As a parent, it can be extremely difficult to watch your child suffer. It becomes even worse when you realize you don’t have the tools to help your child with what they’re going through.
Before our daughter’s diagnosis of GAD (General Anxiety Disorder), I remember crying with her on the floor of our hallway before school because she was already thirty minutes late, for the third time that week, and even though there was nothing physically wrong with her, she mentally could not handle going to school. I had no idea how to handle the emotions and outbursts she would have, running to her room crying and screaming at the top of her lungs whenever her anxiety was triggered. At the time, I didn’t even know what was triggering it. The breaking point finally came when her teacher began calling me to come to pick her up early from school multiple times. She had told the teacher she didn’t feel good, she had a tummy ache, she couldn’t breathe, and she couldn’t hear very well. I knew I had to do something, so I finally went to a professional.
My daughter’s first visit to a counselor was hard for both of us. She was scared because she didn’t know what to expect, and I had the gut dropping feeling of being a failure as a mother because I couldn’t help my child. This is the first stigma you really must push through as a parent when your child has anxiety. This is not anyone’s fault and having mom guilt about taking your child to get the help they need is ridiculous. After her first visit, she came out smiling and happy. I remember crying when she went to bed that night because I couldn’t believe how much better she seemed after one session. We continued to go for almost a year, until her counselor, and my daughter felt like she had the skills to deal with things at home. Her sessions are on pause now, but I still have the counselor’s number in case there are any issues in the future.
We bought anxiety workbooks to do at home and storybooks about what to do when your “worry monster” returns. We practice breathing like a bear and other child-friendly meditations. They’re great resources for times when her anxiety starts to creep up on her again. That doesn’t mean that she doesn’t sometimes still run to her room and hide under her covers because something triggered her, but it does mean she and I both have a toolset to help her with her anxiety, so we can both calm down faster and get back to normal life.
For my daughter, the best way to handle her anxiety is to talk it through with logic. Literally, go worst-case scenario with her. One of her fears is dogs and other animals she’s not familiar with barking or making loud noises. So talking through with her, how to handle the situation, and what could be the worst thing that could happen, and why, very likely, it won’t happen helps her calm down.
We try not to eliminate her fears completely. Sometimes a strange dog barking is not a great thing for anyone to be around, but knowing how to handle that situation makes her feel safe.
It’s not the same for every child with anxiety, and I would definitely suggest to any parents dealing with an anxious child to talk to a professional first before trying anything at home, but I will say that once you find what helps your child you’ll see the weight lift from their shoulders, and you’ll wonder why you weren’t helping them in that way all along.
The biggest thing I am afraid of for my children is that they won’t grow into strong, independent adults. My daughter may grow out of her fears that cause her anxiety now, but if new fears approach her in the future, I’m confident that she’ll know how to handle her emotions.