Supporting your child through their anxiety
Anxiety is one of the most common mental health disorders worldwide. Because of this you probably know at least one person who struggles with their anxiety, but have you considered how debilitating is actually is for them? There are many types of anxiety conditions from social anxiety to post-traumatic stress disorder. Around 12 to 18 percent of people are affected by an anxiety condition at any given time. There must be a fairly large proportion of parents where at least one of their children struggles - And that's completely normal.
The different types of an anxiety disorder include general anxiety disorder, social anxiety, panic disorder, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, separation anxiety disorder, agoraphobia and more. Anxiety can be a challenge, however it can also create a bond between you and your child through you supporting them and being there. A lot of people find themselves wanting to help their child but not knowing what to do. Here are some tips to help you support your child or teen.
First, learn about their anxiety. Find out what it means for them, how it starts and develops, what helps and what doesn't. There are many good resources online to learn, but your child may not be able to access these because the anxiety gets in the way. The NHS has very good information on anxiety disorders that you can find following this link.
Remember, it is nothing personal. Some people with anxiety prefer to be left alone while they recover from an attack, or to remain focused. This is not because they don’t love you or that you aren’t calming enough; it is just the way in which they prefer to cope. It is their battle and whichever way they feel most comfortable overcoming it, let them do it - That in itself is showing support. Those with anxiety may also respond in an angry tone, be resentful or feel guilty towards their spouses. Do not let this bring you down, it is the condition that is causing your child to behave this way. Always bear that in mind.
Encourage treatment. If your child does not yet receive treatment for their anxiety, gently suggest that you can help make arrangements - After all, you want to help them. Offer your support during the appointment so it is less daunting. If left untreated anxiety disorders can get worse. There are lots of online resources, videos, books and more if your child does not yet feel confident enough to sit face to face with someone. Calm breathing is one of the simplest and easiest ways to calm an anxiety attack.
Don't criticise what they do. If you don't know what it is like to experience an anxiety disorder (or even if you do), do not tell your child off for getting anxious over situations which may seem silly to you. Also, don't criticise their way of coping with anxiety. Don't offer advice or alternatives, if it works for them, leave them to it. Instead, support them through it and praise them when they manage to cope well.
Help them to set realistic goals. Do not expect your child to sit down and say “this time tomorrow I will not have anxiety”, because it won't happen. It takes time, patience and often treatment.
You will NOT ‘cure’ your child of their anxiety. A lot of the time, parents may assume they can instantly cure their child of their mental health disorder. Just as you cannot ‘cure’ someone with diabetes, just by making them happy; it is also not possible to cure your partner of anxiety by loving them lots (although it does help).
Don't assume what your child needs or wants during anxious periods, listen instead. Although you may only be trying to help, you do not want your child to feel small and incapable by offering help constantly.
Communication is key with somebody experiencing an anxiety disorder. An understanding of when they feel particularly low or are having a good day will not come instantly. Encourage communication to recognise the signs.
Being a parent to somebody with anxiety is not a burden in any way. Neither of you are victims and if you chose to be supportive of what they are going through, life won’t be too much different. However it may require a little more patience, care and a better understanding of one another - Which will only bring you closer together.