The Anxious Child

I have been blessed with a child with anxiety. I don’t mean a child that occasionally experiences stress or worry, I mean a child with an anxiety disorder.  Lots of children experience stress from various environmental causes but some are frequently or constantly in a fight-or-flight response creating symptoms such as feelings of panic, fear, trouble sleeping, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, dizziness, trembling, blushing, sweating, inability to be still and calm, muscle pain and tension or a fixation on seemly insignificant details. If this is your child then the first thing I want to say to you is:

This is not your fault!

This is beyond feelings and could have to do with genetics, brain chemistry, trauma or other medical reasons.

This is not up for scrutiny or debate from outside sources.. I know you love your child very much. They are happy and healthy and safe and a mental health concern is not the result of bad parenting, so if anybody has some well meaning “advice” you can direct them to me! This is stemming from a conversation I had recently with a gentleman who didn’t believe mental health disorders were real things.

The last thing I want to say before I get started is that your child doesn’t fit in a box! You know that better than I do, so these tips and tricks that I find useful are just a starting point, and may not be helpful at all. That’s okay! You will learn what works and what doesn’t work.

As parents, what can we do?

  1. Pray!

This is always my go to!  We can pray for our children and with our children.  Teaching them to turn to God during their anxiety attacks is the best thing we can do! It isn’t just my go to, I found  in an anxiety workbook for teens that they teach at the hospitals they encourage “belief in a higher power” for anxiety patients. They obviously were not specific as to which power they wanted people to believe in or pray to, but they found that prayer in itself to be incredibly therapeutic.  For me, I would say “Lord, I am so anxious and worried! Please take this from me. Take this panic. Keep me safe.”

 2. Stay calm!
Your anxiety will not help their anxiety.  It’s not just about what you say but how you say it. Like how they teach you that you should smile on the phone with customers, watch your facial expressions, watch your tone. Let them know they can talk to you, but a lot of children are not great at verbalizing emotion.  When bits do come out, you may not even recognize it as something that is contributing to anxiety so be sensitive to their words.

   3. Knowledge is Power!
Is your child anxious about new places? Did they just come home with a field trip permission form? Maybe go with them a week before so they can see the lay of the land. Look it up online and learn about what to expect. Talk it all out. Is your child anxious about elevators? Perhaps a YouTube video on how they work will help, along with exposure. Often anxiety can be found in the unknown so shed some light on those unexplored places.

   4. Jelly Belly!
This is what my son calls deep breathing. He learned this to help him with anger associated with ADHD. He makes his tummy rise and fall, watching it like its full jelly. Just that one trigger phrase will help remind him to breath when he needs to.

5. Down time is good time!
Swimming lessons and choir are great! So are play dates, special events at the pottery store and trips to the movies! But overstimulation for the anxious child is not good. What does your child need to do to unwind? Play, paint, veg out and watch TV or read.  Learn when your child needs a break and listen to them when they tell you how that break needs to happen.

    6. Healthy Living
Yes, I know. You have been told 100 times that diet effects our body and overall health.  Everyone’s body is uniquely created with different chemical makeup that reacts differently to the chemicals we ingest. Caffeine, sugar, white flower and artificial sweeteners have been linked to increased anxiety symptoms, where as B-complex vitamins, calcium, magnesium, omega 3 and complex carbs have been linked to lowering anxiety. Small changes make a big difference, so do your homework on what you are allowing into your child’s body.  My son finds that chewing gum helps him focus, however every pack of gum in the supermarket has aspartame. I did however find a great natural gum at FarmBoy and the health food stores here. t’s the small changes – try whole wheat instead of what, infused water instead of fruit drinks, read the labels on packaged food. Also.. I know they have gym class, and basketball practise.. But are they moving enough? Increased exercises lowers anxiety.

    7. Break it down!
Your daughter can’t start her school project because it’s too big and overwhelming? Break it down!  Grab a calendar and put one task on per day. You just took a huge assignment and make it manageable and in on time!  I made a step by step list on how to clean a bedroom, because there is nothing more daunting than cleaning a whole messy room!

    8. Speaking of bedrooms – go in theirs!
is it comforting? Relaxing? Organized? Or is it overwhelming? Cluttered? Overstimulating? If there is a problem in it, fix it!

Remember that these are just some tips that worked for us! I know that everyone is built differently.  There are lots of professionals in your area ready to support you if needed, but you are your child’s best advocate! You know them better than the professionals, better than their teacher, better than extended well meaning family! Speak up when you need to!
I hope this helps.  Please leave a comment below if you liked this article, or if you thought of something I forgot.

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