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When I was first naming this post I almost called it “tips for dealing with kids with anxiety” and while there is truth in that, I don’t want to “deal with” my kids or their anxieties, I want to help them succeed.
I asked on my Instagram stories last week if anyone else has children with anxiety because sometimes it can feel like a lonely place, but man, I was blown away by the responses I got. It turns out there are a lot of children living with anxiety and a lot of amazing parents trying to help them through it.
It really hasn’t been that long that I realized what Raeca was feeling was anxiety and not outright defiance (well, usually). She is a very smart and perceptive girl, two great qualities but ones that also make her more prone to anxiety. She is aware of how things could go wrong in life because she thinks things through while some other kids (cough her brother cough) go through childhood a little more oblivious to life and are therefore more carefree.
Recognizing that what she was going through was anxiety was a huge step, it has helped me to be more compassionate and try to find different ways to help her.
I know anxiety can pop up at any time and is different for every child but for Raeca new experiences, being the center of attention and bedtime are big anxiety triggers for her. Out of all of those times I find the sleep issues the hardest one, because she gets anxious about not falling asleep and therefore can’t fall asleep. It’s a hard cycle (and one that comes around every day).
I think there are times where it is possible to avoid anxiety triggers for awhile and see if it is something kids will grow out of but often they are just something you need to work through as a family, because I don’t know about you but I know we all need to sleep in this house!
We’ve gone through periods where it has taken Raeca over two hours to fall asleep because she is so anxious. Lately she has usually been falling asleep in less than half an hour because we’ve found a few different ways to work through her anxieties at bedtime.
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HOW TO HELP YOUR ANXIOUS CHILD SUCCEED
We all want to do our best as parents and when a child is having a large amount of anxiety I find it can be easy to get down on myself and feel like I’ve failed my child in some way.
REMAIN CALM YOURSELF AND BE REASSURING
One of the worst things you can do is getting visibly worked up, either anxious yourself or frustrated that you child is yet again anxious, believe me, I’ve learned this the hard way many a time.
I’ve found that when her anxieties start to creep in things turn out best if I make sure to speak in a calm and soothing manner. Because a lot of her anxieties come at bed time I make sure to let her know that I will come back and check her in about 15 minutes and tell her that it’s okay if she is not sleeping by then, I just want to relax. These days when I go and check her after 15 minutes she is generally still awake but groggy. She will often mumble something about never being able to fall asleep and I just rub her back and reassure her that she is doing a great job and I’ll come back and check her in a bit. Then the next time I come back she has fallen asleep.
Previously I’ve tried to reason with Raeca and explain why her anxiety is unfounded (“have you ever not fallen asleep and were awake all night?” “it will be okay, the dog just wants to smell you, he’s so old he can barely walk, he doesn’t want to hurt you.”) but when a child is already anxious reasoning doesn’t usually work. Often they know their anxiety is extreme but they honestly can’t do anything about that.
I try to remember that as hard as it is for me to work with a child with anxiety, it’s much harder to be that child.
GIVE A HUG
This goes hand-in-hand with being reassuring but I think it is important enough to have it’s own category.
I think that knowing the love languages of your children is as great benefit and all parents should make an effort to do so, but even if your child’s love language isn’t physical touch they still need and appreciate hugs and other forms of parental physical affection (high five, pat on the back, holding their hand, etc).
If a child is having a particularly anxious moment a simple hug can go a long way. Though, depending on the age of your child if you are in a public setting you may want to ask if you can hug them before doing so in order to avoid even more anxiety by hugging your pre-teen in front of their friends.
Journaling is therapeutic and a great way to help relieve anxiety. You can give a child a blank journal and let them write whatever they want, brain dump style to get out all the thoughts in their mind.
Or if a child wants you could use it as a book you pass between each other, each taking turns to write notes. They could write the anxieties they are feeling and you could write notes of encouragement back to them.
If they are stuck and don’t know what to write about you could give them some prompts, such as:
- I usually worry when . . .
- I’m scared about ________ because _______________
- A list of things that help calm me down when I get anxious or worried
Even kids who can’t write yet (or don’t feel like writing) can share their anxieties on paper by drawing instead of writing.
Why is it the most useful tool is often the hardest one to remember? I have friends that are great at defaulting to prayer and while I am striving for that to be the case in my life it definitely isn’t yet. So, it is something I am working on for myself and at the same time trying to teach my children the same.
While we pray for help with anxiety almost every evening it is something we are trying to pray about at anxiety levels rise as well. At this point it usually involves me praying because she is too anxious to be able to do so but I am hoping this practice will help her when she is older and she will default to prayer when feeling anxious.
The Bible is the perfect place to turn! I have a tendency to pick out memory verses for my kids that pertain to areas they are struggling with and anxiety and worry is no different.
It often surprises me when I am looking for verses on this topic how many there actually are. Obviously worry is something that God knew we would be dealing with.
The benefit of memorizing verses can be helpful when praying as well, you can pray the verses by inserting your child’s name into them when they are particularly anxious. For example, “please help Raeca to cast all her anxiety on You because You care for her.” (from 1 Peter 5:7)
I have made some memory verse cards for us that you can feel free to use as well, they are in 4×6 format so you can get them printed as photos and put them in picture frames or leave them lying around as reminders. Eventually I would like to make some bigger ones and put them up as posters in Raeca’s room.
GET A PET
I’ve been doing a lot of reading about pets and anxiety in the last while and we made the decision to take the plunge and give it a try by getting a kitten. Funnily enough, other people’s dogs and cats actually raise Raeca’s anxiety levels but I am hoping by her getting used to one at home that will help reduce those particular anxieties while we are out.
Pets are also supposed to reduce stress levels and raise happiness levels. Raeca was not our only reason for getting a kitten but it was part of it.
CHANGE THEIR DIET
I know this is one some people will think is a little hokey, to be honest, a few years ago I would have been one of those people. While changing their diet won’t work for every kid I know it has worked for a lot and it’s an easy change so why not give it a try?
The biggest food trigger for Raeca is gluten (you can check out my post about signs and symptoms of gluten intolerance in children) but I also know that certain dyes and sugar are big triggers for a lot of other kids as well. It does take awhile for a lot of these foods to completely leave a child’s system so you need to keep them off for awhile to see if it will actually make a difference.
We do still allow Raeca to have some amounts of gluten when we are out because it is hard for a seven year old to miss out on certain foods when she sees all her friends eating them but we eat gluten free at home (also because Jared has celiac disease) and we definitely notice a difference in her mood when she has had gluten, she doesn’t even act like the same child.
ASK YOUR CHILD
If you child is old enough, have discussions about what helps calm them down, they may think of things that you hadn’t noticed. When I’ve asked Raeca in the past she always says that me speaking in a calm voice really helps and so does taking a few minutes to color with her (if that’s possible in the situation).
Taking a few minutes to ask them what helps them feel calm may add a few more resources to your arsenal.
Whew! That was a long post! If you have a child with anxiety and have some additional tips or want to share anything about it, please leave a comment below! It can be so helpful knowing you aren’t on this journey alone!