Anxiety 2020, need I say more?
For some kids, anxiety is crippling, and they need professional assistance to manage it.
For other kids, anxiety requires parents to teach them how to break apart their fears, stress, or anxiety so that they can rely on those steps for a lifetime.
One of the first things that we need to do is look through a child’s eyes to understand how a child sees 2020, regardless of age.
Pre-pandemic, kids were used to hearing mostly positive statements about everything in their world, especially when stressed out. We’d say things like, “You’ve done it before, you can do it again.” We all felt that empowering kids was the way to go; fill them with positive thoughts, and all will be well. Don’t get me wrong, I love an affirmation, but 2020 has shown us that’s not enough.
Due to COVID
Now, due to COVID, all anyone hears is terrible news. We all may have anxiety based on the fact that this much bad news is just too overwhelming. For slightly older kids, this new world view has opened their eyes to what they’ll be inheriting and the issues they’ll face. Life is no longer the perfect illusion it used to be. Yes, we will come out of this pandemic. Things will get better. However, things will never be the same, and we’ll have to work very hard to rebuild, all of which brings anxiety.
Kids wonder, “Has the world always been this way, or have you been lying to me about the world?” And that alone can cause anxiety.
You’re a mindful parent
I’m sure you’ve been positive and said things like, “I know this is hard, but you can do it.” Right now, because kids are listening to everything falling apart in our world, they might feel like positivity is a lie or a betrayal.
Instead, try being age-appropriately accurate. Don’t lie, or you’ll erode trust. Don’t be scared of your child’s anxiety, and don’t leap to conclusions unless your guts tell you to reach out for help. If so, then do it! Otherwise, be empathetic and honest.
What can be done?
Modeling is critical at this time, even though we barely know how to manage these situations ourselves. No one has answers yet, so instead of providing non-answers, trying talking about feelings instead.
When you show kids that we’re all feeling anxiety, but it can be managed, we let them know they’re not alone.
Begin by saying, “I noticed,” instead of “What’s wrong?”
When you say, “I’ve noticed that you seem a bit ______” you’re sending the silent message that “I’ve got you, I noticed that something is different about you.” It also sends a silent invitation to “talk to me.”
When you say, “What’s wrong,” you’re asking a child to determine what’s going on when they have no idea.
What we used to do
Parents with anxious kids want to avoid exposing a child to what creates the anxiety. If your child never needs to face that situation/fear again in life, then keep them away from that situation. However, if your child will have to face similar situations in the future, they’ll need to find their courage to go forward. You do that by not avoiding exposure to a stressful situation or people. You teach them the life skills required by doing what’s called “Laddering.”
Laddering exposes a child to the situation that causes anxiety in very small doses. Small enough that it leaves the child wanting more or feeling empowered enough to do another desensitizing session.
Four steps to talk about stress, fear, or anxiety
The first thing anyone does when anxious is to hesitate or freeze. Teach your child to breathe and take stock of their initial feelings. Make them aware that the feelings might be saying, “Oh no, not this again.” Or, “I have no idea what to do?” Or “I become fearful when I feel _____ .” Just notice the feeling while deep breathing.
Parents tend to try and talk kids out of “going to the anxious place.” Instead, be silent. Nod your head, or give a hmm. That sends the message that she’s been heard, and you understand how she feels. The child is risking a lot to tell you what’s happening; she is bearing her soul and probably doesn’t want your input. What she does want is to feel heard and seen.
This step allows you to listen to how your child sees things. Ask her to outline what’s causing her stress and ask if she’s willing to have you help her craft a plan to address this?
• Choice + Action
Ask her, “How do you see your choice playing out?”
This step is where you can contribute, so the child learns to dismantle an emotional entanglement and ask more questions so she can plan for implementation.
• Exercise for older kids
Have a child isolate the issue that’s causing anxiety and ask him to collect some evidence. Ask him to answer the following or create questions that expose how (s)he arrived at these ideas.
“What’s stressing you out. Is it really true? Is there a possibility it’s false?”
“What have you based your decision on? What made it true, or what made it false?”
“Has anyone said this was true, or did you make an assumption?”
Have the child debate each side or take the position of each side. This allows her to differentiate between her fear and reality and think about how to move forward.
• Exercise for younger kids:
Have an anxiety or stress worry session. Have the child layout whatever is stressing her out. You might even call the thoughts “the imaginary horribles” instead of anxiety. Have her write or draw these thoughts down and then together go and burn them. Or go out to a field and have each family member scream out their anxiety.
These are a few ideas to teach kids how to break apart anxiety, so it is more manageable.
What’s been working for you?
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Anxiety 2020, need I say more?