When children are chronically anxious, even the most well-meaning parents can utter words that exacerbate, instead of alleviate, anxious feelings. Non-anxious parents have the benefit of time, wisdom, and reasoning on their sides, and this can lead to statements that unknowingly dismiss the child’s anxious feelings.
It can be very difficult to watch a child struggle with anxiety, but the goal of the parent is to help the child learn to tolerate and cope with the feelings, not to try to remove all potential triggers of anxiety from the child’s life.
It’s essential for parents to remain calm and positive when confronting a child’s anxiety. While a parent should not attempt to “fix” the anxiety, kids do take their cues from their parents. The way you respond to their anxious thoughts and behaviors can set them up for successful coping or increased anxiety.
With that in mind, avoid using these 10 phrases when your child verbalizes anxious thoughts and feelings (or engages in anxious behaviors):
You can’t will away your child’s anxiety by telling him not to worry. He’s already worried. This statement implies that the worries are unreasonable or unacceptable. A better approach is: Can you tell me more about your worries?
It’s no big deal.
Anxious children know that their worries are a big deal. Their worries can negatively affect peer relationships, family relationships, school performance, and other areas of functioning. That’s a big deal. Try this, instead: I can see that you’re feeling very anxious about this. Let’s do some deep breathing together.
You’ll be fine.
Anyone who has ever experienced excessive anxiety or a panic attack knows that “fine” is not something that resonates with an anxious mind. When a child’s anxious mind is racing, he doesn’t feel anything close to “fine”. Reassure your child with this phrase: I am here to help you.
There’s nothing to be afraid of.
Anxious kids have plenty to fear: Judgment, peer rejection, failure, and the list goes on. You can’t stamp out anxiety with a quick phrase. You can help ease the fears by opening the door to a conversation: Let’s talk about that together.
– Katie Hurley, LCSW
Read More: 10 Things Never to Say to Your Anxious Child
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