I have a soft spot in my heart for kids who are dealing with significant anxiety. Anxiety can be the most overwhelming and scary feeling—it causes us to imagine the different things that could happen if what we fear comes true. This feeling leads to avoidance of the very thing we need to do. By not engaging in the behavior needed to overcome the fear, we maintain the fear we so desperately want to get rid of.
As a parent, you need to know that anxiety is rarely changed through rewards and consequences. This is because the avoidance of whatever is causing the fear (a test, peer interactions, the dark, etc.) is far more reinforcing than anything you can probably offer in the moment.
How to Help As a Parent
In parenting, your job with an anxious child is to help them through the experience and not avoid it. I know this is easier said than done, but their ability to master their fear will mean they will need to feel it. In my work with parents who have an anxious child, it can be distressing for them to see their child upset. A key part of this process will be helping your child understand the way anxiety works. Then, help them overcome the resistance they are feeling, and make an actionable plan to working through the fear.
If you look at your own life, I’m sure it is filled with different examples of anxiety-filled situations or behaviors. You may have even avoided those fearful situations at one time. Likely, you pushed yourself to take action and manage the fear. This is the same process your child needs to go through.
True courage is not the absence of fear, it is feeling the fear and doing what you fear anyways.
- Want to overcome the fear of speaking in public? Speak in public.
- Overcome the fear of making mistakes? Make lots of mistakes.
- Be able to handle rejection? Get rejected a lot.
Anxiety is often based on a false reality. We fear that rejection makes us unlovable or making a mistake which make us less-than-perfect. The reality is as humans we get rejected, we make mistakes, and we face any number of situations where fear tells us we can’t do it. Courage is feeling that fear and doing the behavior anyways. Almost always the experience itself is less scary than we thought it was going to be – that is because our brain imagines the worst that could happen.
How to Conquer the Fear
To truly master the situation, we need to expose ourselves again and again to our fear. The more you face your fears, the more energy is taken away from the fear itself, allowing you to cope with the situation. Most of us don’t like getting rejected, but in time, you will find it is not the big scary thing you made it out to be.
So, if there is something causing angst in your life or your child’s life, realize that the fear is worse than the actual situation. The thought of the scary monster under the bed no longer bothers us when we realize that it’s not there nor is it true.
“Courage is the resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not the absence of fear.” - Mark Twain
This blog article was contributed by Luke Spiegelhoff, Clinical Director Specialist at Nexus Family Healing.
Nexus Family Healing is a national nonprofit mental health organization that restores hope for thousands of children and families who come to us for outpatient/community mental health services, foster care and adoption, and residential treatment. For over 50 years, our network of agencies has used innovative, personalized approaches to heal trauma, break cycles of harm, and reshape futures. We believe every child is worth it — and every family matters. Learn more at nexusfamilyhealing.org.