Couples who are parenting an anxious child will often feel like they don’t get it. Everything that worked with other kids, definitely won’t work with the anxious one. Anxious kids can make your throw your regular parenting book out the window; you need a completely different playbook when parenting an anxious child.
1. RUSHING YOUR CHILD
You want to see anxious children have complete meltdowns – tell them to hurry up. Most anxious kids completely implode when we tell them to speed up. I can bark at two of my kids to hurry up and they’ll get moving. If I did that to my third child – we’d have to tack on 30 more minutes to allow for the meltdown that will ensue. Sound familiar?
2. SINK OR SWIM
Many parents feel they just need to throw their kids into a feared situation and the kids will do fine. Kind of like the sink or swim mentality. Anxious kids will sink. They will plummet to the deepest darkest depths and will not come up for air.
3. SET A TIMER
A great parenting approach for time management might include a timer. Such as, “when the timer goes off it is time for you to stop playing your video game.” A timer is a ticking time bomb for anxious children. Instead of speeding them up – they will ruminate over the clock and will probably explode into tears or screams long before the buzzer sounds.
4. MAKE A RACE OF IT
Similar to the timer – any type of time-limiting approach is most likely not going to work. Anxious kids get overwhelmed with time limits. Timed tests. Timed activities. None of those go down well. Trying to make things fun with comments such as, “who can get there first?” can turn an anxious child into a puddle of tears.
5. TELL THEM ABOUT THE FUN THEY’LL MISS
Your anxious child doesn’t want to go to a party. They don’t like crowds or new social situations. You tell them they are going to miss out on all the fun.
Telling your anxious child what fun they’ll miss if they don’t go won’t work. They know they are missing the fun. It upsets them more than maybe you know. Reminding them of what they’ll miss out on will just increase their anxiety.
Instead, address the fear that is driving the behavior. Talk about how they can handle the new social situation and give them tools to get through it.
6. FOOD BATTLES
You want to see an anxious child throw up? Have a food battle with him or her. Drawing a line in the sand will result in a loss for both of you. You’ll be frustrated and your children will never again touch whatever food you are trying to metaphorically (hopefully) shove down their throat.
My twelve year old still won’t touch broccoli due to a food battle she had with a relative when she was three. The tongue never forgets!
Anxious kids can be picky eaters due to oral sensitivities and the fear of new foods. Encourage your children to eat new things. Place new foods on their plate. But, don’t make mealtime a battle zone.
7. PUNISHING YOUR CHILD FOR TOILETING ISSUES
Some anxious kids are slow to potty train. Older kids might fear pooping (yes, that is a thing) and may avoid pooping at all costs. This can cause constipation and conversely accidents. I know this can be a gross and frustrating parenting issue. But shaming, blaming or punishing this behavior will not fix it. Address the fear – not the behavior.
8. SCARE THEM INTO BEHAVING
Parents will use facts to help their children do things they would otherwise not do. Brush your teeth or they’ll fall out! Hold my hand or you’ll get hit by a car! Put a helmet on or you’ll crack your head open.
I know these things have flown out of my mouth at times. I also know that sometimes I say the wrong scary thing and I have to do damage control for weeks afterwards.
Try to focus on more positive statements. Brush your teeth and make them sparkly clean. Hold my hand so I can make sure to keep you safe.
9. ALL OR NOTHING RESPONSES
Anxious behaviour can sometimes be mislabelled as oppositional. Anxious kids might completely freak out when told no. This can be misconstrued as spoiled and entitled behaviour – but in reality anxious kids can’t handle the concept of no. They can’t handle the finality of no.