When a child has anxiety, life as you know it can come to a grinding halt with daily rhythms and routines lost in the chaos. Parents may find themselves arguing more with each other, letting a child get out of household chores, ignoring bad behaviour, making excuses for the child, and more. However, it is important for your child, and for you, to promote a healthy lifestyle that balances managing anxiety with managing life.
Excessive stress and tension in your home (for example, arguing, fighting, too many lessons/activities, etc.) can have a negative effect on your child. Look at ways to reduce stress. For instance, plan some fun time each day (even if it is only 5 minutes) to read a story, go for a walk, watch a favorite TV program together, or listen to music. Furthermore, try to address the conflict between family members when it arises (have family meetings to discuss problems, seek outside help/support, etc.). If the conflict results in arguing and unhealthy expressions of anger (e.g. yelling, throwing, or hitting), be sure to resolve the conflict in front of your child so your child feels secure that the situation is resolved. In addition, take some time to explain why you were angry in the first place, and apologize for any unhealthy behaviour while committing to try better in the future.
Make a Routine
Establish a routine by setting specific times for meals, homework, quiet time, and bedtime. Help your child establish a bedtime routine, which may include a bath and reading a story, or just time to chat. This can set the stage for helping your child develop better ways to manage anxiety.
Reduce Electronics at Bedtime
Anxious children use electronics more often than nonanxious peers. It is especially important to have parental rules about the use of technology. The use of technology prior to sleep delays the onset of sleep; young children should put away electronics 2 hours prior to sleep, and teens 1 hour prior to sleep. All technology should be stored overnight somewhere other than the bedroom.
It is important that parents and caregivers work together to help the child manage his/her anxiety. If parents and caregivers are not consistent, it can be very confusing for the child. Try to agree on ways of handling the child’s anxiety and be consistent in terms of limit setting and use of rewards.
Although your child may have problems with anxiety, that does not give him/her the green light for inappropriate behavior. It is important that you set expectations and limits for your child, and follow through on consequences for inappropriate behavior (such as losing television privileges for not completing chores). Family rules and expectations should be discussed in advance with all family members, at a calm time. Children are happier when they know the rules and what happens when they break them. Be sure to give rewards and praise when your child is adhering to expectations.
Recognize that it is difficult for children to face their fears. It is important not to laugh at your child or minimize his/her fears (for example, “don’t be a worry wart” or “you’re being silly”). Rather, let your child know that it is normal to have fears (we’re all afraid of something) and that it is possible to “boss back” your fears. When your child is upset, make sure to listen to him/her, to send your child the message that it’s okay to talk about feelings. Let your child know that h/she is understood, and that you will work with your child to learn skills to feel better.
Although it is tempting to want to do things for your child, especially when h/she tends to be nervous and fearful, it is better to let kids do the things they are capable of themselves. How else will they learn the skills and abilities to cope with life? Encourage your child to try things on his/her own, take some risks, and do things for him/herself. This can include giving him/her responsibilities around the house (cleaning his/her own room or setting the table). It can also include helping your child brainstorm ways to deal with problems or difficult situations (such as how to handle an argument with a friend or to manage missed assignments). Encouraging independence does not mean you can’t be supportive – but it does mean that you shouldn’t take over or do everything for your child.
It is important to have expectations for your child and help him/her meet those expectations. However, understand that an anxious child will have trouble doing certain things, and may need to go at a slower pace. Help your child break down goals into smaller steps that h/she can accomplish. It is important that your child is taking steps forward, even if the steps are small. Try not to push too hard or too fast. Let your child go at h/her pace.