Helping Kids Deal with Anxiety

How can you help your anxious child gain confidence when they’re reluctant or refusing to do something? Is it possible to build their confidence by pushing them to do it? Or do you empathize and let them off the hook so you don’t ramp up their anxiety?

Some current literature suggests that if you let your child off the hook, you’re coddling them or helicopter parenting, and that it increases their anxiety rather than building confidence. The idea is that pushing your kids will build courage, and if you don’t, they’ll become more and more anxious over time, never gaining the confidence to try new activities or skills.

However, parents with anxious sensitive kids know, (especially if the kids have a trauma background), that pushing their child to “be brave” can be terrifying for them, cause huge emotional meltdowns and ultimately re-traumatize them. And those of you whose kids are spirited as well know that no matter how hard you coax or convince, your child probably won’t do the activity anyways if they’ve said “no,” and in the end, everyone will just be upset and exhausted.

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Where’s the middle road?

Attuning includes noticing and acknowledging their feelings and doing your best to understand their experience and figure out what they need.

Attend to their needs, especially emotional, and then get curious about where their “edge” is, the place where they’re starting to feel a little anxious, but could possibly go a little further, even if only for a few minutes.

That’s when you can use baby steps.

To help them gain confidence, you and your child will need to gently discover where their edge is and find tiny actions they can take to have “success” by touching into those scary places briefly, as they’re able to tolerate without getting overwhelmed.

Building courage requires building capacity in the nervous system—and helping them get used to feeling a little anxious, but not so much that it immobilizes them or sends them into fight/flight.

They build on their successes bit by bit and learn to work gently with their anxiety and themselves.

Finally, based on my own experience, if you have anxiety yourself, you may need to tune into your own anxiety and gain skills for regulating yourself so you can better support your child.

Vancouver Island's Parenting Resource