Monday with Maureen: “Support, Confidence, and Coping Strategies: How to Help Your Child Handle Adolescent Anxiety”

Anxiety is crushing enough as it is, but for children who haven’t yet gained the communication skills or coping mechanisms adults have often acquired by the time they reach functional adulthood, anxiety may be an even deeper and darker nightmare. This article sketches out some ideas and explanation for parents walking through adolescent and childhood anxiety with their kids. Special thanks to Noah Smith, who reached out to us expressing concern for kids with anxiety that goes untreated and unaided. Noah loves sharing his travel advice on WellnessVoyager. He tries to take one big trip each year, is currently saving up to backpack through Europe, and graced our blog with his presence this morning through these insights into the mental health struggles so many endure throughout their childhood.

Author: Noah Smith

 

Growing up, children will go through many phases. Phases are normal, temporary, and typically harmless. However, if you notice signs of nervousness, fear, and shyness in your child that doesn’t go away, they may be dealing with an anxiety disorder. Here are a few tips on how you can help your child successfully cope with their anxiety.

 

Give them your support.

Having anxiety can make a child feel isolated and alone due to the stress it causes. As a parent, you need to show them that they are not alone and you are there to help them face this trying time.

There will be times you will want to shield your child from what triggers their anxiety, but the best way for them to learn how to successfully cope with and perhaps get over it is to face everything. They have to learn how to tolerate their anxiety and function to the best of their ability, especially when they are stressed. It can be tempting to take over, and although it will make your child feel better in the moment, it relays the message that they can’t handle it on their own.

One of the best ways you can support your child is by expressing positive, but realistic expectations. You can’t promise your child that they will never experience anxiety, but you can express confidence that they will be able to manage their anxiety and everything will be okay.

Let your child know that as they face their fears, their anxiety level will begin to drop. Build up their personal strength by praising them for facing challenges. Whether it is a pat on the back or a trip to get frozen yogurt, simple praise will go a long way in building your child’s self confidence.

 

Let them feel.

Expressing confidence in your child’s ability to overcome anxiety is very necessary, but you will also need to respect their feelings so that you don’t belittle their fears. Although it may be hard for you to bear, it is okay to let your child experience some anxiety.

It is important that you explain to your child that anxiety isn’t dangerous or a punishment, but rather their body’s natural coping mechanism. For example, it explains why they feel scared if they can’t find you in the store or why they feel anxious when they are walking home from a friend’s house and it is getting dark.

Anxiety is natural, but sometimes it bubbles over and becomes a barrier. Offer them encouragement to help them realize that they can face their fears. The message you want to come across is, “I recognize that you are afraid and that’s okay. I’m here and I’m going to help you get through this.” Fear is natural and overcoming it is too.

 

Teach them a positive coping strategy.

Breathing exercises can help your child to calm themselves in stressful situations and stave off a panic attack. A technique called calm breathing teaches your child how to slow down their breathing when they are feeling anxious. When children are anxious, they tend to take quick shallow breaths, which may cause hyperventilation. Calm breathing will help your child reestablish their sense of control.

Teach your child to take a slow breath in through their nose, hold their breath for 2 seconds, then exhale slowly through their mouth. Wait a few seconds, then repeat up to 10 times. Once your child becomes comfortable with this technique, encourage them to do it any time they feel it is necessary. This is an exercise that your child can do anywhere and it is so subtle that other people won’t even notice what they are doing.

The sooner you begin to enforce ways to successfully manage your child’s anxiety, the better off they will be. If left untreated, anxiety can lead to alcohol abuse or addiction when your child gets older. As a parent, you always want what’s best for your child, so start implementing these tools today so your child can live their best life.

Monday with Maureen: 13 Things to Remember if You Love a Person with Anxiety

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Do you love someone who suffers from anxiety? This week’s article shares some of the most practical tips I’ve come across. Enjoy the read!

