Building Their Foundation. Fostering Courage & Resiliency in Your Anxious Child

Updated: Mar 1


Dear Rolynda,

My child is worried all the time. They need to know exactly what is going to happen if we go on a family outing and have stopped participating in their usual activities. Our house has totally changed. We walk on eggs shells in our house, wondering what they are going to meltdown about next. We have tried so many things to help them when they’re anxious, like having their siblings meet them in the bathroom at school to offer reassurance, going to a special spot in the school, or letting them know that I am just a phone call away. I have tried helping them relax at night by rubbing their back, but it's now at the point that they can’t go to sleep without me. Now they want me to lay down with them and what should take 5-10 minutes takes hours. I am exhausted. We are all exhausted. What are we supposed to do?

~ Tyler


NORMALIZE WORRY

Because fear has caused a fair amount of disruption in your family, you and other family members might be responding to it with some emotions! No need to be surprised. I have seen this in families before! You, as the parent, can begin to shift this by normalizing worry. A consistent way to do this is by talking about the routine times when worry shows up for you. Bring it up in natural conversation about when talking about how the day went. The goal is to show your kid that it's part of the process when you're handling new situations, when you have a performance, or when something is really important to you. Talk at the dinner table about how worry showed up during the day and how you expected it to do so in that situation. “I met a new client today, and I felt pretty nervous, which I expected. My palms were sweaty, and my heart was beating faster.” The message here is: Sometimes worry shows up for me too, and I feel nervous. It’s normal.”


Look for opportunities to point out when someone is successful at doing something and also highlight nervousness during the process. There are all sorts of people in our world such as athletes, performers, contestants, new teachers, people standing up for what they believe in and advocating for others... They often make statements about working through their nervousness or jitters. You can use them as examples, too.


Start to point out how funny it is to be surprised by something normal and expected... People who live in Colorado being surprised by the amount of snow. Buying a long-haired cat and being surprised by the hair on your couch. Leaving cupcakes on the kitchen counter and being surprised to find that your dog found them and ate them. This highlights the irony – you KNOW Colorado gets snow, why are you surprised? – This approach can be taken with anxious worry, too. You can manage worry better when you expect it – then you won’t be surprised by racing thoughts, a tight chest or topsy-turvy stomach.


MODEL NOT BEING SURPRISED WHEN WORRY SHOWS UP

Take some time to think about how you manage your thoughts are feelings when you start something that requires a new skill set or when you have to perform in front of others. How do you handle the worry thoughts that show up when things are uncertain? Pay attention to your words and actions and then ask yourself, “Am I giving the message that I shouldn't worry in this situation?”


Consider these two responses:


“I'm going to leave a few minutes early for work this morning because I have to have an important conversation with my boss, and I like to have a little bit of extra time when I'm feeling nervous.”


COMPARED TO:

“I'm so nervous about this meeting this morning. Why do I feel this way? I'm freaking out a little bit. Okay, I need to leave early so I can have lots of time to prepare.”

Which response would help a child understand that it’s natural to feel nervous and you can help yourself by expecting it to show up? These are the messages you want to start sending.


What about these two responses:


“Worry was bugging me this morning about going to my dentist appointment. I knew it was going to have something to say.”


COMPARED TO:


“I do not want to go to the dentist. I am so scared of needles, and I know I will panic. Argghhh…”


One response demonstrates that worry is normal and to expect it, leaving you in control. The other response puts worry in control and portrays it as the decision-maker. You don’t want your child to be bossed around by anxious worry and feeling powerless!

Below are a few important pieces of information to help you get started. You can show how you expect worry in your life, don’t get surprised by it, and take care of it. Your anxious child is going to learn from you, and you will help them build a foundation of courage and resilience to deal with life’s unexpected events. They will learn by hearing the language, seeing your behaviour, and then putting it into practice for themselves. Or you can cultivate worry as something to be scared of. It starts with you, either way!


EXPECT IT WORRY – it shows up on a regular basis!

4 most common times for worry to show up:

  • A new activity

  • Unsure about our plans

  • “What if” questions around a new event

  • A performance


Use that list to make note of your experiences that are appropriate to share with your child. Naturally, don’t share adult worries that kids don’t need to hear.


Below are some examples of phrases to get you started:


EXPECT IT & DON’T BE SURPRISED

“I know worry is trying to help me figure out what will happen at the *event*. I really don’t need to know. I will be okay with whatever goes on.”

- - - - -

TAKE CARE OF IT

“I’m going to feel nervous when I first get there, my heart will be racing, and then I will be able to relax after 5 to 10 minutes.”


EXPECT IT & DON’T BE SURPRISED

“You usually show up at work when I have a presentation. I am not surprised.”

- - - - -

TAKE CARE OF IT

“I know I can do this. I’ve done it before. I can handle it.”


EXPECT IT & DON’T BE SURPRISED

“This is something new for me, so it makes sense that worry is here.”

- - - - -

TAKE CARE OF IT

“I am safe, even though my body is feeling this way and I feel scared.”


Need more support? I have a comprehensive course called, “Normalize the Nerves” for parents of anxious kids where you will gain insight, information and tools to help your child manage worry and feel calm, confident, and courageous. If you don’t have the drive to complete a course, then join the parent group!

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