While I often write tips for successful parenting, this week’s article is focused on how to help kids with anxiety, and, in extension, help parents from developing parental anxiety too. Through life coaching children I have discovered this is a crucial but neglected topic. While a lot of what you are about to read refers to children of all ages, I have concentrated the content more toward younger children that are aged around 10-12 and younger. However, if your child is older, please continue reading as you will get some helpful ideas too. We also have more articles on helping children with anxiety articles here.
When I meet a young new client for the first time, they don’t know me and most of them don’t even want to talk to somebody. That first meeting with an older stranger often sets off what I call a panic attack in teens. It is critical to set up a friendly environment and to explain things in a way that they understand. I’ll be talking about how I help children with ABC: Anxieties, Behaviour, and Confidence.
When I talk about anxieties, most young people don’t know what it means. Many have heard the word, but they can’t explain it. That’s why when I am life coaching children I mention that “anxieties is a grown-up word. Young people call them worries”. One thing I have noticed is that parents who don’t know how to help kids with anxiety often develop parental anxiety aswell.
This might sound simple. However, the underlying message that I am sending is very powerful: I talk your language.
There is another embedded message in this simple sentence. When we use impressive words to define emotions, that feeling becomes hugely important, and we create/attract a lot of attention towards that.
And, without even trying I just gave you an essential part of what I want to share in this article: don’t make things bigger than they are. By all means, respect the feeling your child is experiencing. Panic attack in teens is not a joke. However, the more manageable you keep it, the easier it is to resolve.
Hopefully, by now, you have read some of my other articles on life coaching children, and you know that I have a tendency to ramble a bit, but always within the topic. When it happens here, don’t think it is because I am having parental anxiety. Just kidding.
In the remaining part of this article, I want to share with you a few important ideas about how children and parents experience anxieties; things we have done as parents or things we haven’t done. I will also provide a few ideas on how to help kids with anxiety. As always, they are based on 10 years of being a life coach for children and teenagers, thousands of conversations with the young people and their parents.
Ah, before anybody thinks this article is about blaming or shaming parents, I want to tell you that nobody gets it right all the time. I am a dad of two and a professional in this field. However, I am constantly assessing my situation. I am also confident that I have made some of these mistakes as well.
The point of this article is to learn from the past for the present and future, a huge part of successful parenting is finding what works for your family.
Anyways, back to my ideas on how to help kids with anxiety
Idea 1: it’s a phase. It will go away
In my first conversation with parents during any life coaching children session, I always ask “how long has your child been experiencing these anxieties”. The answer is mostly something like this: “mostly over the last few weeks or a couple of months”. So far, so good. However, when I enquired a bit further about the child’s early years, the information becomes more critical: “ well, he/she has always been very delicate, a bit shy and somehow demanding.” Or “for the last two years, he/she has been struggling in school, we thought it was some friendship issues (or not getting along with the teacher or not being confident in his/her academic performance) but in the last few months he/she has been all over the place.”
I am the first person who advises parents not to overreact or develop parental anxiety. Thus, we must be very careful about how we react in the presence of kids. Please continue reading for an in-depth clarification of this idea.
Idea 2: Why is my son/daughter experiencing anxiety? How did we get here?
Panic attack in teens or children worries is like a bucket of water. They will be able to manage so much until the bucket is full. Once this happens, any minor issue will spill it over. Most parents will only react after several weeks or months of spilling over.
I guess you will be asking yourself, how do I know when to intervene? My answer is always the same: look at the patterns. One of the secrets to successful parenting is being very observant. In my experience, anxieties have two possible routes:
1- Sudden then hidden: An event has happened that shocked the child (bullying, fear, shock or, in the worst cases, a traumatic experience). The child will immediately react to it. There will be tears and feel the need for comfort. After a few days, typically parents start getting a bit tired of the issue and think the child is attention-seeking. The child will regularise the situation and hide their feelings. However, they don’t go away.
It is important to mention that while certain experiences might create a disproportionate response, it doesn’t mean the experience was especially traumatic. It might be that the child was in a delicate state on that day, or a combination of factors made it more difficult to deal with. The frequency of a panic attack in teens will depend on their mental state at a particular point in time. In fact, in my experience, around 10-20% of issues I see come from what we could understand as a traumatic experience. The vast majority come from perfectly normal situations that the kid, on that day, could not manage properly.
