Having a child with anxiety can feel very lonely. On the surface, everything looks alright. Teachers rave about them. Friends adore them. Relatives and family friends might not see what all the fuss is about. But what people don’t see is the daily struggle before school. The fear that paralyzes them at night. The worries that consume their young mind and prompt them to feel nauseous, nervous and overwhelmed. Every day feels like a battle. A battle your child doesn’t always win. Discover how to empower your child by adjusting your parental role.
What is Your Parental Role?
As a parent, what is your role in this battle? Are you to be a bystander, watching this beast overcome your child? Are you to be a protector, paving a path so your child feels no bumps? Or are you to be a coach, training your child for every battle, gearing them up to win the war?
The Parental Bystander – Will this Role Empower Your Child?
Some parents don’t understand anxiety. They haven’t experienced it and their child’s behavior is foreign to them.
When I met Tom’s parents they were frustrated with his anxiety. He refused to go to sleep. They came in because they felt Tom was not responding to their discipline. “He simply doesn’t listen!” They reported. “He is so stubborn. No matter what we threaten to take away, he still ends up in our bed each night.”
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The Parental Protector – Will this Role Empower Your Child?
In another household, anxiety was being dealt with in a completely different way. Holly started to develop a fear of going to school in sixth grade. She saw someone throw up at school and was sure she was going to throw up one day too. Every day she cried and begged to stay home.
Holly’s parents hated to see her struggle so much. They were constantly making deals. Her mom agreed to come to lunch every day if she would promise to go to school. That worked for a while, but soon that was not enough. After Holly’s mom left after lunch, she started to feel sick. Inevitably she would wind up in the nurse’s office. Soon Holly was unable to make it through the a school day without going home.
When I met Holly, she had not been back to school in over three months. Her parents had finally given into her pleas to be home schooled.
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Empower Your Child – Become the Parental Coach
When I met Tom and Holly’s parents they were both distraught. How were they supposed to help their children? Why was nothing working?
I helped shift their perspective. To beat anxiety, you must understand anxiety. I taught them how to recognize anxiety’s hidden symptoms like irritability and opposition. I taught them about anxiety’s physical symptoms like nausea and the constant fear of throwing up.
They learned how to detect their child’s anxiety themes. Tom’s parents discovered that he was afraid of dying. He went to bed each night convinced that someone was going to break in and kill his family. By the time his parents put him to bed, his heart was racing and he was prepared for battle. No amount of punishment was going to penetrate that fear.
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Holly’s parents learned that she had one of anxiety’s most common themes – fear of throwing up. They learned that her anxiety wants her to avoid. The more she avoided, the more her anxiety grew. They realized by enabling her ability to avoid, her anxiety had grown worse.
Parents Learn to Empower their Child
Tom’s parents were no longer angry at him. His parents wanted to help him, but they needed to learn how. The punishment stopped and they started working on his anxiety.
Tom’s parents learned that Tom worried often, but had kept it to himself. They taught Tom how to defeat his anxious thoughts and stop them from spiraling out of control. Tom became more open about his worries because he felt his parents finally “got” his anxiety. When Tom had an anxious thought his parents helped him work through it.
Tom’s parents set up small anxiety “challenges” where he learned how to face his fears one small step at a time. Tom started to feel empowered and his parents finally felt some hope.
Holly’s parents also learned about anxiety. Her parents stopped trying to figure out why Holly was afraid of throwing up and focused on giving her the tools to defeat it. They started to understand that anxiety doesn’t have to make sense.
Holly’s parents taught Holly that the more she avoided anxiety-producing situations, the stronger her anxiety would get. They taught her how to tackle her anxious thoughts and armed her with techniques to decrease her anxiety.
Holly’s parents also set up anxiety challenges for her. They started off small. She was afraid to eat at restaurants. She was afraid to sleep over at a friend’s house. They tackled these fears one by one. As she got more empowered, she started to feel hopeful that she could go back to school.
How to Empower Your Child
Anxiety can be devastating. As parents, we are often confused about what our role should be. We often haphazardly fall into the bystander or protector role. Anxious children will flourish when their parents take on the coaching role. Fighting anxiety can be a lonely, overwhelming experience. Children need us to train, cheerlead and encourage them throughout their fight. We need to celebrate their victories and pick them up when they are defeated. We can’t fight this fight for them, but we can certainly be by their side.
For a more in-depth look at how to empower your child, sign up for the parenting E-Course How to Teach Your Kids to Crush Anxiety. In this course, taught by a child therapist, you will be given a complete blueprint on how anxiety works and what you can do to help your child beat anxiety one skill at a time.
[In this article, names and identifying information have been changed to preserve confidentiality]