It’s very important to know that anxiety can look really bad in kids, especially kids who aren’t shy about showing their emotions. But for the most part, it’s all within “normal” limits and temporary. So during these times of transitions when heightened anxiety pops up, you need a plan.
First, a couple of parenting points to make. One, don’t show fear when anxiety rears its ugly head, and don’t try too hard talking your child out of it. It’s best to channel the anxiety into something productive. Sounds strange, but it works. When your child is panicking, don’t engage with strong emotions and long talking sessions, or try too hard to reassure. That tends to make things worse. It accidentally communicates to your child that there may be something real to worry about. There’s plenty of time after the anxiety is gone to discuss what happened.
Second, channel the anxiety into movement. Know that the fears are imaginary and trumped up worries, nothing else. Movement will help lower the adrenalin running through their bodies. Sitting, and letting the brain pump more adrenalin in, is what makes anxiety worse.
Here are the steps to help all those families out there get through the next few weeks of transitioning back to school.
(1) When your child is irrational and panicking, help them label the emotion as physical. Tell him or her, “It’s adrenalin… too much in you… it won’t hurt you. it’s natural.”
(2) Channel the emotion into movement. Sit ups, push ups jumping jacks, a run around the yard, stretches, shoot hoops… anything. Otherwise, your child is a sitting duck. The irrational/emotional brain takes over, distorts, blows everything out of proportion – and more adrenalin gets pumps in. Movement is an important antidote to anxiety. It not only helps lower adrenalin levels, it sends an important message to the brain “Hey, I’m ok, I can move, I’m not trapped… no need to panic.”
(3) Get your parenting game-face on. Stay calm. Walk off if he or she tries to spread their anxiety to you. There’s nothing worse than contaminating everyone else in the house with the fear/worry/stress. We want to contain the anxiety.
(4) Catch moments when your child’s calmer and reward their efforts. Tap them on the shoulder, smile, offer a fist bump… recognize the gains they’re making and that helps increase the frequency of having less anxious moments down the road.
(5) Prevention works. Exercise, outdoor time, less screens, better diet (preservatives and food dyes have been implicated in hyperactivity), and above all else, sleep.
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