So, what’s the secret to successfully parenting an anxious child? How do you even know you have an anxious child? And, surely the best way to do that is to resolve the issue causing the anxiety? Well that would seem to be the obvious answer … but is it the right one?
The first thing to be clear on is knowing that anxiety is an issue for your child. After all, it’s not always obvious. For those of you who don’t know, as well as being a parenting coach, I am also a trained counsellor and anxiety is one of the most common reasons for clients to visit me as a counsellor. When we start to explore their world, looking in detail at their here and now and then their childhood, it becomes clear that for many of my clients, the anxiety began in childhood although it was not clear at the time. So, how was it missed? And how can we make sure we don’t miss it as parents in today’s world?
Anxiety can present itself in many ways. Stereotypically, we might think of a person with anxiety as a “nervous wreck” – suffering with panic attacks, or tummy ache, or withdrawn from life. And for many people this is how anxiety presents itself – but this is usually when it has really taken a strong hold of a person and that person is living in survival mode. Before that, symptoms may be a little less obvious.
Tummy ache, crying – but more often, especially in children, aggressive behaviour. Many of the parents who contact me are looking for strategies for managing aggressive behaviour due to anger but in talking to these parents, it becomes clear that it is not anger that leads the aggression but anxiety. If you treat the aggressive behaviour as anger, you will not necessarily stop the aggression – it is crucial to address the underlying cause.
So, we have recognised our child has anxiety – what next?
To best support our child, we need to understand the world they are living in. What can be seemingly insignificant to us as adults could be highly anxiety provoking for children. So, the first thing is to appreciate this – stop watching behaviour you may be seeing and start listening to what your child is trying to tell you (with their behaviour).
Next, as parents (especially if we don’t suffer with anxiety), we need to understand anxiety and the impact it has on a person. On my counselling website, I refer to my own experience of anxiety and how it impacted on me and how it made me behave. So, the second thing to appreciate is this – separate the anxiety driven behaviour from the child. I behaved in all sorts of ways that make me feel really embarrassed when I think about them now with a clear head.
Emotion – as a parenting coach (and a counsellor), I am big on emotion! Recognising emotion is crucial. As adults, this is something we can struggle with – so how on earth are children supposed to understand it? So, the third thing to appreciate is this – children need to be coached on emotion and taught that all emotion is okay.
Responsibility – to be empowered and in control of what is happening, we must encourage children to understand that once they have understood their emotion, they have a choice in respect of how to manage the situation. Good and bad things happen – that’s life – and we often have little power over these things. However, we can teach children that they can choose how they respond to events. Importantly, they will learn this from us – their role models. Their response will ultimately lead to the long-term outcome for the child – and how they manage future events. So finally, the fourth thing to appreciate is this – Event+Response = Outcome.
If you would like to know about Parenting an Anxious Child, join us for our next course in November 2018 – or contact Colette to speak about bespoke parenting support.