Anxiety is one of the most concerning emotional health challenges facing our children and teens. It has the ability to destroy their self-esteem, reduce positive emotion, and interfere with our children making the decision to take healthy risks in life. However, as a parent, being readily equipped to assist our children in learning how to manage anxiety is a valuable lifelong gift that we can provide them with.
Within the role of Wellbeing Coach I have recently been working with a number of students in preparation for their school camp and mock exams. A stressful time for many of our students and families. The worries and concerns ranged in difficulty but all involved were suffering in their own individual ways for what lay ahead.
Let’s start with a clearer understanding.
When speaking with the students and parents it became evidently clear that amongst our community, and I assume in wider society, a number of descriptions used for mental health are often used inaccurately. The most common, ‘My child is suffering with anxiety’. As a result, most students I would counsel would reiterate ‘I am anxious, I have anxiety!’
People often use the terms ‘worry’ and ‘anxiety’ interchangeably, yet they are very different psychological states. Although both are associated with a general sense of concern, they both have different implications for our emotional and psychological health.
Differences between worry and anxiety
- Worry creates mild emotional distress whereas anxiety can create severe emotional distress.
- Worry is caused by more realistic concerns, such as getting to a meeting on time, and anxiety is often based upon mental imagery.
- Worry can allow logic to assist when dealing with the problem but anxiety does not.
- Worry tends to be controllable, anxiety much less so.
- Worry tends to be a temporary state but anxiety can linger.
- Worry doesn’t impact our personal functioning; anxiety does. i.e: we don’t stay at home for the day because we are worried our children won’t like their school lunch.
Adapted from Building Resilience in children and teens found here
How can I help?
Begin by closely listening to what your children are saying and observing them. Listen for irrational thoughts such as “I am so dumb that my entire future is ruined”, “I am horrible at everything I do”, “Everyone in the school is so much better at everything than me”. When such self talk is noticeable assist your child to see that irrational thoughts and verbal reassurance raises anxiety and may assist worries to become worse than they are. Explain how the more they dwell on negative thoughts, the larger the negative thought will grow. Guide your child to realise the lack of evidence for irrational (unhelpful) thoughts by asking them to provide evidence that such irrational thoughts are true.
Most of the time our children will not want to hear what we have to say but make the effort and ensure you are patient, present, and soothing. Use consistent eye contact, active listening, and a warm accepting manner. Gently encourage your child to reflect on positive memories, personal strengths, and past accomplishments. Go back in time and point out times when the current problem did not exist. If such exceptions to the rule cannot be found use specific questioning and discuss “What is the worst thing that can happen?” Asking our children to realistically consider how the worst case scenario is not likely to actually happen allows logic and reasoning to assist. Be articulate that even if the worst case scenario is a possibility, you can both work together through such an event.