13 Things to Remember If You Love A Person With Anxiety
BY JAKE MCSPIRIT
Anxiety is tough, isn’t it? Not just for the people that have it, but for you – the people that stick with them – while they’re going through it. It’s emotionally taxing on both ends, it’s physically demanding at times, and of course mentally demanding most of the time.
Plans have to be changed to accommodate the anxiety. Situations have to be avoided at times. Planning has to be just that bit more thorough. Emotional needs can change daily. It’s a lot to work through, and it can be hard to get in their head to understand on top of that.
It’s understandably confusing at times, so consider this your cheat sheet. 13 things for you to remember when loving someone with anxiety.
1. They are more than just their anxiety
No one likes to be defined by one attribute of themselves. If you truly want to be supportive of someone with anxiety, remind them that you appreciate the individual behind the anxiety. Recognize that they are more than just their anxiety.
It sounds like it would be common sense to do so, we don’t go around seeing people by one solitary attribute in most cases, but people have a tendency to become blind-sighted by mental health issues. They are still a human being with all the complexities that everyone else has. Please, remember that.
2. They can get tired easily
Anxiety is exhausting. It seems like the only people that understand how tiring it really can be is people with anxiety themselves. Anxiety causes people to live in hyper-tense states. They are always on alert, their mind is very rarely settled, and their body is always ready to fight or flight. With the hypertension comes fatigue. Situations that people without anxiety can just breeze through are more tiring for those with anxiety.
Ever had a stressful work week, where every day you woke up thinking “wow, I really hope I get a break soon”? That’s an anxious person’s every day, and it’s tiring. Remember that next time you’re pushing someone with anxiety to be more ‘productive.’
3. They can get overwhelmed easily
Tying into the previously noted hyper-tense state, they’re also overwhelmed easily because of it. They’re aware of everything going on around them. Every noise, every action, every smell, every light, every person, every object. For someone existing in such a hyper-alert state a situation that doesn’t seem that overwhelming (e.g. the thought of more than a handful of people talking in a room) can cause their head to spin.
When trying to encourage someone with anxiety to go somewhere, just keep in mind that the stimuli you enjoy can just as easily be overwhelming for them. Try not to lock them into the situation. Ensure they know they can leave and are capable of doing so at any point.
4. They are well aware their anxiety is often irrational
Being aware of the irrationality does not stop the thoughts from racing. It does not stop the thinking of hundreds of different worst-case scenarios. If it was as easy as saying “okay, that’s irrational – no point worrying about it,” the majority of those living with anxiety would not have problems with it anymore.
One of the worst things about anxiety is how aware of the irrationality they can be. Pointing out that it’s irrational doesn’t help – they already know this. What they need is compassion, understanding, and support – very rarely do they need advice on how irrational and pointless their anxiety it (because that’s not even advice.)
5. They can communicate how they feel (you just have to actually listen)
Having anxiety does not mean that they are incapable of expressing or communicating. (Unless they’re panicking, in which case they likely can’t.Don’t try to get them to either!) They still like to talk and they still like to speak for themselves. They will tell you how they feel.
Often when people think someone with anxiety, or really any problem whatsoever, can’t or won’t communicate – it’s because they’re choosing not to, and it’s usually because the other party has been entirely dismissive the last time they opened up. So next time when you think they’re incapable of speaking for themselves, bite your tongue and give them the opportunity to actually speak. Then take the time to listen.
6. They don’t need someone constantly asking “are you okay?” while they’re panicking
When you see someone panicking and you know they have anxiety, do you really need to ask “are you okay?”
You already know the answer. Their heart is pounding a million miles an hour, their hands are clamming up, their chest is tightening, their limbs are vibrating from all the adrenalin and their mind has just sunken into the limbic system’s ‘fight or flight’ response. Honestly? Part of them probably thinks they’re dying. So instead of asking “are you okay?” try something a little more helpful and constructive. Good examples would be:
• “Remember your breathing”
• “Remember
• “Would you like help me to help you to somewhere quieter/safer/calmer?”
• “I’m here if you need me.” (At this point, you should leave them alone unless they ask)
• “You’re panicking, it won’t last. You’ve got past this before, you’ll get past it again”
But the key to all of this: If they ask you to leave them alone – leave them alone! They are experienced in handling their anxiety; let them get through it however they see fit.
7. They appreciate you sticking by them
Anxiety is rough on everyone involved, which means you too. They understand that, they understand their irrationality; they understand you’ve not done some things you would’ve liked to because they couldn’t. They’re not oblivious to what it takes to support them.
If there’s one thing in common that you’ll find across the board for everyone with anxiety, it’s that they over think – they over think a lot. Part of this over thinking always comes back to the people that have supported them, always. Your support doesn’t go unmissed – no matter how subtle you may think it’s been.
8. They can find it hard to let it go
