If you wonder, "What do kids have to worry about?" and wish you could rewind the hands of time, think again. Adults are not the only ones feeling overwhelmed these days, children and youth are too. According to the National Survey of Children’s Health's most recent data and statistics on children's mental health, approximately 4.4 million children aged 3 to 17 have diagnosed anxiety.
While feeling anxious is a natural human emotion meant to be felt occasionally, it is stifling at any age when it becomes a behavioral pattern. Many of the same Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety that adults experience, children and adolescents endure as well. However, their anxiety can also look like bedwetting or addiction (to cell phones, games, pornography, etc.). For them anxiety can feel like they are losing their mind or dying. It can taste and smell like drug or alcohol abuse; and, sound like tantrums, hysterical crying, or refusal to speak (selective mutism).
If the young person in your life is demonstrating any of these behaviors, be careful to not overreact. You can be the one to lead them to wellness by following the (5)-step guide below:
1. Connect to their heart with the right attitude, tone, and word choice. Becoming irate, screaming, cursing, taunting, or hitting your son or daughter for "acting out" their anxiety will not help them heal. They need a caring adult who will not react to their pain with panic, but respond to their need with compassion, calmness, and unconditional love. For examples of how to initiate conversations that connect to your child's heart when they are anxious, click here.
2. Confess the part you have played in the problem. God is not the only one who needs to hear about our wrongdoings, our children need to hear some of our admissions too. Oftentimes the anxiety our children suffer from was modeled or created by the very adults in their lives. Take time to reflect and be honest with yourself. If you struggle with anxiety too, admit it. If you do not manage stress well, admit it. If you do not know how to build your capacity to effectively invest in your child emotionally, admit it. If you have been overreacting, ignoring, denying or trying to mask your child's issue(s) instead of helping them face it, admit it.
"I apologize ..."
"I have realized ..."
"I need to work on ..."
"I am learning how to ..."
These phrases are sometimes the very words that bring forth breakthroughs in our children's lives.
3. Change oftentimes starts with the parent not the child. Once you have owned up to the part you have played (directly or indirectly) in the problem, begin seeking support and resources. Professional, wise counsel can help you learn how to appropriately process your thoughts and feelings so that you can face the hardships with peace and confidence. One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is a parent who is aware of their issues and has the courage to overcome them.
4. Carry your child's burden with others who actively care. A parent's job is neither to shield nor save their children from hardship, but to offer support and show them how to walk through it with resilience and hope. If you belong to a community of faith, let members know how to pray for you and your family. If you are uncertain how to help your child, seek guidance from a recommended family counselor or therapist. A dedicated mentor can also play a tremendous role in helping your son or daughter feel loved and accepted during their darkest days.
5. Commit to being a caregiver who is emotionally safe and available. Your child doesn't need another game, gadget, or distraction. Our children need parents who are fully present to kiss their tears, listen to their frustrations, celebrate their uniqueness, love them at their worst, and guide them to their best. For ideas on what you can do to protect your child from youth anxiety, click here.
In our finiteness, nothing will be perfect on this side of heaven including our children and our parenting.
Yet, the journey is rewarding and joyous when we choose to learn and grow alongside our children.
Have a question? Dealing with an issue? Let us hear from you. Face It Counseling is here to meet people at their point of need with truth and encouragement. Until next time, Face It Until You Make It! :)
Felicia Matthew, MA, LPC