In an increasingly fast-paced, high pressure society, anxiety ranks as one of the top issues in mental health. Unsurprisingly, anxious adults tend to raise anxious kids. Children with parents who suffer from anxiety are 2 to 7 times more likely to develop an anxiety disorder themselves. And it's no wonder. When a child sees how a parent reacts to various situations, they are likely to emulate that same reaction. This can lead to difficulties in school, social situations, and inability to handle new or difficult experiences. As parent and child work hand-in-hand, they can both overcome the obstacles and pressures that anxiety can have on them.
Here are some ways you can guide families to a more stress-free and relaxed lifestyle.
Awareness - Anxiety is normal. It is part of our human response to situations. Anxiety becomes crippling when it restricts our ability to interact with everyday occurrences. For example, if a child refuses to go to a park because they are afraid they will be bitten by a dog, their anxiety is overshadowing their livelihood. Teach parents and children to recognize these situations. Talk them through it. "What if there are no dogs at the park?" or "If there is a dog, just stay a safe distance away and it will not bother you." Understanding the origin of the anxiety and dispelling irrational concerns can help both parent and children overcome their hesitations.
Leading by Example - An anxious parent may inadvertently pass on traits that spur anxiety and distress in their child. If their child feels the need to call home multiple times a day during a school day, the parents may feel reassured or encourage their child to continue to do so, as long as it comforts them. The best thing these parents can do for their child is to break away, freeing their child of the constant distress their anxiety may have on them. Talk to the parents about what anxieties they have and how they may have communicated those fears to their child. Help both parent and child see how they can overcome those fears through communication and reassurance. The power of an anxious parent working through a stressful situation will be reflected in the child's behavior as well.
Coping Mechanisms - Families can work together and utilize these strategies to overcome distressing situations: acknowledge stressful times for your child, don't ignore them. Help them prepare and provide encouragement before anxiety inducing activities (such as getting ready for school or a field trip). Parents should remain calm when their child becomes distressed.
Remind those you work with that communication is key. Understand where the anxiety comes from, and you will be more successful at working out a solution. It is important to not belittle or ignore these fears, as they may become worse. Loving guidance and understanding will help families learn to overcome obstacles caused by anxiety.
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