Not all stress is the same. Some stress is overwhelming in the moment, but doesn’t last long. Like when my son decided to play barber and cut all of his sister’s hair off. Or when my youngest daughter threw up on the airplane all over herself (and me) with no change of clothes. These scenarios were stressful in the moment, but quickly became stories that have brought smiles and laughter to our family.
But then there is the stress that goes deep. This is the stress that hurts to the core because it is not our stress; it is our child’s stress. He calls from school saying he is scared and wants to come home, she doesn’t want to sleep over at a friend’s house because she is afraid of being homesick, he screams out in the middle of the night because he is afraid of a bad guy coming into his room. No matter what we say, our child is frozen with fear and seeing him like that completely depletes our joy.
The good news is there are tools to help children work through their anxiety…
Listen & Validate: We might think our child’s fears are irrational, but to him the fear is very real. When my son was young he was scared to spend the night at a friend’s house. I continued to tell him that he was going to be fine, but this would only frustrate him. Finally he looked at me and said, “Mom, you are afraid of snakes. What if I made you hold a snake?” In that moment I learned I might not have understood his fear, but I could have empathy for how he was feeling. Listen to your child and let him know you understand.
Normalize: Being afraid can feel very lonely. Remind your child that everyone has fears and she is not alone.
Educate & Empower: Bad things do happen in life, but there are things we can do to protect ourselves. If a child is scared that someone might break into the house, remind him that there are locks on the doors, an alarm system throughout the house and police officers a phone call away. We might not have ultimate control, but we have more power than we know.
Provide Structure: We live in a chaotic world. Structure within the home gives children a sense of security when they step out the front door. Structure comes when we set up strong boundaries through family routines and rules.
The Worry Box: If we spend all our time talking about our fears and worries, our fears and worries grow. When your child begins to worry, challenge her to write down her fears and put them in her “worry box.” Then, schedule twenty minutes everyday to talk about these worries together: no distractions, no siblings and no technology. Once the time is up, the worries go back into the box until the next day.
Floor Time: When fears are too scary to talk about kids turn to play. Sit with your child and let him process through his feelings with toys. All you need to do is listen and validate. They will do the rest.
Journals: Another way to deal with scary feelings is with journals. When a child feels scared give her a journal and some markers. Let her draw or write whatever she wants with no judgment. The more she gets her feelings out, the better she will feel.
Worry Dolls: Usually children are the most scared at night. Worry dolls allow a child to share his worries, hand off his fears and give the pressure of worrying to “someone” else before he goes to bed. Whether it is worry dolls or a stuffed animal, it is another way for your child to get his fears out and let the healing begin.
Nothing gives me more joy than seeing happy, confident children. My hope is that all children could be given the tools they need to process through their anxiety and find joy in their lives. What a wonderful world it would be.
To see more on this topic click through to my website or go directly to www.diddledots.com and watch the video, “Facing Childhood Fears.”