When Your Child’s Brain Becomes Their Bully: Teaching Kids Healthy Ways to Handle Strong Feelings
It’s tough being a kid. You’re learning and growing, while at the same time may not have all the tools in place to help rein in emotions when things get hard. Here are some tips parents can use to help kids cope with anxiety, while at the same time, acknowledging and respecting their feelings.
Teach Age Appropriate Management of Expectations
Look, as much as we want to tell children “everything is going to be fine,” it may not be the best approach. Sometimes bad things happen, and it’s not a great idea to promise your child will definitely have fun at that upcoming birthday party, or that falling off their bike won’t hurt. Prepare children for things to not go as planned, and from there teach them how to react if they get hurt, feel uncomfortable or someone laughs at them.
Do Not Enable the Fear
Acknowledge and validate children’s feelings. But, you should hold them accountable to the same expectations their peers have. Don’t rush them out of a room if they feel uncomfortable and cry, or they’ll develop a coping mechanism that allows them to sidestep potential issues. Work with kids to establish some goals in taking on fears in a reasonable way.
Employ Some Easy Methods for Calming Down
Learning some deep breathing exercises that can be used in a moment of distress – like waiting for their turn during show-and-tell or before their lines in the school play can help bring back a sense of calm in the moment. Try a yoga DVD, or look toward meditation. Of course, if you practice yourself, these can be a great way to teach your child something new.
If your child is anxious at home, in anticipation of a test or dealing with a bully at school, engage them in activities like a craft, watercolors or paints, or even coloring. Try a coloring app for portable relief, more at this link here.
Give kids something to squeeze to deal with strong emotions or fears. Adding some soothing essential oils like lavender or tea tree oil to clay or play-doh can help reduce stress, as can making or purchasing a stress ball kids can take with them on the go.
Don’t Reinforce Your Child’s Fear
If you’re worried your child will become anxious in a certain situation, they may be able to pick up on your tone and body language. Talk through the situation. If your child is afraid of swimming or interacting with a dog, for example, try asking them about their feelings, but encourage them to be brave. Over time, exposure will reduce the fear.
Additionally, you’ll want to avoid asking kids if they are nervous about an upcoming recital, test or event. Take their lead when discussing fears. Bringing it up unprompted will likely plant the seed for an anxiety attack.
Model Good Coping Mechanisms Yourself
Even if you suffer from anxiety yourself, as a parent, you need to be aware of the message you are sending to your kids. Children model behavior, so if they see you coping poorly with stress, they won’t see the need to tackle their own problems either. Take a break, employ stress reduction techniques, and be open about your own anxiety. Understanding that others get scared or overwhelmed, even grownups like their parents can help them gain some perspective.