I’ve written before about the effects that a parent’s anxiety can have on their children. But studies have shown that an increasing number of children are dealing with their own anxieties. Interestingly enough, a lot of this can be blamed on today’s social environment. For example, helicopter parenting is on the rise, and it is easy to see how a parents breathing down children’s’ collective necks can put a lot of pressure on our youngest members of society. Educational organizations are becoming increasingly dependent on tests and exams; knocking them out of the park seems like the only option for success. And then there is social media, which now seems tied to a child’s self-esteem. Will this Instagram post get a lot of likes? What is no one comments on my recent facebook activity? An anxious child is far from an anomaly.
Writing for Quartz, Jenny Anderson sets out to answer one question: “What is the best way to calm your child?” She consults the research of Katie Hurley, a child and adolescent psychotherapist who offers some counterintuitive advice. Instead of heading straight to therapy to confront anxiety and its complications, she offers some more simple alternatives to try out first.
Breathe: Breathing is so automatic that most times we hardly think about it. For a child, however, getting worked up often equates to shallow and rapid breaths. While it may seem inconsequential— a juvenile response to trivial issues— such breathing patterns reduce stress systems and relax the central nervous system, which controls the brain and spinal cord.
Find a Happy Place: Hurley calls this “guided imagery”. And no, this isn’t a spin on the classic bedtime story. Instead you should encourage your child to close their eyes and envision an almost dream like scenario. Then just talk them through it. Ask them questions such as “what do you see?”, “what animals are there?”, and “what colors stand out?” However, do not engage in an exciting way. Afterall, the whole point of the exercise is to calm. Doing so in a monotonous voice is the way to go.
Engage the Brain: Hurley suggests that we teach kids to differentiate between a “happy” brain and a “worry” brain. When some stimulus or activity activates the “worry” function, kids should audibly engage it with a firm “no”, followed by some positive statement. In the Quartz article she uses the example “stop it worry brain, I know I can make friends here.” Furthermore, practicing while in a peaceful state of mind puts them in a better position to take a stand when the stakes are much higher.
Parent the Child You Have, not the One You Want: Remember in the previous post on anxiety when I discussed how kids can pick up on your habits? It remains true here. Holding your children up to a particular standard is not conducive to their self-esteem; at the end of the day they can become overly-worked up about pleasing you. Your child is on the sensitive side, you are honestly wasting time by telling them to “toughen up”. Everyone has their own temperament, and they should not be changed. Instead, you should focus your attention on how you can make your child comfortable with whatever skin they were born in.