As an adult living with anxiety, I know how difficult and paralyzing it can be. When what I want most is to calm down…I can’t calm down. So when I think about parents who deal with anxiety in kids, well, both they and their kids have my sympathy. Anxiety in kids can be heartbreaking for parents, especially if it’s chronic, and it can be hard for us to know how to help them.
My youngest has some situational anxiety that he seems to be growing out of (large groups, birthday parties) and for the longest time, I really didn’t know how to encourage him before the event when he expressed nervousness. Then, a few days ago, a friend pointed me to this Facebook video from motivational speaker and author Mel Robbins. In the video, she coaches a mom to help her anxious child through their anxiety by coming up with a system that involves writing down what situations give them anxiety and then coming up with some “anchor thoughts” to help them get excited about the event.
Watch Mel Robbins’ brilliant mom hack to diffuse anxiety in kids
The example of this technique Robbins gives is a sleepover. So when making a list of things your child is nervous about you would write “sleepover.” Then for the anchor thought, you want to come up with something about that same event that makes your child excited.
Robbins stresses that if you already have these anchor thoughts written down before hand, if gives your child a “go to” when they are experiencing anxiety.
Example: I’m nervous about the sleepover because I’ll be away from home.
Anchor thought: I’m excited about having donuts for breakfast the morning after the sleepover.
Using this technique, I decided to come up with some more anchor thoughts for situations kids might be experiencing anxiety about. I’ll list a few of them here in the hopes that they will help you and your child deal with an anxiety situation in the future.
Situation: I feel nervous about the first day of school.
Anchor thought: I’m excited because I get to see my friends again!
Situation: I feel nervous about the loud singing at the birthday party.
Anchor thought: I’m excited because I get to eat cake and ice cream!
Situation: I feel nervous about staying with the babysitter while mom and dad go on a date.
Anchor thought: I’m excited to stay up late and watch a movie!
Situation: I feel nervous about taking a test.
Anchor thought: I’m happy that mom and dad love me no matter what grade I get.
Situation: I’m nervous about swimming lessons.
Anchor Thought: I’m excited to be able to take off my floaties in the pool this summer.
Situation: I’m nervous about presenting my project in front of my class.
Anchor Thought: I’m excited that mom said since I worked so hard I could choose what’s for dinner tonight.
These are just some examples of common situations kids with anxiety might face. Of course, you can custom-make anchor thoughts to correspond with your child’s needs.
Another fantastic point Robbins makes in her video is that parents should not tell their children to “calm down.” Although that’s often our first instinct, we need to do everything we can to avoid saying those two little words to our kiddos when they are in the throes of anxiety. Robbins says that when a parent says “calm down,” the child with anxiety has two corresponding thoughts:
- I can’t calm down!
- Mom (or Dad) just doesn’t get it.
Robbins says a better alternative to helping your child out of an anxious situation is to use the anchor thoughts, and if that doesn’t help, to pull your child into a nice, tight squeeze hug and to breathe together, in rhythm. That way your child knows you are in this with them, and the rhythmic breathing will help them start to calm down and think more clearly.
Now that you know some techniques to help your anxious child, start thinking about their triggers. Since ads for back to school supplies are already everywhere you look, it’s important to think about what anxieties your child might feel about a new school year. Will they be moving to a new school or up a level to middle or high school? Did one of their close friends move away?
According to Education.com, here are some reasons your child might have anxiety about when it comes to school:
- Test anxiety
- Social anxiety
- Making the team
- Peer pressure
- Being bullied
No matter what time of year it is, anxiety in kids is no joke, and as parents, we need to be the first line of help for our kids who experience it. You can check out Mel Robbins on Facebook for more great tips, and also visit KidsHealth.org.