Anxiety in children isn’t always obvious. Sometimes it can be hard to identify, and therefore it can be challenging for parents to help. After all, if we don’t know that the seed level cause of our child’s discomfort is anxiety, how are we supposed to help them?
In my daughter for example, her anxiety often presents as over excitement. It may sound counter intuitive, but when she builds up an upcoming event, she’s often masking feelings of insecurity. Very often, the day of the event, instead of excitement, she’s resistant to going or she cries and shuts down when she gets there. My child is 7 years old, so it’s still a learning process for us, but when I started to connect with her and ask her questions, I realized she was experiencing social anxiety. This is just one example of how these feelings shows up in her. In children, anxiety and insecurity can also show up as tummy aches, not being able to get to sleep, and resistance to places or people that they normally enjoy. Children almost never say “I’m feeling anxious,” so it can be tricky for parents to understand.
Because this has been something my family has really struggled with, I wanted to put together some of the resources that have helped us and our daughter.
Calm is an app that’s available in your app store. It does have a subscription option and in-app purchases, but we use the free version and still get a lot out of it. We work hard to keep the screen time to a reasonable level, especially at night, but this app offers such a wonderful variety of tools that I often have my daughter use it during our nightly bedtime routine. There’s a section on it called breathe where you can customize your own calm breathing in a rhythm you choose. It comes along with a visual that teaches you when to breathe, how long to hold the breath, and then let it out. This has been one of the most helpful digital apps for my daughter. It’s been so successful for her, in fact, that sometimes when she’s feeling unsure or unstable, she’ll ask for it.
This is part of our routine every evening. I realize that it’s probably something many families already do, but learning in parenthood never ends and we certainly don’t start out knowing everything. When we started incorporating these tools, we saw an almost immediate improvement. We know that children thrive when they structure, so our evening routine includes wind-down time. After dinner and bath time, we start turning down all the lights in the house. We ask our children what was their favorite moment of the day and what was the hardest moment of their day. We read them each a book of their choosing, and we don’t allow them any screens or any toys. On days that my daughter’s level of anxiety is high, it can take her a long time to fall asleep, but I know that the quiet and calm environment along with a predictable routine are helping her.
It begins with me.
Yes, we should be totally present with our children at all times, right? Honestly, this is something I struggle with. I’ve got a lot of moving parts in my life every day and I have a lot of tabs open in the computer in my brain. I’ve noticed that when my child is triggered by something that would bring out anxiety, if I am not present with her, it escalates quickly. I am learning (sometimes the hard way) that I must stop, be completely present, and stay connected with my child until the moment passes. Being calm and present on the inside begins with me. If I’m distracted, stressed, frantic, or scattered, so are my children. If my own level of anxiety is at a higher level, it radiates out to the rest of my family.
Our thoughts create our reality, so one of the things I’ve incorporated in my family’s life is the use of positive affirmations. There are many different ways to accomplish this, but one of my favorites is the Mindful Mantra series of children’s books. They are available on Amazon, and they are wonderful books for children. My family’s favorite volume is I Believe In Myself. Once a week or so I make sure and read this during our bedtime story time, but when my daughter is having challenges and is feeling anxious or extra sensitive, I make sure and read it with her as many times as it takes until she feels stronger. She’s almost got it memorized, honestly, but it still works!
If you have a child who is sensitive, prone to anxiety, or struggling in social situations, I hope these resources are helpful for you. If you have different tools or resources that you find helpful, please share them in the comments. It takes a village!
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