Part of anxiety is the constant over thinking, but to really understand this we need to understand where the over thinking stems from. When anyone is faced with a traumatic incident in their life, which most people with anxiety have had more than their fair share of, the memory (if not properly dealt with) can end up stored in part of the limbic system of the brain that the mind uses to determine if we are at ‘risk.’
The memory is stored in a completely different manner and region of the brain in comparison to an everyday memory that gets filed away. This causes the brain to react differently to the memory. The brain is actively seeking to make links between the traumatic memory and the present situation it’s in (partly the cause of the hyper-tense state.)
When the brain is caught in this cycle, letting go of things can be very difficult. When the brain is trained to remain in this cycle through prolonged anxiety, letting go of pretty much anything can be a tough task. People with anxiety cannot always just ‘let it go,’ their brain won’t let them, so please don’t give them a hard time about it.
9. They can find change difficult (even if it’s expected)
Everyone has a comfort zone, anxiety or not. Pushing that comfort zone can be difficult for even the most well-adjusted person, so for people with anxiety it can be even more challenging. I recently purchased my partner suffering with anxiety a new full size mattress to help him relax and sleep better. Although at first he found it difficult to change, he did grow to like it! This is not to be confused with the sentiment that those with anxiety dislike change or pushing their comfort zones, because they will likely thrive once they’re actually in the process of doing so. They can just find it a lot more difficult to bring themselves to do so.
The one relief people with anxiety tend to get from their anxiety is when they’re allowed to be in their place of comfort with nothing major changing around them. When they’re faced with a big change and uprooting, it can take them a lot longer to settle back down and establish that zone again. Just remember to have a little more patience and understanding for those with anxiety. They’re trying, they really are.
10. They aren’t (always) intentionally ignoring you
Part of managing anxiety is controlling the inner monologue that comes with it. Sometimes this can be a very attention-consuming act. The strangest things can set off obscure thought patterns for those with anxiety. If they suddenly drift out of the conversation, there’s a good chance they’re over thinking something that’s just been said or they’re trying to calm their thoughts down. Both take immense concentration.
They’re not ignoring you; or not intentionally at least. They’re just trying not to have a mental breakdown right there in front of you. You don’t need to ask “are you okay?” and you especially don’t need to quiz them on what you just said. If it’s important, try gently bringing it back up when they seem more attentive.
Their mind can be a war zone at times. They will drop out of conversations unexpectedly and they will feel bad for doing so if they realize it. Reassure them that you understand and ensure they’ve fully digested any important news you may have discussed, especially if it involves them handling some responsibility (maybe make a note of it too!)
11. They aren’t always present
As mentioned in the above point, they’re not always present in a conversation, but it’s not just conversation that can trigger this reaction. Everyday events can cause everyone to get lost in contemplation at some point or another, but for those with anxiety almost everything can serve as a contemplative trigger. They will recede into the depths of their mind quite regularly and you’ll likely notice the vacancy on their face. Contrary to what romantic movies suggest, it’s not always cute to come up and spook them while they’re lost in thought (though sometimes it definitely can be!)
Gently nudge them back to reality regularly. Remind them where they are, what they’re doing (not literally, they’re anxious – they don’t have short term memory loss), and to appreciate it. They’ll greatly appreciate you doing so.
12. They don’t always see it as a limitation (nor should you!)
It’s okay to be an anxious person. Sure, it can be a struggle at times, but it’s not always a limitation. Anxiety has molded part of the person in question and ultimately has the potential of bettering them as a person. It can cause them to see the world in a very different way and often this can be for the best. The symptoms can suck, the over thinking can suck, the missing out on certain events can suck, everything in life has the potential to suck. Just because it can doesn’t mean that those with anxiety choose to see it that way; at least, not all the time.
Remember that part of their personality is the anxiety. Remember that part of them, the compilation of life experiences that they are made of, is the anxiety. It can have some benefits too, and many people with anxiety (when getting ‘better’) choose to see them. You should too.
13. They are awesome!
Just like everybody else on Earth, they are awesome! (That’s why you love them, right?) It’s pretty easy to get focused on the doom and gloom of any issue, especially ones involving mental health, but part of overcoming them is remembering the awesomeness that came before and will come after the issue.
Choose to see the benefits. Choose to see the upside of the situation. Choose to see the awesomeness. If they can, so can you.
Cheat sheet over, done, finished. Keep these in mind and your whole experience may be a lot easier – then again, it may not be either. We’re humans and we’re unique. What works for one may not work for the other, but there is one thing that always works: loving compassion. If you take anything away from this article, just let it be that everyone – especially those struggling – deserves loving compassion, so spread it around.

