Helping your Child Overcome Anxiety
Christian Counselor Seattle
Dragons show up when you least expect them.
So starts a children’s book by Kathryn Cave and Nick Maland, entitled You’ve Got Dragons. This little story is all about a child who deals with anxiety in the form of a dragon. The concept of fighting dragons is an example of a great way to help externalize your child’s anxiety. On the same note, Tamar Chansky, in her helpful book, Freeing Your Child From Anxiety, suggests asking your child to give the anxiety a name such as “worry brain” or “brain bug.” This helps you and your child to have the same language when you talk about his or her fears, and places on the same team in the fight against anxiety.
How Do You Know if Your Child Struggles With Anxiety?
Since everyone worries at some point in life, how do you know if your child is struggling with anxiety? Here are some signs that your child is suffering from his or her worries or anxiety: sleep disturbances, repetitive questions for reassurance, physical symptoms such as stomachaches or headaches causing your child to regularly missing school for being sick. Your child may be struggling with anxiety if his or her worries disrupt family life, cause recurrent avoidance of activities and places. Another sign of anxiety is an advanced worry for an activity or event many weeks, days and hours in the future.
The most effective way to help your child with their anxiety is to teach yourself not to be overwhelmed by your child’s anxiety. You may feel frustrated or helpless- it is hard to watch your child struggle! But once we have agreed to not allow our child’s anxiety to cause our own, we will be able to be fully present for him or her.
To help our child overcome anxiety, we first must know what we are up against. Tamar Chansky defines an anxiety response as an “overestimation of threat plus an underestimation of ability to cope.” The child gets stuck in ways of thinking that remind the child that they need to worry. Chansky calls this the “worry track.” Your child needs help to get off the worry track and onto the “smart track of the brain train.”
Keeping Your Child off the Worry Track
In order to help your child get off the worry track, first, listen to their worries. Refrain from belittling or invalidating their worries. Remember, those thoughts are reality for them. Support them by listening to their thoughts. Next, teach them about the “worry track” vs. the “smart track.” Your anxious child automatically goes down the worry track without realizing there is another way to think. You can help your child to see another way to respond.
One way to externalize the anxiety is to teach your child to talk back to their anxiety. Ask your child to think of the voice they would use in talking to a bully and then have them talk to their anxiety in that voice. Have your child tell the anxiety why it isn’t welcome. This is a technique that both children and parents can do together.
The best way to help your child to see the difference of the two tracks is to give them an example of a situation that does not involve them. For example, the situation could be a birthday party. Let your child picture a birthday party. Then walk your child through the thoughts, feelings, and actions that would happen in each of the two tracks. On the worry track, the thoughts might be, “what if I throw up at the party? What if I don’t have fun? What if none of my friends are there?” The feelings could be nervous and the action might be to ask if the child could skip the party. On the smart track, the thoughts might be, “Parties are fun. I have had fun at parties before. My friend’s mom will be there and I can ask her for help if I need it.” The feelings could be “I am excited to be playing with my friends!” The action might be going enthusiastically to the party.
You and Your Child are a Team
The most important part is to work together with your child as a team to fight against the anxiety. Helping your child to externalize their anxious thoughts instead of becoming defined by them will help both you and your child overcome anxiety.
For more information and ways to help your anxious child, read Tamar Chansky’s Freeing Your Child From Anxiety. If you feel like you need additional support in helping your child work through their struggle with anxiety, contact us at Seattle Christian Counseling. One of our counselors can help you and your child with techniques to overcome your child’s anxiety, worry, and fear.