View original article published in Psych Central– Besides being loving and patient, parents need to be brave when their children are anxious. This may be one of the most difficult things you do when you see your kids struggle. In the long run, your courage will be one of the crucial elements in helping your children overcome their anxiety. Listed below are the When, Why, and How of becoming a valiant parent everyday.
WHEN do you need to be brave?
- It seems that for the thousandth time you’ve asked your child to do a simple task and he refuses because he feels overwhelmed.
- A slight change in her routine sets her off, and you choose not to yell or punish her.
- He gets injured and his anxiety magnifies his aches and shouts.
- A meltdown crops up and you just want to escape to prevent embarrassment and judgment from others.
- She can’t complete her homework because perfectionism has emerged and your patience runs thin and you withhold criticisms and threats.
- You know he has a bright and amazing mind yet he is failing in school.
- You have to be consistent and firm because it’ll take more than once for her to get used to hard things.
- You want to cry along with them because you wish you could take away their pain.
- Every time and everywhere!
WHY do you need to be brave?
- You don’t want to convey a message that says, “I don’t trust you to regulate your feelings. You need me every time you are afraid.”
- You’d rather take a chance and be criticized or feel embarrassed rather than send a message that says, “It’s okay to avoid difficult situations.”
- You may choose to work on your confidence as a parent, rather than let your guilt get in the way of your children’s ability to develop confidence in themselves.
- If you rescue them, they’ll never understand that struggle creates strength.
- We were built with the capability to get used to many things. For example, our eyes can get used to the dark and our ears can get used to loud sounds. Our bodies can get used to different temperatures. We can get used to discomfort and new experiences and our children can too!
- When you bail them out of their discomfort, they’ll want to be saved again and again. Being comfortable and cozy is the preferred mode for all of us. However, there is real life! The sooner they learn to manage their anxiety, the healthier and happier they will be.
- You need to be the strong one, as they can’t think straight in the middle of an anxious storm.
HOW can you be brave?
1. Validate their feelings.
Acknowledge how your children feel in difficult circumstances. Examples: “It sounds like you are worried about the birthday party because your stomach is hurting right now.” “It can be scary meeting new people.” “Sometimes I feel worried about going to new places and meeting new people too.” “When we get worried, our stomachs get worried.”
When your children are anxious, maintain a matter of fact tone of voice as you validate their feelings. Put yourself in their situation and keep in mind your goal as a parent –for them to gain independence and confidence. Ensure that your words convey the message that you understand how they feel, that you care, and that you believe in them.
2. Be firm yet kind.
Just like you can sense how your children are feeling, they can also perceive how you feel. When you are lacking certainty in your words and actions, they will be aware. They will try to push your buttons and try everything possible to get you to free them from their distress. Validate, stay firm, be kind, and be brave!
3. Provide opportunities for new experiences.
Research indicates that the best treatment for OCD and anxiety disorders is exposure and response prevention (ERP). This means individuals can learn to proactively face their fears so their minds and bodies can get used to them. It’s recommended that ERP be done with the guidance of your child’s therapist. However, you can start by providing opportunities for your children to revisit frightening situations. When this is too difficult, meet them halfway until they are able to do it on their own.
4. Connect with your kids.
Find ways to connect emotionally and physically with your children. Research confirms that when we are under stress, we need human connection. Your anxious children need someone who will listen and understand them. You can do that as you enter their world. What are your kids’ passions and interests? Having fun and connecting with them will put savings in the emotional bank. Since withdrawals are made often, you will need to make deposits every day!
5. Practice Mindfulness.
As your children receive treatment, they will learn mindfulness skills. You can learn along with them and become present during tough times. Mindful breathing can center you and allow for more oxygen to enter your brain. This will clear your mind and remind you to be brave. As you do, your children will emulate your stance of accepting what comes with a positive attitude.
Kids can learn skills to manage their distress. However, it is the parents’ stance towards discomfort, doubt, uncertainty, and anxiety that will set the tone in the home. How do you feel about these words? If feeling anxious is also a challenge for you, you might consider counseling as well. You and your children can learn to look at scary situations in courageous ways.
Remember: Learning to manage anxiety is a process, and it doesn’t need to define your children or your life!