Getting Unstuck: Strategies for Parents of Anxious Kids

Every night as I tuck in my 8 year old daughter, I hold her and pray over her anxieties and fears. As a child with a history in foster care and FTT, it seems like worry is more natural to her than breathing. 

The Anxiety Disorders Association of America states that one in eight children are affected by anxiety. It is my joy today to bring some help and hope for parents of these kids through an interview with Krista Falk, an LCSW who specializes in helping children with anxiety. Thanks for sharing with us, Krista!

What’s your background and inspiration for helping anxious kids?
I have worked since 1994 with children with various struggles, including autism, Aspergers, eating disorders, OCD, abuse and foster care, kids in the juvenile correction system, fire setting, general struggles with anxiety and depression (including cutting behaviors) and bipolar. I know the value of working with the entire family in all the work that I do with children – it is so important to success!

What is the toughest challenge facing parents of anxious children?

Children tend to verbalize their symptoms in physical manners, such as stomach aches, headaches, etc. and when it’s not a medical condition parents often don’t know what to do.

In addition, anxiety can be so powerful that it is hard for kids to manage on their own and so their behaviors can become very disruptive to the family system. 

Also, parents may also be struggling with their own anxiety which creates more difficult, intensified dynamics between parent and child.

How can moms help their children process anxiety?

  1. Recognize: is it acute or generalized? Discern if it is more generalized for your child, meaning that it attaches to a lot of different things or situations, or if it is more specific, such as a result of a trauma that occurred. Anxiety can be in varying degrees as well. This helps you know how to respond to it.  
  2. Refocus the thoughts (vs dwelling on them). It is helpful to distract and help your child focus on something different. This can include changing rooms or environments to discover a new toy or something else to take your child’s interest. This also includes coming up with new coping statements that are positive thoughts to focus on – such thoughts could include Scripture.
  3. Don’t avoid whatever the child is anxious about. Avoidance will make the anxiety increase.
  4. Problem solve a little with your child (e.g. “reality testing”). Spend enough time to help them consider that what they are afraid of is not likely to happen as it didn’t happen yesterday or the day before or last week, etc. (if a trauma did occur you would focus more on what we are doing to ensure safety, what the child can do, i.e. safety plan with child, etc.). Then move back to #1 above. 
  5. Give your child a “worry time,” schedule it, and make it the only time during the day that they can worry. If the worry tries to come up at other times they must save it for the worry time. During the worry time the goal is to worry to exhaustion for a set amount of time.

If you could give one piece of advice to moms, what would it be?
Don’t get caught up in the actual anxious behavior, as disruptive as it can be. Try to instead follow some of the skills above. They work – just stick with them!

What books do you recommend for parenting an anxious child?

  • What To Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety by Matthews and Huebner
  • The Anxiety Cure for Kids: A Guide for Parents by Spencer, DuPont and DuPont
  • Anxiety Free Kids: An Interactive Guide for Parents and Children by Zucker

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Getting unstuck with anxiety: If you’re a mom of an anxious child, or you know someone who is, there are many resources to help. Check out the Anxiety Disorder Association of America‘s website for more info.

May your day be full of peace,
– Laurie


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