As someone who has witnessed the long-term worst-case-scenario consequences of severe mental illness, I am passionate about teaching my kids to manage their emotions, and I have been proactive about doing so since they were little.
This has not prevented one of my sons from struggling with pretty significant anxiety at a young age.
It is heartbreaking to see him suffer and miss out on fun things, when he is unable to overcome his fears.
It is exhausting to provide the emotional support he needs to process life sometimes.
It is painful to experience judgement from others when his emotions outmatched his behavior at the wrong time.
It is an exquisite gift a to have such a sensitive, deeply feeling and perceptive child to love with all my heart.
It has been amazing to see his growth in confidence and wisdom beyond his years, as we’ve addressed his anxiety head on over time.
I have often felt alone while coaching him through this, even though I know I’m not.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, anxiety disorders actually affect 1 in 8 children. And 1 in 5 children between the ages of 13 and 18 has or will at some point have a mental health disorder.
I am writing this to empower and encourage moms in the trenches, who have a child that is suffering from issues with their mental health.
1. How to tell when there is a problem.
Fear is certainly a normal childhood experience, but when it begins to affect their daily activities significantly, it is time to secure extra support for your child.
2. It’s important to seek help as soon as possible.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the typical delay between the onset of symptoms and seeking of treatment is 8 to 10 years, and according to the 2015 Child Mind Institute Children’s Mental Health Report 80 percent of kids with a diagnosed anxiety disorder are not receiving treatment.
The sooner you seek help, the better the long-term outcome will be. Since 50 percent of life-long mental health disorders begin by age 14, I cannot overemphasize the importance of seeking help as soon as you suspect there may be a problem. It’s never too soon, and there’s no harm done with just getting checked out.
3. It’s just an illness, not an indictment on your parenting.
We can’t control how our kids are wired. There should be no more shame or blame surrounding mental health than any other issue a child may need help with.
4. There are effective treatment options.
A counselor can support your child to learn new ways to cope with their intense emotions and provide advice for ways you can help them at home.
Medication can help some kids if you’re open to going that route (Here is a checklist that can help you determine whether you want to discuss this with your doctor.)
5. The more proactive you are, the better.
There are a lot of helpful books and programs out there to help with childhood anxiety. Personally I can vouch for the award-winning Turnaround Anxiety Program for kids between age 6 and 12. It is available online and can be done at home with parental support; It’s fun and engaging for the kids and educational for adults as well.
6. Your child deserves and needs compassion and empathy.
Even if their symptoms are exasperating sometimes, they doing the best they can – period. Practice unconditional love and patience, do not resort to punishing their pain.This is an opportunity for your whole family to grow closer together or further apart. How you respond to your child’s anxiety will make all the difference. This video on empathy can support you while you support them.
7. It is important to embrace your child’s sensitivity.
Your child is so much more than his or her issue with anxiety (even though it can seem all consuming at times). Often, highly sensitive individuals may be prone to anxiety, due to the way they absorb every detail of life including other people’s emotions. One excellent resource for understanding your child’s unique attributes is the Highly Sensitive Child by Elaine Aron, PhD. Her Web site contains much research and information, along with an online questionnaire to determine if your child can be considered highly sensitive.
8. Behavioral strategies are essential.
You aren’t helping your child by enabling them to behave inappropriately due to their anxiety. You need to learn how to respect their feelings without empowering their fears; this can feel like your heart is being pulled between wanting to protect them and wanting to discipline them. Emotion coaching is a good place to start, or a good counselor can help you see the forest through the trees on disciplining a child who is struggling with anxiety.
9. You may need to advocate for your child at school.
Is your child being bullied at school? Do they suffer from a learning disorder? Are they struggling socially? We can’t protect our kids from everything, and we do need teach them how to cope with stress on their own; however we also need to protect their sensitivity and create safe environments, where they are able to grow and learn. This may require extra support at school for some children who struggle with anxiety. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
10. See this as a growth opportunity.
As humbling as it is, you may need to be honest with yourself about stress your child is experiencing at home. Could a family upheaval be causing them anxiety without you realizing it? Is there anything concerning going on in their life that you’ve been avoiding dealing with? Are you modelling healthy stress management to your child? While wanting the best for them, are you inadvertently putting too much pressure on them? Their symptoms could be a gift to bring a higher level of consciousness to your whole family; it is worth some self reflection to seek out root causes.
11. Be persistent with treatment.
This may take time to heal, that’s okay. Stick with treatment as long as it takes because it’s the best thing you can do for your child.
12. Don’t forget to affirm your child’s gifts.
Is your child thoughtful and caring or a particularly deep thinker? Are they uniquely smart or expressive? Be careful not to define your child by their anxiety; They are so much more than this problem they are going through.
13. Paint a picture of your child’s bright future.
Your child need to know you believe in them! Fill them with as much hope, encouragement and optimism as you can, it will go a long way!
14. Give yourself a little credit.
When our kids hurt, so do our hearts. No doubt, you are doing the very best you know how to do for your child. Keep your chin up, and keep up the good work.
I can vouch for how amazingly far my son has come with a little extra help through these tips – I hope you have the same results!
Do you have a child who suffers from anxiety? What techniques help your child? Be sure to reach out for help from a professional and share any tips with us!