You hate to see your kid in distress. When your child is anxious, as the parent, you want to soothe them. While this behavior might be innocent at first, it can snowball. You might find yourself limiting their growth down the road. If you’re the parent to a child with chronic anxiety, learning to help them manage stress on their own will prepare them for emotional regulation as an adult.
What does anxiety look like in children?
Children aren’t immune to developing anxiety—kids these days are under a lot of pressure. They’ve been living through a worldwide pandemic while adapting to a new educational landscape. They might worry about deadlines at school, important exams, disagreements with friends, and family issues.
While occasional anxiety is normal, there are several symptoms of persistent or chronic anxiety. These symptoms can include:
- excessive worrying
- extreme fears
- racing thoughts
- difficulty concentrating
- having a sense of impending doom
- increased heart rate
- gastrointestinal issues
- other persistent illnesses
What does enabling look like?
Enabling usually starts out as accommodating. Maybe your kid was so worried about a math test they hadn’t studied for that you let them stay home from school that day. In that moment, you were accommodating and soothing their anxiety. Suddenly, they had more time to study and pass the test.
While this one-off situation might not be a problem, when this type of accommodation becomes your go-to, your child will start to expect it. They’ll see any moment of anxiety as a reason to stay home rather than preparing for tough tasks ahead of time. Enabling your child’s anxiety means you’re not teaching them independence and self-reliance. Ask yourself:
- Do you go out of your way to make sure your child is never uncomfortable?
- Do you stop them from taking minor risks?
- Do you change your rules and expectations based on how your child is feeling?
If you answered yes to these questions, here are some ways you can support rather than enable.
Stick to a script
Instead of changing your expectations depending on how anxious your child is, develop a set of rules to always fall back on. For example, stick to a schedule that they shouldn’t deviate from unless it’s an emergency.
This script can also include things like positive reinforcement when your child overcomes their stress and house rules that create a family structure. Anxiety thrives in chaos, so when you have a set of rules to live by, you’re helping your child.
Model healthy coping mechanisms
Children learn by observing the adults around them. If your life is also ruled by your anxiety, your kid will model that for themselves. Instead, show them healthy coping mechanisms and good emotional regulation. Take up a hobby, start a new exercise class, and go for walks when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Show them that anger, frustration, and distress can be handled with foresight and calm.
Make home a safe space
When your child is feeling anxious, they should have a place where they can go to feel secure and in control. Keep your home accommodating to their emotions. Providing comforting items such as self-care kits, warm blankets, your kid’s favorite snack, and anything else they take joy in will help when they’re in distress. Having fun, calming things to turn to can ease their mind.
Get them professional help
Being a supportive parent means recognizing your child’s anxiety and giving them the tools to overcome it. They won’t have you around forever. Sessions with a licensed therapist can provide them insight into their own feelings and why they respond the way they do. A counselor can teach your child how to emotionally regulate and become more mindful.