Why Helping an Anxious Child Feel Safe Is the End Game

Being the mom of an anxious child can be life changing. It can change the lens through which you read any parenting situation. It can change the tone of your voice; the ability to be spontaneous (OK, parenting in general orders a ceases and desist letter there); and it can change your family dynamics.

This type of change doesn’t necessarily mean worse. It can also open your heart and enrich your brain as you struggle to learn new approaches to ordinary things. Like leaving a playdate: instead of saying, “OK we’ve gotta go. Grab your things and say goodbye,” you sink slowly to your knees to make eye contact and say, “We‘re going to have to leave soon, so finish up what your doing. You have five minutes,” “three minute warning,” “two minutes then we go.” And on and on until you have her by the hand and sail out the door in harmony… or something resembling that.

An anxious child can worry about everything  —  but you won’t necessarily know that. Or if you do know, you may not really understand it. She may not have the words to tell you and really, she might not know what she’s feeling. She might just be trying to hold it together through the day. Those “tantrums” that may make you want to cry or tear your hair out  — or hers  —  can be simply an expression of all the emotion she can’t name. It helps me to remember she is more scared than anything. Scared by her worries, her thoughts that things will be bad. But in the middle of the screaming and crying, she is not worrying — she is scared. Scared by these emotions that take over her body and voice. So when you may least want to hold her and when you may not feel like being soft and caring, that is when you need to be. It can be a huge challenge, but I find keeping my eye on the end game helps.

The more you yell, the more afraid she can become ; then she’s scared of your emotions and actions as well as her own. If you can just wrap your arms around her and hold on really tight, she will feel your heartbeat and your breath and can match it. It can provide an opportunity for her to calm down enough to listen, to follow you, to take control of her body again. She will feel safe and you can then celebrate her victory.

And that’s the end game.

For now.

Getty image by Sasiistock

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