Monday with Maureen: 9 Things Every Parent with an Anxious Child Should Try

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Is your child anxious? Does he worry all the time and you don’t know what to say or do to make it better? I came across this article and loved the practical advice!

9 Things Every Parent with an Anxious Child Should Try
By RENEE JAIN, MAPP

As all the kids line up to go to school, your son, Timmy, turns to you and says, “I don’t want to take the bus. My stomach hurts. Please don’t make me go.” You cringe and think, Here we go again. What should be a simple morning routine explodes into a daunting challenge.

You look at Timmy and see genuine terror. You want to comfort him. You want to ease the excessive worry that’s become part and parcel of his everyday life. First, you try logic. “Timmy, we walk an extra four blocks to catch this bus because this driver has an accident-free driving record!” He doesn’t budge.

You provide reassurance. “I promise you’ll be OK. Timmy, look at me… you trust me, right?” Timmy nods. A few seconds later he whispers, “Please don’t make me go.”

You resort to anger: “Timothy Christopher, you will get on this bus RIGHT NOW, or there will be serious consequences. No iPad for one week!” He looks at you as if you’re making him walk the plank. He climbs onto the bus, defeated. You feel terrible.

If any of this sounds familiar, know you are not alone. Most parents would move mountains to ease their child’s pain. Parents of kids with anxiety would move planets and stars as well. It hurts to watch your child worry over situations that, frankly, don’t seem that scary. Here’s the thing: To your child’s mind, these situations are genuinely threatening. And even perceived threats can create a real nervous system response. We call this response anxiety and I know it well.

I’d spent the better part of my childhood covering up a persistent, overwhelming feeling of worry until, finally, in my early twenties, I decided to seek out a solution. What I’ve learned over the last two decades is that many people suffer from debilitating worry. In fact, 40 million American adults, as well as 1 in 8 children, suffer from anxiety. Many kids miss school, social activities and a good night’s rest just from the worried thoughts in their head. Many parents suffer from frustration and a feeling of helplessness when they witness their child in this state day in, day out.

What I also learned is that while there is no one-size-fits-all solution for anxiety, there are a plethora of great research-based techniques that can help manage it — many of which are simple to learn. WAIT! Why didn’t my parents know about this? Why didn’t I know about it? Why don’t they teach these skills in school?

