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Mendo Lake Family Life

Anxious Much? You’re Not Alone

By Christina Katz

Can you anxiety-proof your kids? Probably not completely—especially in the time of COVID—but you can teach your child skills for navigating anxious feelings.

Affirm nerves are normal. Wouldn’t life be dull if there were never anything to get anxious about? Of course, it would be. Talk to your child about how facing life’s challenges makes us stronger and more confident. You might be tempted to minimize challenges for an emotionally sensitive child, but confronting a steady, manageable flow of age-appropriate challenges is not only educational in the short run, it’s also healthy in the long run.

Teach self-soothing. Multi-sensory experiences—taking a bath, singing songs out loud, or exercising vigorously outdoors—can immediately shift a child out of a nervous mood. Experiment with your child in low-pressure situations to discover tension-relieving activities to use later as needed. Teach your child the lifelong skill of consciously lowering anxiety and then redirecting attention toward something more productive.

Let excitement feel scary. Is your child excited? Even healthy excitement can feel a little scary sometimes. Not knowing how things will turn out usually makes the heart rate go up and is part of the joy of living.

Serve protein-packed meals and snacks. Make sure your child is not suffering from low blood sugar, which can increase anxiety, by serving three balanced meals daily plus two high-protein snacks, such as a granola bar or yogurt. If your child shows signs of sugar lows, such as shaky hands or emotional outbursts between meals, blood sugar might be an issue. Make a habit of grabbing a sandwich or a protein pack before a stressful event, no matter what the time of day.

Avoid sugar and caffeine. Cut out sodas, candy, and other foods made with high fructose corn syrup. If your child has food sensitivities or allergies, take steps to address them so foods don’t become an anxiety trigger. If sugar and caffeine are often consumed, let them follow meals so they don’t trigger a blood sugar roller coaster.

Accept personality quirks. Never assume your children can handle something simply because you would have been able to handle it or because your children’s siblings or friends can. Part of letting your children be individuals is not comparing them to others. After a challenging experience, ask them how they feel, rather than assuming how they should feel.

Cheer them on. We have so many jobs as parents, but one of the most important roles is that of cheerleader. Don’t take yourself so seriously that you can’t come down to your children’s level and say, “You can do it!” Your children need you next to them, encouraging them, not scowling down from on high, fretting about outcomes. If you want your kids to be brave, don’t pressure them; cheer them on instead.

Weather disappointments. As a parent, you must be able to see your children cry without overreacting. Teaching children to avoid crying at all costs is like saying that experiencing disappointment or sadness makes them weak. When we teach kids to embrace challenging emotions, they become more resilient, empathetic citizens in the long run.

Reward bravery. We live in a fairly unpredictable world, so it’s a great idea to teach kids how to take healthy risks. Kids who learn to push themselves to achieve goals will have less energy to channel into risky or adrenaline-fueled behavior. A great end-of-the-week dinner topic for families is: Who gets to wear an invisible crown of bravery? Reward the daring, rather than the results, and kids will learn that courage is its own reward. 

When to Seek Professional Help
If your child consistently displays the following symptoms, consult a mental health professional:

1. Anxiousness to the point of headaches, stomachaches, and tiredness with no other known physical cause.

2. Chronic sleep issues, including problems going to or staying asleep and early waking.

3. Low self-esteem characterized by being excessively hard on the self for no logical reason.

4. Consistent, excessive worry about everyday things, such as school, friends, grades, teachers, etc.

5. Avoiding school, withdrawing from friends, irritability with authority figures, successive high-highs and low-lows, use of substances, eating disorders, or other self-destructive behaviors.

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