Few things can be harder on a parent than witnessing their child going through struggles and not knowing how to help them. Anxiety is a common but heart-wrenching struggle that many children in our culture face today.
Preventing anxiety can be better than curing it. Although for some people anxiety can be a deeply-seated personality characteristic, for others it can also be a consequence of particular living situations. Children need to feel a sense of stability and control in their lives. When a child feels that they are constantly out of control, they may begin to experience extreme feelings of panic. In this article, I list how a child may experience this at different stages of their life.
Your Child’s Attachment in Infancy
Attunement and attachment is a significant experience for a child. Babies learn to recognize their mother and/or primary caregiver’s face. Infants will become fixated on the faces of their caregivers, which is how they can begin to have a sense of their place in and effect on the world. If an infant sees their caregiver responding to their needs, cries, and joys, the child will begin to feel a secure sense of being in the world. When the baby sees their mother’s face sad as they cry, the baby will believe that others understand and know their needs. This can create forms of feeling consistency and control.
Understanding Toddlers and Children
In a similar way, toddlers and children are still trying to work out their place in and effect on the world. It is extremely important for children to experience options and consequences. Rather than responding to a child out of anger and rage and ripping a toy out of their hands, it makes a significant difference if a parent asks questions such as: “Are you going to obey, or do I need to take your toy away?” This allows children to experience a sense of agency in the outcomes that they want in life. But it requires a new level of attunement and patience from the parent in order to discern what it is that the child is trying to communicate. Even as a child is having a temper tantrum and being disobedient, there is an unmet need that they are trying to communicate. Rather than simply punishing the child, although that is sometimes necessary, what the child often needs is for the parent to understand the need that is being communicated through the behavior.
The Needs of Adolescents
At no age is acting out easy or even desirable for parents, and it is probably most difficult as a child is going through adolescence. But an important question for the parent to continue to ask themselves is: “What is this behavior communicating to me about my child’s needs?” The adolescent who is acting out and being rebellious is seeking out something that they feel may fulfill their needs. For a parent to show attunement to the child and to observe what they may need in the midst of their unpleasant behavior can be behavior (and life) changing for a child.
Your Adult Child
Although children may no longer be living at home when they are adults, it is never too late for parents to offer support and to help to soothe their child’s anxiety. When a parent shows attachment and awareness of the needs of their child, a comfort and assurance will arise at any age. Even being aware that someone is paying attention to our needs can be an immense source of soothing, regardless of whether or not they are able to fulfill our needs.
Christian Counseling as You Deal with Your Child’s Anxiety
Through each of these stages, children’s anxiety can produce and evoke feelings of anxiety, rage, failure, sadness, and many other possibilities in their parents. A significant way to offer support to your children is to seek support for yourself, no matter how old your children are. As a Christian counselor, I have witnessed how seeking support in small groups, or individually with a counselor, can be significantly life-changing for both parents and their children. As a parent finds a space in which someone offers them a place to process and express their own needs, so they grow in their ability to offer support to their children.
“Jumping for Joy,” courtesy of Jon Grainger, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “Children at Play,” courtesy of ann_jutatip, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “Shear Joy,” courtesy of Ben_Kerckx, Pixabay.com, CC0 Public Domain License.