, practice some deep breathing with him. This can take his mind and body from the fight-or-flight response to the “rest-and-digest” mode (and calm you, too).
THEN you can have a conversation about feelings, what to do next, and how to feel better.