Good news! No, great news! Anxiety won’t kill you! Bad news! It just feels like it will. Anxiety can rear its ugly head in countless ways. Your child may frequently complain of stomachaches, headaches, and dizziness. They may have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. Little Susie may grab her chest and cry that she feels short of breath. Her heart may feel like it’s racing. Her body drenched in sweat may begin to shiver as she experiences a sudden onset of chills and you as a parent may be at a loss as to what to do.
Invite it in. Encourage your child to relax into the feeling. Heck, give the anxiety a name and make friends with it. Once we externalize anxiety and hold its hand rather than push it away; it begins to lose its power. I know as a parent there is a temptation to throw your child a safety net. Been there. Done that. And I am a therapist. You would think I know better. Don’t follow my lead. Don’t throw the safety net. Hold out!! I know you are thinking, “How can I watch my child start to drown and not throw them a life jacket?” Because doing so will make them go under.
Children and adults alike have to learn to be comfortable with the very feelings that make their skin crawl. If we allow our children to avoid their feelings; we are only enabling their fear to grow. One of the greatest gifts a parent can give their children is the ability to cope with their feelings in a healthy manner. We are quick as a society to see anxiety as a weakness. We want to shame it, ignore it or try to force it into a corner. Each time you attempt to fight the anxiety; it fights back. If you unintentionally belittle your child’s feelings by telling he/she to “get over it,” you are simply adding fuel to the fire. As a therapist, I would much rather see a child experience too much feeling than no feeling at all.
Anxiety is highly treatable. It responds very well to natural intervention. The best thing we can do in the face of anxiety is give the gift of coping. Make sure to acknowledge your child’s fear, empathize with their feelings and help them walk through the fire. Don’t push aside the hot coals. Don’t be tempted to smother the flames. Hold their hand and teach them to breath until they reach the other side.