“Childhood Anxiety is treatable, but 80 percent of kids with a diagnosable anxiety disorder are not getting treatment, according to the 2015 Child Mind Institute Children’s Mental Health Report.
Anxiety is a normal part of childhood, and every child goes through phases. A phase is temporary and usually harmless. But children who suffer from an anxiety disorder experience fear, nervousness, and shyness, and they start to avoid places and activities.” (1)
Make Childhood Anxiety a Separate Entity
When working with anxious children we must always be creative and flexible, because anxiety is like a child running around in a store. The more you feed into the behavior the worse the outcome. Yell at a child and he or she will yell back. However, if you try to have your child avoid an anxiety provoking experience altogether, the anxiety will scream, “I told you so, you can’t do it.”
Anxiety, fear and worry all need to be put in their place and become a separate entity from your child. Separate the two – your child and the emotion – and the emotion will no longer become a part of him. The anxiety will be easier to shove off to the side. Your child will be able to tell anxiety to get lost.
“Too many times we stand aside and let the waters slip away, till what we put off till tomorrow has now become today. So don’t you sit upon the shoreline and say you’re satisfied. Choose to chance the rapids and dare to dance the tide.” – unknown
A Personal Library of Resources
Over the years, many have suggested books about how to raise my anxious child. Some have been full of wonderful information. Some have helped me to experience those “aha” moments. Others, well – left me slightly confused and feeling a little scared about the future for both my child and myself.
There were books I have mulled through over the course of the years, but at the time, I found that the content wasn’t appropriate for us. All of the strategies were for children older than ours and the concepts were a little out of reach.
With all these books, we created a personal library of resources. Sometimes we need to go back and revisit certain concepts to refresh our thinking. Other times, we pick up a book that was way ahead of where were were and we discover new found clarity or a solution. Let’s face it, sometimes we aren’t ready for the information or we need some time to absorb it all.
Epiphany of Feelings
When our daughter was 5 years old, she could not properly articulate her reason for being upset. One day through a reddened face, jagged breath and copious amounts of tears, we asked “why the tears?” Our daughter replied, “I don’t know. All I know is that I don’t feel right.”
FANTASTIC! Although it was not the most enlightening explanation of the fear and worry, but it was something. This something allowed our daughter to acknowledge that she didn’t feel right.
From that experience forward, we were able to utilize a happy, sad, or worried worksheet to help both of us understand her emotional state at any point in time. This suggested worksheet came from one of the many books in our personal library of resources. Utilizing this worksheet prior to what I call an “epiphany of feelings” would not have been productive. There is after all, a time and place for everything.
The Concept of Distraction
It happened again. Last week, I headed to my bookshelf. This time, I decided to pick out Your Anxious Child: How Parents and Teachers Can Relieve Anxiety in Children by John S. Dacey and Lisa B. Fiore.
Guess what? The book made so much more sense to me now than it did years ago. The activities are intended for children ages 5 up to 17 and this time, the activities resonated with me.
Your Anxious Child is laid out brilliantly. Each activity provides the target age, the goal and the needed materials. Each activity has easy-to-follow instructions and has recommendations for younger and older children. Some extra information at the beginning and/or end of each exercise is provided to help in attaining a successful goal.
I have to share a favorite specific activity called “Going Under” broken down as follows:
Title: Going Under
Target Age: 5 to 17
Goal: To encourage a state of relaxation and learn how to recreate it in the future.
Instructions: “Begin by asking your child to count backwards, beginning with number seven and ending with number one. As she begins with seven, have her picture a relaxing scene. Also tell her to press the tip of her right thumb against the tips of the middle two fingers of her right hand.”
The Going Under activity leads into the concept of distraction and how “distractions can also calm the nervous system so that she can find a creative solution to her difficulty. Therefore, the sooner in a stressful situation your child implements distraction exercises, the more effective they are likely to be.” (2)
Typical Causes of Childhood Anxiety
Within Your Anxious Child, is a chart of the “Typical Causes of Anxiety of Children at Several Age Levels”. It doesn’t mean that these causes of anxiety are always THE causes for your child. However, the information can be used as a guideline for our children’s fears. Here is an example of the main causes of anxiety for 8 to 9 year old children:
- Personal humiliation
- Failure in school or play
- Being caught in a lie or misdeed
- Being the victim of physical violence
- Parents fighting, separating, or being hurt
The COPE Method
The authors of this resourceful rediscovery work with a concept they refer to as “The COPE Method”. COPE is an acronym for for:
Calming the nervous system
Originating an imaginative plan
Persisting in the face of obstacles and failure
Evaluating and adjusting the plan
This method really does get to the root of dealing with anxiety, worry or fear. This is what we want our children to to be able to do – calm down and have a plan. We want them to learn how to work through the difficulties and change things that don’t work.
My Personal Library Books for Me, the Parent
While I have quite the collection of resources in my personal library, below are some of my favorites.
Keys to Parenting Your Anxious Child by Katharina Manassis
School Phobia Panic Attacks by Marianna Csoti
My Personal Library Books for My Daughter
What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety by Dawn Huebner, Ph.D.,
Hole in One a Tale from the Iris the Dragon Series by Gayle Grass
The Worrywarts by Pamela Duncan Edwards
All I want for my daughter is to dance with the tide and enjoy life. I don’t want her to sit on the sidelines afraid to be the wonderful, spirited, and imaginative child that she truly is.
It is my hope, that you already have started your personal library of resources. If Your Anxious Child is not in your library already, I hope you add it soon. I hope that the many ideas inside will provide tools for your child’s “toolbox”. With these tools, I hope your child can dance with the tide, especially when everyone is watching.
(1) “Children and Teens.” ADAA. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Feb. 2016.
(2) Dacey, John, Lisa B. Fiore, and G. T. Ladd. Your Anxious Child: How Parents and Teachers Can Relieve Anxiety in Children. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2002. Print.