Of course, all children experience stress, frights and worries: starting school, making friends, coping with separation from parents, experiencing social challenges like bullying and teasing – all of these can shake a child’s peace of mind. These are periods of real anxiety but they are in reaction to real situations. The anxiety passes when the threat passes.
Of more concern is when the amount of fear and distress they feel is totally out of proportion to the threat of the situation, or the anxiety persists long after the actual threat, or maybe their anxiety doesn’t seem to have any cause at all.
Many of us have a small advantage which can help our anxious child: we can empathize perfectly with what our child is going through because we, too, have struggled with anxiety. There is a very strong link – anxious parents often have anxious children. Their anxiety is probably the result of a few anxious genes we have passed on to them – we can’t do anything about that.
Possibly, too, their anxiety is partially the result of them observing and learning some of our anxious behaviours. We may be able to help them with that. Children are very sensitive to our emotions. If they sense our fear in a situation – perhaps on public transport, or going to the doctor, or dealing with strangers or whatever triggers our own ill-ease – then they will be convinced there really is something genuinely dangerous to be scared of. So… let’s get the toughest bit of advice over-and-done-with: we often have to act brave for the sake of our children. If they learnt from our anxious habits then they can also learn from our coping skills. Very often, the best way to help our children cope with their anxiety is putting some real effort and energy into getting on top of our own anxiety.
By the way, no one is as brave and courageous as a person who has anxious ‘wiring’ and yet functions in spite of their emotions! Naturally calm people who feel no fear may win medals, but those of us who feel fear and act in spite of it deserve them more. We may not be able to model calmness to our children, but can model courage.