There is no concern quite like the concern a parent has for a child. Especially a parent whose child suffers from anxiety. Worry, fear, and anxiety are crippling. Debilitating. Paralyzing.
Over almost three decades of work in mental health, I’ve seen thousands of children suffer with the effects of worry, fear, and anxiety. And almost as heart wrenching is seeing the parents who long to help but just don’t know how.
What not to say when your child is anxious
Before we talk about what to say and do to help your child, let’s address what NOT to say before damage is done:
1. “Don’t Worry.” Telling a child not to worry is about as effective as telling someone not to think about a white elephant or the song “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.”
2. “That’s a silly thing to be afraid of.” This statement has now just shamed the child. Now we not only have to treat the child’s worry, fear, and anxiety but also their self-esteem and shame.
3. “Just calm down.” While the intent might be good the problem is that if someone, particularly a child knew how to calm down and not be anxious, they would already be doing that. So this statement now adds to their anxiety and makes them feel unintelligent because they don’t know how to calm down and make the anxiety stop.
4. “I don’t understand why you’re so upset.” This statement devalues them. What they need is your acceptance, not your judgment.
13 Tips to help your child cope during anxiety producing situations
If you want to help your child better cope with an anxiety producing situation, try these tips:
1. Help your child take several deep breaths. It is physiologically impossible to be anxious and relaxed at the same time. Breathing deeply helps tell their brain NOT to be anxious.
2. Have them calmly voice what their concerns are (with NO judgment on your part). Fear holds its greatest power when it remains a thought or an imagination in the dark. Discussing it and bringing it out into the light helps remove some of its power.
3. God is always with them (1 John 3:24, 2 John 1:3, Ezekiel 34:30).
4. God will never leave them (Deuteronomy 31:6).
5. God is their friend (James 2:23).
6. God promises to provide for them (2 Corinthians 9:10).
7. God fights for them (Deuteronomy 3:22).
8. God defends them (Isaiah 51:22).
9. God tells them to have courage (Joshua 1:9).
10. Teach them the verse: “Do not worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.” (Philippians 4:6)
11. Pray WITH your child about the things that concern him/her, as well as thanking God in advance for His provision.
12. After your child has prayed about a worrisome concern, have them write than concern on a slip of paper, then tear it up, and put it in a “worry box” as a symbol of giving that worry to God. Because it’s torn up, they can’t take it back.
13. Encourage them to talk back to their worries. If they have another fearful or anxious thought, have them say something like, “You’re not the boss of me! God is going to take care of you!”
As a parent, it’s important that you show compassion rather than judgment. There are also several things you can do which will help focus on your child’s overall well-being:
1. Prioritize consistent bedtimes even on the weekends
2. Provide balanced healthy meals and snacks
3. Ensure your child is drinking plenty of water
4. Encourage regular physical exercise as part of their daily play
5. Allow regular downtime to decompress from daily stress
6. Minimize screen time
7. Encourage regular family time and open conversation
The truth is, worry, fear, and anxiety are not our portion, peace is. If we can teach our children to recognize their presence and deal with them at the first sign, they can give God the reigns before they take control and become a habitual pattern of coping in their life.
With Him, #PeacePrevails!
Resource to Break Anxiety’s Grip
No question, we have a lot to worry about. Children, jobs, homes, health, finances, and more. The solution isn’t to rid ourselves of the sources of anxiety – as if we could. Instead, we need to recognize that anxiety originates from a spiritual influence and that we can fight back using the God-given weapons of power, love, and a sound mind.
We can discover true peace in an age of anxiety.
In Breaking Anxiety’s Grip, Dr. Michelle Bengtson shares her own story of emerging from the battle with anxiety as well as the stories of others. She reminds you of your identity as a follower of Christ and of the peace he promises you in spite of everything.
She provides tools to cope with the crushing emotional burden of anxiety now and, more importantly, shows you how to reclaim God’s peace as a way of life so that you can break anxiety’s grip.
Breaking Anxiety’s Grip: How to Reclaim the Peace God Promises is now available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, ChristianBooks.com, Books-A-Million, and other fine book retailers.
Click here to learn more: Breaking Anxiety’s Grip
More resources for fighting anxiety, fear, and worry