2- Hidden then sudden: Following the analogy of the bucket, in this route, the child is exposed to a low-level repetition of situations. The feelings (fears) start forming early on but the child chooses not to tell or pretend to ignore them. Over time, the repetition alongside with not sharing those worries creates a snowball effect. The worries in our head only get bigger and bigger. At one point the child is expecting things to happen and when something comes up, they validate their own inadequacy to deal with it (“I knew I wasn’t going to enjoy it. I can’t make friends” or “I knew she would not want me to play with them”)
Idea 3: The guilty trip takes us nowhere
Many parents that I have supported have expressed shame or self-blame about what their child is going through. As a coach and a parent, I understand and sympathize with them. However, I am very strict about my views. This approach doesn’t help your child and doesn’t help you. You need to remember the affirmation “Self-blame will only debilitate me. Therefore, I will be in the worst situation to help my child. Maybe I said or did something wrong. Perhaps it had nothing to do with me. It doesn’t matter. It is not a question of blaming but an attitude of belief and resolution .”
I am not saying we should ignore our own behaviour. Of course, there is always room for improvement—and self-awareness is the best route to learning how to be a good parent as well as how to help kids with anxiety. What I am saying is that the most important step now is to help your child. Blaming anybody or anything is not a successful parenting strategy.
Idea 4: Is it normal? Should I intervene? Should I ask?
These are probably the questions we all ask ourselves, mostly in the past tense (was it normal? Should I have intervened earlier? Should I have asked somebody?). It is always a delicate balance, and unfortunately, through my years of life coaching children, I haven’t found any checklist or scorecard to follow. We are left with our best tool: our instinct.
Here are a few tips for you to assess your child situation and your next steps in helping your child with anxiety:
Tip 1: inform yourself. If you are reading this article, it means you have an interest, and I can assure you that this is the most crucial part of it. Maybe this article doesn’t clarify everything, but by reading and paying attention, you will be better equipped. There are loads of information, the trick is to ensure you take whatever action works for you. The more you know, the less likely you will be hit by parental anxiety too.
Tip 2: Look for patterns. Children and adults are creatures of habits/patterns. Observe your child’s behaviour over a period and notice if their behaviour is changing over time in a clear direction. Every child will have good and bad days or good and bad periods. That is perfectly normal. However, if the worries or behaviour change is becoming habitual (i.e. sleep is difficult, rejects new initiatives they used to enjoy, starts complaining about going to school or not having fun there, etc.) then it is time to have a conversation. Pull out all the knowledge you have acquired on how to help kids with anxiety and put it to action.
Tip 3: If in doubt, have a conversation. Let’s face it, we all have very busy lives, we are doing school runs, taking them to sports, or play days, working or managing the house. Our days are packed. In this overload of actions, we say to ourselves “I will talk to her later on today or tomorrow”. If you have any doubt or cause of concern, have the conversation as soon as possible. The longer panic attack in teens lasts, the more it becomes difficult to deal with. Set up a quiet time and mention the things you have noticed. As I said earlier in the article, keep it simple and honest. Use words and behaviour that will allow them to express themselves freely.
Let them answer the question and whatever they say, allow it. It is not about being true/false, but about allowing.
Tip 4: keep having the conversation. Most children have a vested interest in not sharing those fears. Let’s be honest if they felt they could, they would have done it already. The reason is that they might be scared of the consequences. Maybe they think it’s their fault, or they are afraid of what we parents will think of them. Ensure you put time aside and bring back the chat. Leave it open, don’t force them to answer, just create the space for them to answer when they are ready.
Tip 5:Get advice from others. Every teacher I have met had the best intentions for their students. Ask for some time with their teacher. Talk to people who observe them in different environments (I found the playground ladies an important source of unbiased information). Also, ask the parents of friends. Don’t seek for a problem, aim for the behaviours that might indicate something else. Ask about what they do—if they relate well to other kids, how they take on challenges, conflict or new situations. Most children will present different behaviour at home than elsewhere. Both will be part of their life and “true”. However, knowing both can provide validation or information for those conversations. Successful parenting has a lot to do with how much you know or are willing to know.
And I think I will leave it here. I can continue writing, but I think this article is already dense enough. I hope it provides a few good ideas.
And this is from me to you for today. I hope you like our article on helping young children with anxiety. As you know, there are other articles on the site and more to come to help you do it, browse around and see what you will find. Feel free to contact me if you want me to address any specific topic PERSONALLY.
HAVE A GREAT DAY AND REMEMBER, KEEP YOURSELF HAPPY, KEEP YOUR KIDS HAPPY, BY HELPING YOURSELF AND HELPING YOUR KIDS’