As a psychotherapist with a private practice and the creator of Calm Crusaders, an anxiety program for children aged 9-12, I'm privy to a lot of children and families. The program has been wildly successful because our children and families face an inordinate amount of stress and we help arm them with tools to deal with anxiety and worry when it pops up, which it inevitably does....even in the "best" of families.
THE 3 TIPS I GIVE MY FAMILIES ARE....
1. Normalize His/Her Fears
Create a space where the they can share their feelings with you, while you listen, really listen. Instead of trying to fix it, just sit in it with them. With teenagers, taking a walk or going for a drive is a nice place to talk with you. It can feel less intense. For small children, try before bed, during morning cuddle time, or while cooking or playing a board game. Acknowledging the anxiety takes the power from it. Also, I've been known a time or two to say "you can be anxious or worried and still do the thing". They are not mutually exclusive. They can live together. YOU CAN DO HARD THINGS.
2. Problem Solve and Plan: Be a Coach
Don't tell them not to worry. I know, it feels counter intuitive, right? What are the first things you want to tell someone that is worrying? "Don't worry!" or "everything will be fine!" Instead, try to encourage your child to think of ways to solve his/her problem. For example, “If (blank) happens, what could you do?” or “Let’s think of some ways you could handle that situation.” This gives you the opportunity to coach your child on how to cope with (and challenge) both real and imagined scary situations. You are giving the children the power to cope when things pop up and catch them off guard. I highly encourage role playing. It is a great way to have the child hear what he/she will be saying and get some practice in.
3. Get Your Child to Start Paying Attention to His/Her Self-Talk
Thoughts are the words we say to ourselves without speaking out loud, especially anxious thoughts! You can think of self-talk as the inner voice equivalent of sports commentator on a player's good moves and not so good moves. It's like a running monologue. Sometimes, we say things that we would *never* say to a friend: What is wrong with me? or I’m such an idiot or I’ll never get this right.
Your child can learn to challenge that negative self-talk and the first step is becoming more aware of it. Positive self-talk is about recognizing the truth in situations and in yourself. "Darn, I feel dumb" versus "darn, I am dumb" can be a good transition into positive self talk. The former describes how you feel, not who you are. A good rule of thumb that I tell clients is if you wouldn’t say it to your friend, don’t say it to yourself. Here's what you CAN say: "I'm making progress, I'm enough, I'll get it, I'm willing to try, I can handle this, I'll keep trying, I got this."
If you want to continue this conversation, contact me and we can discuss ways to help you help your children! Visit the Catalyst Counseling website to learn more about our programs and services. You can email me at Barbie@Catalyst-Counseling.com.
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About the Contributor:
Barbie Atkinson is a bilingual psychotherapist and licensed professional counselor. Her philosophy is inspiring change in honoring autonomy while enhancing strengths. She founded Catalyst Counseling to offer men and women a chance to really feel seen, heard and ask them questions they hadn't considered before. She is not your mama’s therapist! Her One-Size-Can't-Possibly-Fit-All approach is refreshingly human and personal. Women navigating life transitions, including the wild new world of momming, is a passion of hers and of her therapists.