How Can I Help My Anxious Children When I’m Just Starting My Own Recovery?

Written by Jim Folk
Last updated March 27, 2021

How Can I Help My Anxious Children When I'm Just Starting To Work On My Own Recovery?

Complete Question

Thanks to your information, I just realized that my anxious behavior is teaching my children to be anxious, too. I see them doing the same kinds of things I used to when I was a child. This breaks my heart. As a parent with young children, how can I help them overcome their anxiety issues when I’m just starting to work on my own?

Answer

First, good for you for recognizing how your behavior is affecting your children. This is a good start.

Second, it’s great that you are working on your underlying factors – those behaviors, situations, and circumstances that motivate overly anxious behavior. As you make progress, your children will also make progress just by seeing you approach life in a less apprehensive manner.

Typically, children learn more from what they see than from what they hear. Modelling healthy behavior is one of the best ways to motivate your children to behave in health ways rather than anxious ways.

Learning and applying healthy boundaries is often a part of overcoming anxiety disorder. Your children will also benefit from seeing how you interact with them, which is often adopted and used when they interact with others. As your interactions with them become healthier, so will their interactions with others.

Third, as you learn healthy ways of coping with adversity, uncertainty, and risk, they, too, will learn healthy ways of coping. They will also learn to contain and manage anxiety as you do, as your recovery skills develop.

Moreover, as you approach challenging circumstances in calm ways, they will also feel calmer, knowing that you are calm. This, too, can have a profound impact on how your children grow and develop.

Just by you working on your anxiety issues, they will also benefit.

Furthermore, you also want to remind your children that anxiety is a learned behavior, which they can change. Rather than saying, “You’re anxious.” You can say, “You’re behaving anxiously.” Helping them realize that anxiety is a behavior can empower them to make healthy behavioral change.

You can also reward the behavioral changes they make so they can feel empowered to keep going and that they are on the right track. Positive reinforcement can go a long way to anchoring healthy behavior.

You can also teach them breathing and relaxation techniques. You might also ask them to join you when you regularly deep relax. Having them participate with you can be instructive, fun, and instill a healthy habit early in life that will benefit them over the long-term.

Fourth, depending on their ages, you might want to get your older children (ten years of age and above) connected with a therapist who works with children. All of you working on developing healthy behavior and relationships can go a long way to eliminating issues with anxiety for your entire family.

Two of our recommended therapists, Marie Filion and Rae Harwood, work with children.

Fifth, if you want to go the extra mile, connect with a therapist who works with families. Often, the personalities and dynamics of a family foster anxious behavior. Addressing those factors in the family unit early can eliminate this influence.

If you are already working with Marie or Rae, you can ask about incorporating the various aspects mentioned above into your recovery program.

If you are working with a different therapist, you can talk with your therapist about how to incorporate the other aspects when the therapist thinks you are ready.

You can also ask your therapist about resources that can help you, your children, and your family.

Finally, you want to make your relationship with your children a high priority. Children who feel loved and connected with their parents, despite their behavior, have fewer issues with anxiety overall.

Again, congratulations on the work you’ve done already. It positions you well for the next steps ahead for yourself and your children. You already are miles ahead of other families who have children that are exhibiting anxious behavior.

Special thanks to Stacey Ellertson, Grace Lian, Jaqueline Nadworny, Larry Rohrick, Nancy Saggio, and Jill Zimmer for your comments and feedback.

The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist, coach, or counselor is the most effective way to address anxiety and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed – which we call the underlying factors of anxiety – a struggle with anxiety unwellness can return again and again. Dealing with the underlying factors of anxiety is the best way to address problematic anxiety.

Additional Resources

Return to our Anxiety Frequent Questions archive.

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