You'll actually make it SO MUCH WORSE.
It drives you crazy, doesn't it? You probably use code words to describe your child, like "a worrier," "hyper-sensitive," "high strung," or "explosive."
And you just can't figure out why your child is having such a hard time handling everyday life, and why nothing you say or do really makes much of a difference.
You're walking on eggshells, never knowing what will set him off. And you just want to figure out how to handle it the next time things devolve into a hot mess.
So, is this normal?
A learning disability, ADHD, or anxiety are possible medical explanations for your kid's behavior. These are debilitating clinical conditions that can improve significantly with help from both behavioral and medical treatments. If you suspect any of these are at the core of your child’s difficulties, I strongly encourage you to seek support. (Check out the Learning Disabilities Association of America, ImpactADHD and the Anxiety and Depression Association of America for guidance.)
So then, what about the rest of the kids? The ones who just haven't quite figured out how to deal when things don't go their way. The ones who practically shoot smoke out of their ears when they feel angry. Well, let's start with what not to do or say:
Here is the #1 WORST thing to say when your kid is melting down, freaking out, and having trouble dealing with life's frustrations:
"Relax! Don’t worry about it."
This phrase is patronizing to someone who feels anxious. Your kid can’t (at the moment) help feeling this way, and that's the heart of the problem.
Dismissing his very real emotions and thoughts is not helpful. Avoid saying things like, "You shouldn’t be so sad" or "There’s nothing to be afraid of." Making him feel bad or foolish for being anxious only increases his anxiety, which is hardly productive.
Also, avoid telling telling him what to do. He won’t really process it, and that feedback just reinforces a sense of helplessness and loss of control.
Here's what to do instead that REALLY helps when the child you love is struggling with anxiety:
- Acknowledge the experience. ("I know it feels really scary right now." Or, "It seems like you’re feeling pretty overwhelmed.")
- Show compassion for the experience. ("I hate it when I feel that way." Or, "I know when I’m overwhelmed, it's like I get stuck and can’t do anything.")
- Ask permission to help/re-direct. ("Do you want to talk about ways to help you cope with these feelings?" Or, "Would you like me to brainstorm with you about what might help, or how to set some priorities so you won’t feel so overwhelmed?")
It's important to remember — You can’t reason away his anxious thoughts.
The cherry on the cake of supporting someone who gets easily freaked out or anxious is simple: Just be there. Keep your child company.
If he's not ready to shift, let him know that everything is OK. You allowing him space to feel nervous for a while might just help him shift out of it!
Anxious thoughts feel terrible, often born from (or reinforced by) a sense of lack of control. Finding ways to give your child little bits of control helps him find a path to confidence.
His solutions become part of his successes — no matter how small the baby steps.
Elaine Taylor-Klaus and Diane Dempster, founders of ImpactADHD.com, teach/write about practical strategies to parents of “complex” kids with ADHD and related challenges. To help your kids find the motivation to get anything done, download their free parent’s guide, The Parent’s Guide to Motivating Your Complex Child.