I wish I could go back in time and teach the younger version of myself how to cope, but of course, that’s not possible. What is possible is to try to reach as many kids and parents as possible with these coping skills. What is possible is to teach kids how to go beyond just surviving to really finding meaning, purpose and happiness in their lives. To this end, I created an anxiety relief program for kids called GoZen. Here are 9 ideas straight from GoZen that parents of anxious children can try right away:

1. Stop Reassuring Your Child
Your child worries. You know there is nothing to worry about, so you say, “Trust me. There’s nothing to worry about.” Done and done, right? We all wish it were that simple. Why does your reassurance fall on deaf ears? It’s actually not the ears causing the issue. Your anxious child desperately wants to listen to you, but the brain won’t let it happen. During periods of anxiety, there is a rapid dump of chemicals and mental transitions executed in your body for survival. One by-product is that the prefrontal cortex — or more logical part of the brain — gets put on hold while the more automated emotional brain takes over. In other words, it is really hard for your child to think clearly, use logic or even remember how to complete basic tasks. What should you do instead of trying to rationalize the worry away? Try something I call the FEEL method:

• Freeze — pause and take some deep breaths with your child. Deep breathing can help reverse the nervous system response.
• Empathize — anxiety is scary. Your child wants to know that you get it.
• Evaluate — once your child is calm, it’s time to figure out possible solutions.
• Let Go – Let go of your guilt; you are an amazing parent giving your child the tools to manage their worry.

2. Highlight Why Worrying is Good
Remember, anxiety is tough enough without a child believing that Something is wrong with me. Many kids even develop anxiety about having anxiety. Teach your kids that worrying does, in fact, have a purpose.

When our ancestors were hunting and gathering food there was danger in the environment, and being worried helped them avoid attacks from the saber-toothed cat lurking in the bush. In modern times, we don’t have a need to run from predators, but we are left with an evolutionary imprint that protects us: worry.

Worry is a protection mechanism. Worry rings an alarm in our system and helps us survive danger. Teach your kids that worry is perfectly normal, it can help protect us, and everyone experiences it from time to time. Sometimes our system sets off false alarms, but this type of worry (anxiety) can be put in check with some simple techniques.

3. Bring Your Child’s Worry to Life
As you probably know, ignoring anxiety doesn’t help. But bringing worry to life and talking about it like a real person can. Create a worry character for your child. In GoZen we created Widdle the Worrier. Widdle personifies anxiety. Widdle lives in the old brain that is responsible for protecting us when we’re in danger. Of course, sometimes Widdle gets a little out of control and when that happens, we have to talk some sense into Widdle. You can use this same idea with a stuffed animal or even role-playing at home.

Personifying worry or creating a character has multiple benefits. It can help demystify this scary physical response children experience when they worry. It can reactivate the logical brain, and it’s a tool your children can use on their own at any time.

4. Teach Your Child to Be a Thought Detective
Remember, worry is the brain’s way of protecting us from danger. To make sure we’re really paying attention, the mind often exaggerates the object of the worry (e.g., mistaking a stick for a snake). You may have heard that teaching your children to think more positively could calm their worries. But the best remedy for distorted thinking is not positive thinking; it’s accurate thinking. Try a method we call the 3Cs:

• Catch your thoughts: Imagine every thought you have floats above your head in a bubble (like what you see in comic strips). Now, catch one of the worried thoughts like “No one at school likes me.”

• Collect evidence: Next, collect evidence to support or negate this thought. Teach your child not to make judgments about what to worry about based only on feelings. Feelings are not facts. (Supporting evidence: “I had a hard time finding someone to sit with at lunch yesterday.” Negating evidence: “Sherry and I do homework together–she’s a friend of mine.”)

• Challenge your thoughts: The best (and most entertaining) way to do this is to teach your children to have a debate within themselves.

5. Allow Them to Worry
As you know, telling your children not to worry won’t prevent them from doing so. If your children could simply shove their feelings away, they would. But allowing your children to worry openly, in limited doses, can be helpful. Create a daily ritual called “Worry Time” that lasts 10 to 15 minutes. During this ritual encourage your children to release all their worries in writing. You can make the activity fun by decorating a worry box. During worry time there are no rules on what constitutes a valid worry — anything goes. When the time is up, close the box and say good-bye to the worries for the day.

6. Help Them Go from What If to What Is
You may not know this, but humans are capable of time travel. In fact, mentally we spend a lot of time in the future. For someone experiencing anxiety, this type of mental time travel can exacerbate the worry. A typical time traveler asks what-if questions: “What if I can’t open my locker and I miss class?” “What if Suzy doesn’t talk to me today?”

