How to support a worried child when you feel anxious too
These are anxious times, for us and for them. Anxieties that perhaps you thought were long gone have raised their head over the last 12 months, or even some new ones have appeared. At the same time, our children are becoming increasingly anxious, as schools are closed, then opened, then closed again, and then re-open again. Nobody knows whether they are coming or going.
So how do we support our children with their anxieties, when we are feeling them too?
I think it’s really important that our children know that we can be afraid sometimes too. There can often be a narrative that as parents we are strong, and that as a consequence of this, we should never let them see that we are afraid. However, by letting them know that we get scared sometimes, they can see that it’s ok for them to be scared too. Often children interpret our stoicism as they shouldn’t show fear either, and that anxiety is a weakness. So it can be a huge relief to know that we get worried too sometimes.
Alongside this, it’s essential that our children know that while we are worried, there is nothing to be afraid of. So they can understand that just because we are worried, it doesn’t mean they need to be worried too. For example, saying “not everyone is worried about their children returning to school like mummy is, some parents are really excited.”
If your child is struggling with anxiety too, worry time can be a really lovely way to help them manage their worries. Ask your child to decorate a box, and then get them to add their worries throughout the day. Each day, around the same time (I usually advise after dinner, but it doesn’t have to be) you and your child can sit down and go through the worries together. The idea is that this allows your child to feel that they can stop worrying when they write their worry down, and they know that their worry will be deal with later.
It’s important that you listen to these worries, you don’t add judgement, and if it’s something that you are worried about too, you try not to reinforce the worry. Instead, talk about the worries. Discuss alternative ways you can think about them. Sometimes saying a worry out loud can be enough for them, and for us, to realise it’s actually not worth worrying about, sometimes it takes a little more.
When it takes a little more, I recommend sitting down together with a pen and paper, and pretend to be detectives. Look for the evidence for, and the evidence against a worry. What would their friend say? What would they say to a friend? Sometimes going through this with your child, in a non-judgmental way, can be a really helpful way for you to challenge your worries too.
Allowing that space and that time to do this together can help to strengthen your relationship with your child, and help them to feel safe enough to tackle these worries.
I would like to add that if you feel that your anxiety or your child’s (or both) is having a significant impact on your quality of life, please do not hesitate to ask for help. You can either speak to your GP for an onwards referral for therapy, or alternatively, in England you can make a self-referral for yourself to your local IAPT service here: https://www.nhs.uk/service-search/find-a-psychological-therapies-service/.
About the author
Chloe Bedford is a HCPC Registered Counselling Psychologist with over a decade's experience in working with children, adolescents and their families. Chloe recently left the NHS to set up in private practice largely working online. You can find Chloe at www.marathonpsychology.com and @drchoebedford on Instagram sharing tips and information.
Chloe is also a very enthusiastic runner and can be found on Instagram @the.running.psychologist where she runs a series of Tuesday evening lives discussing running, motherhood and mental health with different professionals.