Anxiety disorders affect one in eight children, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. As a parent of a child who is struggling with anxiety or depression, it can be difficult to know how to help your child. You may feel defeated or like you are doing a bad job of parenting, when in fact anxiety and depression are NOT a result of bad parenting. You may also struggle with maintaining calm or patience with your child as you might not understand why they are reacting in a certain way.
First of all, as the parent, you need to take a deep breath and be assured that the best thing you can do for your child is be there for him/her/they. Love them and let them know you are always there to listen and help in any way you can. Ease up on yourself, forgive, and cut yourself some slack. Feeling bad about the way you reacted to something is only going to add more stress to yourself and make it harder to help your child.
Staying Calm is Key
Pay attention to the way your child is feeling. If they seem down or stressed about something talk to them about it. Be calm and collected and explain to them it is ok that they feel the way they do and try to rationalize the situation with them. Staying calm is extremely important as getting tense or short with them is only going to compound their feelings. If you don’t feel like you can be calm, recognize these feelings within yourself and take a brief moment to recollect. It can be as simple as going to the bathroom, taking some deep breaths, and then re-entering the situation with a clearer head.
Small accomplishments can be a big deal for any child, but especially one that is struggling with anxious or depressive feelings. Recognize the little things your child achieves—making it through the first day of school, getting up on time, getting themselves ready for the bus, etc. Praise them.
Parents want to make sure they are teaching their children values and manners and how to be good, successful adults which many times leads to punishment when mistakes are made. While punishment is necessary in some cases, be careful to recognize mistakes or lack of progress that are related to anxiety/depression and avoid punishing your child for those. For example, they missed the school bus because they were worried about the day’s events.
Be flexible with your child. We all have good days and bad days. Do your best to maintain a normal routine. Switching things up too much leads to more anxious feelings because your child won’t know what to expect. Schedule changes can also contribute to lack of sleep and poor diet, which in turn cause anxiety/depression symptoms to worsen.
Do your best to plan for transitions, for example. plan extra time in the morning at the start of the school year, talk about changes and what to expect. Understand that your child will have stressful periods and during those times expectations need to be modified.
Don’t Forget About You
Having a child with anxiety and depression can add stress to family life but it can be managed with the right tools. Your job as a parent is to work with your child to develop healthy coping skills. Get he/she/they help from a licensed professional counselor to address common stressors and learn life skills.
And, don’t forget about yourself. Build a network of support from family and friends who can relate to your situation. Consider talking to a licensed mental health professional. Lean on those around you, so you can be the best for your child.
Other helpful education resources include:
Author: Alison Pidgeon, LPC
Alison is the Founder and CEO of Move Forward Counseling, a boutique private practice for women with three locations in Lancaster County, PA. She is passionate about reducing the stigma related to accessing mental health services. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.