Research shows that coming back to the present can help alleviate this tendency. One effective method of doing this is to practice mindfulness exercises. Mindfulness brings a child from what if to what is. To do this, help your child simply focus on their breath for a few minutes.

7. Avoid Avoiding Everything that Causes Anxiety
Do your children want to avoid social events, dogs, school, planes or basically any situation that causes anxiety? As a parent, do you help them do so? Of course! This is natural. The flight part of the flight-fight-freeze response urges your children to escape the threatening situation. Unfortunately, in the long run, avoidance makes anxiety worse.

So what’s the alternative? Try a method we call laddering. Kids who are able to manage their worry break it down into manageable chunks. Laddering uses this chunking concept and gradual exposure to reach a goal.

Let’s say your child is afraid of sitting on the swings in the park. Instead of avoiding this activity, create mini-goals to get closer to the bigger goal (e.g., go to the edge of the park, then walk into the park, go to the swings, and, finally, get on a swing). You can use each step until the exposure becomes too easy; that’s when you know it’s time to move to the next rung on the ladder.

8. Help Them Work Through a Checklist
What do trained pilots do when they face an emergency? They don’t wing it (no pun intended!); they refer to their emergency checklists. Even with years of training, every pilot works through a checklist because, when in danger, sometimes it’s hard to think clearly.

When kids face anxiety they feel the same way. Why not create a checklist so they have a step-by-step method to calm down? What do you want them to do when they first feel anxiety coming on? If breathing helps them, then the first step is to pause and breathe. Next, they can evaluate the situation. In the end, you can create a hard copy checklist for your child to refer to when they feel anxious.

9. Practice Self-Compassion
Watching your child suffer from anxiety can be painful, frustrating, and confusing. There is not one parent that hasn’t wondered at one time or another if they are the cause of their child’s anxiety. Here’s the thing, research shows that anxiety is often the result of multiple factors (i.e., genes, brain physiology, temperament, environmental factors, past traumatic events, etc.). Please keep in mind, you did not cause your child’s anxiety, but you can help them overcome it.

Toward the goal of a healthier life for the whole family, practice self-compassion. Remember, you’re not alone, and you’re not to blame. It’s time to let go of debilitating self-criticism and forgive yourself. Love yourself. You are your child’s champion.

Monday with Maureen: 9 Things Every Parent with an Anxious Child Should Try

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????This is one of the best articles about anxiety I have read. Great tips for every parent!

9 Things Every Parent with an Anxious Child Should Try

By Renee Jain, Huffington Post

As all the kids line up to go to school, your son, Timmy, turns to you and says, “I don’t want to take the bus. My stomach hurts. Please don’t make me go.” You cringe and think, Here we go again. What should be a simple morning routine explodes into a daunting challenge.

You look at Timmy and see genuine terror. You want to comfort him. You want to ease the excessive worry that’s become part and parcel of his everyday life. First, you try logic. “Timmy, we walk an extra four blocks to catch this bus because this driver has an accident-free driving record!” He doesn’t budge.

You provide reassurance. “I promise you’ll be OK. Timmy, look at me… you trust me, right?” Timmy nods. A few seconds later he whispers, “Please don’t make me go.”

You resort to anger: “Timothy Christopher, you will get on this bus RIGHT NOW, or there will be serious consequences. No iPad for one week!” He looks at you as if you’re making him walk the plank. He climbs onto the bus, defeated. You feel terrible.

If any of this sounds familiar, know you are not alone. Most parents would move mountains to ease their child’s pain. Parents of kids with anxiety would move planets and stars as well. It hurts to watch your child worry over situations that, frankly, don’t seem that scary. Here’s the thing: To your child’s mind, these situations are genuinely threatening. And even perceived threats can create a real nervous system response. We call this response anxiety and I know it well.

I’d spent the better part of my childhood covering up a persistent, overwhelming feeling of worry until, finally, in my early twenties, I decided to seek out a solution. What I’ve learned over the last two decades is that many people suffer from debilitating worry. In fact, 40 million American adults, as well as 1 in 8 children, suffer from anxiety. Many kids miss school, social activities and a good night’s rest just from the worried thoughts in their head. Many parents suffer from frustration and a feeling of helplessness when they witness their child in this state day in, day out.

