Is your child showing signs of anxiety such as worrying, irritability, avoidance, fear, hair pulling, nail biting, or perfectionism?
You may be thinking, “My child has a good life; how could they have anxiety? It doesn’t make any sense!”
The truth is it doesn’t have to make sense for it to happen.
Your child’s anxiety is not the root of the problem. It is a symptom of the problem.
So, what IS the problem?
To understand this we must first understand that both emotions and needs drive behavior.
Your child’s anxiety is a sign of a basic emotional need being unmet.
This does not mean that you are doing a bad job at parenting. It simply means that your child has a need that they don’t know how to get met and has feelings that they haven’t figured out how to handle.
Let’s take a look at what their symptoms are saying…
My Negative Emotion Bucket is overflowing.
I’m feeling out of control, scared, angry, etc and I don’t know what to do about it.
My Positive Emotion Bucket is too empty.
I want to feel loved, safe and capable of handling my circumstances and the emotions attached to them.
How to facilitate meeting that emotional need (Balancing the Buckets)
- Ensure that every time your child hears something negative, corrective, or scary, they hear at least 5 positive and/or empowering things.
This is not easy to do and takes purposeful effort on your part, but the payoff is well worth it.
If your child overhears you talking about money concerns, this can produce very uncertain and fearful feelings within them because they have no control over the budget, but it affects their life.
Because of their developmental stage, they may think they did something to cause the situation. They may begin worrying about the worst-case scenario and feel incredible stress with no way to release those feelings.
The best thing you can do to counteract that is to make sure they hear at least 5 positive statements, at different times, such as; things will be okay, I love you, I’ll take care of you, you didn’t cause this situation, etc.
- Teach your child how to recognize and vent their feelings by asking “feelings questions”.
Don’t ask, “How was school?” They’ll probably say, “Fine.” which doesn’t get to their emotions.
Do ask, “Did anything happen at school today that you didn’t like? What happened? What were you feeling when that happened?”
Do ask, “What was the best part of your day today? What did you like about that? How did you feel when that happened?”
When having “feelings“ discussions with your child, be careful to not suggest that they shouldn’t feel the way that they feel. Often times we do this because their feelings don’t make sense to us. But their feelings are real and legitimate.
A productive “feelings discussion” consists of the following:
- Allow them to vent their feelings with no judgment.
Ask them to tell you more about it, how often they feel that way, etc.
- Then ask them how they want to feel.
Steer clear from asking, “What would make you feel better? They probably don’t know or else they’d be doing it already.
- Problem solve with them as to how they can produce the feeling that they want.
See if they have any ideas. You may offer some ideas. Allow them to choose a course of action.
This conversation validates and empowers them which can drastically empty the Negative Feeling Bucket and fill the Positive Feeling Bucket at the same time!
Corina Helgestad is a professional counselor who especially likes working with teen girls in such areas as self-esteem, cutting, suicide, depression, and anxiety. To learn more about Corina, or to set up an appointment click here.