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Helping Your Child Break The Cycle Of Anxiety

break the cycle of anxiety - girl with hands over ears

We tend to think of children as happy and carefree. Many are, but some are not. Some children in these high-stress times we live in deal with anxiety more now than ever, and need help to them break the cycle of anxiety. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics, 11.6% of children in the US had anxiety in 2012, up 20% from 2007. During the pandemic, it went to 20.5% of children struggling with anxiety. The 2022 Data Book of the National Survey of Children’s Health shows that just last year, children in the US were experiencing rates of anxiety and depression at “unprecedented levels.”

As parents, how can you help your child when you see signs of anxiety? Here are some ways that you can help your child break the cycle of anxiety.

Empathy can break the cycle of anxiety

The idea that we can help our children eliminate anxiety from their lives, or that we can eliminate it from our own lives, is unrealistic. Healthy anxiety is good and necessary. It alerts us to danger, makes us think through our actions, be more empathetic, and develop leadership skills, among other benefits. The key, with anxiety, is to help our children manage it as a normal part of life. So, when they become anxious or worried about something, instead of trying to get them to stop doing that, let them know that you hear them, that you understand how they are feeling. You might say, “I know this is hard for you right now.” When a child knows that he or she is heard, it gives him or her the space to learn to tolerate or analyze the anxious thought or experience so that it becomes less frightening and stressful. Once an anxiety or fear is empathized with so that it can be expressed in words and understood, it becomes manageable.

Encouragement can break the cycle of anxiety

break the cycle of anxiety - sidewalk chalk saying you got this

A parent’s first instinct when their child is in an anxiety-producing situation is to come in like a superhero and rescue them from it. But that is not always the best thing for them. If we rescue them from everything scary or stressful in life, how will they learn how to handle those things for themselves? What we need to do is to teach our children how to tolerate and cope with their anxiety. They need to learn that strong emotions like anxiety or depression or fear or anger come on us, linger, peak, and then pass. The key is to learn to sit with the emotion until it passes from 10 to 7 to 3 to 0. This is called exposure therapy, letting the person experience the negative emotion until they become desensitized to it and able to manage it in a healthy way. So, your role as a parent is to be their encourager during those anxious feelings and help them ride it out. Express confidence in them that they can overcome this until they learn to have confidence in themselves to overcome it.

Self-awareness can break the cycle of anxiety

Children are very good at picking up on your emotional cues. If you are anxious or stressed, that silently teaches them and reinforces in them that this is how we respond to stressful situations. When you experience stress or fear, does your tone of voice and body language say to your child, “This is something that is okay to be anxious about”? A good example is dropping your child off at Pre-K, Children’s Church, or a little friend’s birthday party. If you linger and make a big deal about the separation, you are sending them a message that this is a time to be worried and anxious. But if you are calm and unphased, the lesson they will learn is that separating from a parent isn’t something to be upset about; they will return, just like that little song on the children’s show “Daniel Tiger” that says, “Grownups come back.”

Modeling can break the cycle of anxiety

break the cycle of anxiety - father walking small son by the ocean

What I just used as an example is called “modeling.” As a parent, one of your jobs is to model healthy ways of handling life. Try to model positive ways in your own life of handling your anxiety so that your children have a good role-model to imitate. Instead of trying to hide your anxiety from your kids, let them see and hear you managing it in a calm way, sitting with it, and getting through to the other side of it. Talk through anxiety-producing things with your child. Help them give their anxiety or worry a name so that it is not so scary. Unnamed things are scary. Named things are manageable. Talk through what would happen if their worry or fear did come true? How would he or she handle it? What would he or she do? That is a great way for them to learn that circumstances can be managed and that things seldom turn out as bad as our anxiety makes us think they will.

Counseling can break the cycle of anxiety

If you need help helping your child break the cycle of anxiety, there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s a wise parent who knows when he or she needs to reach out to a professional counselor for assistance. At Christian Counseling Associates, we stand ready to help you whether it is your child’s anxiety, your anxiety, or both. I encourage you to read more about family therapy, and then reach out to us for an appointment at our Plano or Grapevine offices.

Pennie Raymond is a Certified Christian Professional Life Coach and Board Certified Master Mental Health Coach. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Dallas Baptist University, a Master’s Degree in Healthcare Management from Dallas Baptist University, and a Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from Northcentral University. She is also SYMBIS (Save Your Marriage Before It Starts) certified. She is certified in Trauma-Informed Care. She is a member of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy, Delta Kappa International Marriage and Family Therapy Honor Society, and American Association of Christian Counselors.


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