What I also learned is that while there is no one-size-fits-all solution for anxiety, there are a plethora of great research-based techniques that can help manage it — many of which are simple to learn. WAIT! Why didn’t my parents know about this? Why didn’t I know about it? Why don’t they teach these skills in school?

I wish I could go back in time and teach the younger version of myself how to cope, but of course, that’s not possible. What is possible is to try to reach as many kids and parents as possible with these coping skills. What is possible is to teach kids how to go beyond just surviving to really finding meaning, purpose and happiness in their lives. To this end, I created an anxiety relief program for kids called GoZen. Here are 9 ideas straight from GoZen that parents of anxious children can try right away:

  1. Stop Reassuring Your Child

Your child worries. You know there is nothing to worry about, so you say, “Trust me. There’s nothing to worry about.” Done and done, right? We all wish it were that simple. Why does your reassurance fall on deaf ears? It’s actually not the ears causing the issue. Your anxious child desperately wants to listen to you, but the brain won’t let it happen. During periods of anxiety, there is a rapid dump of chemicals and mental transitions executed in your body for survival. One by-product is that the prefrontal cortex — or more logical part of the brain — gets put on hold while the more automated emotional brain takes over. In other words, it is really hard for your child to think clearly, use logic or even remember how to complete basic tasks. What should you do instead of trying to rationalize the worry away? Try something I call the FEEL method:

  • Freeze — pause and take some deep breaths with your child. Deep breathing can help reverse the nervous system response.
  • Empathize — anxiety is scary. Your child wants to know that you get it.
  • Evaluate — once your child is calm, it’s time to figure out possible solutions.
  • Let Go – Let go of your guilt; you are an amazing parent giving your child the tools to manage their worry.
  1. Highlight Why Worrying is Good

Remember, anxiety is tough enough without a child believing that Something is wrong with me. Many kids even develop anxiety about having anxiety. Teach your kids that worrying does, in fact, have a purpose.

When our ancestors were hunting and gathering food there was danger in the environment, and being worried helped them avoid attacks from the saber-toothed cat lurking in the bush. In modern times, we don’t have a need to run from predators, but we are left with an evolutionary imprint that protects us: worry.

Worry is a protection mechanism. Worry rings an alarm in our system and helps us survive danger. Teach your kids that worry is perfectly normal, it can help protect us, and everyone experiences it from time to time. Sometimes our system sets off false alarms, but this type of worry (anxiety) can be put in check with some simple techniques.

  1. Bring Your Child’s Worry to Life

As you probably know, ignoring anxiety doesn’t help. But bringing worry to life and talking about it like a real person can. Create a worry character for your child. In GoZen we created Widdle the Worrier. Widdle personifies anxiety. Widdle lives in the old brain that is responsible for protecting us when we’re in danger. Of course, sometimes Widdle gets a little out of control and when that happens, we have to talk some sense into Widdle. You can use this same idea with a stuffed animal or even role-playing at home.

Personifying worry or creating a character has multiple benefits. It can help demystify this scary physical response children experience when they worry. It can reactivate the logical brain, and it’s a tool your children can use on their own at any time.

  1. Teach Your Child to Be a Thought Detective

Remember, worry is the brain’s way of protecting us from danger. To make sure we’re really paying attention, the mind often exaggerates the object of the worry (e.g., mistaking a stick for a snake). You may have heard that teaching your children to think more positively could calm their worries. But the best remedy for distorted thinking is not positive thinking; it’s accurate thinking. Try a method we call the 3Cs:

  • Catch your thoughts: Imagine every thought you have floats above your head in a bubble (like what you see in comic strips). Now, catch one of the worried thoughts like “No one at school likes me.”
  • Collect evidence: Next, collect evidence to support or negate this thought. Teach your child not to make judgments about what to worry about based only on feelings. Feelings are not facts. (Supporting evidence: “I had a hard time finding someone to sit with at lunch yesterday.” Negating evidence: “Sherry and I do homework together–she’s a friend of mine.”)
  • Challenge your thoughts: The best (and most entertaining) way to do this is to teach your children to have a debate within themselves.
  1. Allow Them to Worry

As you know, telling your children not to worry won’t prevent them from doing so. If your children could simply shove their feelings away, they would. But allowing your children to worry openly, in limited doses, can be helpful. Create a daily ritual called “Worry Time” that lasts 10 to 15 minutes. During this ritual encourage your children to release all their worries in writing. You can make the activity fun by decorating a worry box. During worry time there are no rules on what constitutes a valid worry — anything goes. When the time is up, close the box and say good-bye to the worries for the day.

  1. Help Them Go from What If to What Is

You may not know this, but humans are capable of time travel. In fact, mentally we spend a lot of time in the future. For someone experiencing anxiety, this type of mental time travel can exacerbate the worry. A typical time traveler asks what-if questions: “What if I can’t open my locker and I miss class?” “What if Suzy doesn’t talk to me today?”

Research shows that coming back to the present can help alleviate this tendency. One effective method of doing this is to practice mindfulness exercises. Mindfulness brings a child from what if to what is. To do this, help your child simply focus on their breath for a few minutes.

  1. Avoid Avoiding Everything that Causes Anxiety

Do your children want to avoid social events, dogs, school, planes or basically any situation that causes anxiety? As a parent, do you help them do so? Of course! This is natural. The flight part of the flight-fight-freeze response urges your children to escape the threatening situation. Unfortunately, in the long run, avoidance makes anxiety worse.

So what’s the alternative? Try a method we call laddering. Kids who are able to manage their worry break it down into manageable chunks. Laddering uses this chunking concept and gradual exposure to reach a goal.

Let’s say your child is afraid of sitting on the swings in the park. Instead of avoiding this activity, create mini-goals to get closer to the bigger goal (e.g., go to the edge of the park, then walk into the park, go to the swings, and, finally, get on a swing). You can use each step until the exposure becomes too easy; that’s when you know it’s time to move to the next rung on the ladder.

  1. Help Them Work Through a Checklist

What do trained pilots do when they face an emergency? They don’t wing it (no pun intended!); they refer to their emergency checklists. Even with years of training, every pilot works through a checklist because, when in danger, sometimes it’s hard to think clearly.

When kids face anxiety they feel the same way. Why not create a checklist so they have a step-by-step method to calm down? What do you want them to do when they first feel anxiety coming on? If breathing helps them, then the first step is to pause and breathe. Next, they can evaluate the situation. In the end, you can create a hard copy checklist for your child to refer to when they feel anxious.

  1. Practice Self-Compassion

Watching your child suffer from anxiety can be painful, frustrating, and confusing. There is not one parent that hasn’t wondered at one time or another if they are the cause of their child’s anxiety. Here’s the thing, research shows that anxiety is often the result of multiple factors (i.e., genes, brain physiology, temperament, environmental factors, past traumatic events, etc.). Please keep in mind, you did not cause your child’s anxiety, but you can help them overcome it.

Toward the goal of a healthier life for the whole family, practice self-compassion. Remember, you’re not alone, and you’re not to blame. It’s time to let go of debilitating self-criticism and forgive yourself. Love yourself. You are your child’s champion.

Snow Day, Fun Day! Great Indoor Activities for Kids.

Facebook-Posts-300x300We, as parents, work very hard to establish a routine our kids can count on. ..Quite frankly it helps my kids function at our house. So what happens when the weather wreaks havoc and school is cancelled?

Here are some indoor activities that help kiddos stay focused, calm & entertained.

Salt Dough Creations

Recipe: 1/2 cup of salt, 1/2 cup of water, 1 cup of flour. Add the 1/2 cup of salt and 1 cup of flour to a bowl stir in the water adding it slowly – you may not need all of the water. You want the dough to be dry – if it gets sticky add more flour. Knead the dough and then roll out and use as you want. Continue reading