I think happy thoughts

What is the best way to calm anxiety in children?

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Calming anxiety is not always easy but the first place to start is yourself. Children often pick up on the anxieties of the adults around them.  Children feel uneasy and anxious if the adults around them are anxious, upset, or angry. They often don’t understand what your anxieties are about and generalize it to themselves. This is especially true for very young children who often don’t see themselves as separate from their parents. Any feelings and emotions you display they start to take on as their own.

One way to start curbing this anxiety is to limit your child’s exposure to adult conversations and outside media like the news. Limiting their exposure can drastically cut back on the things that they worry about. It doesn’t happen over night but over time they become less involved in the adult world and start to worry less about those things that were drifting into their consciousness at too early an age.

For children who are by nature worriers, anxiety sneaks up quickly. Acknowledging their worries is important but don’t let them or yourself dwell on it. Address the worry and move on. Don’t let the child get stuck ruminating on the same topic over and over.  If you know that certain things usually cause anxiety for your child, you can also bring up ideas for how to deal with it ahead of time.  Then later that day when you encounter the situation, you can quickly remind your child of how to cope and move them along.

One last thing to keep in mind: always model for your child how you want them to behave. If you see a big bug and start to scream and yell about it, guess what your child will probably develop a fear of bugs. “Teach by example.”  By tackling your own fears you are helping yourself and your child!


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Importance of Routine

Why is routine important to our lives and our children’s lives? Routine is what establishes a norm in our lives. For children this is especially important because they need to know what to expect. Children can’t learn and grow if they don’t feel safe in their environment. The first part of establishing this is a familiar routine. This could be reading to them at bedtime, sitting down to eat a meal, or just playing together at a certain time of day. If your child knows that there are rhythms and patterns of the day  s/he can count on s/he will be more willing to explore the outside world and grow as a person. A child who has no structure or routine will often feel insecure and be scared to explore or they might test boundaries to see what is acceptable behavior. Children often develop more extreme behaviors when they are allowed to “push the limits” because they don’t know what to expect. They don’t have a base for what is acceptable and what is off limits. Once established, rhythms help to keep themselves going. You and your child will start to look forward to that special time of the day.  The first part of setting up a daily rhythm is to set aside some time to think about what needs structure in your life and your child’s life. Then find ways to get rid of the distractions during that time of day and focus on a particular routine that you want to establish. Allow yourself enough time to complete the routine (Don’t start reading a book with only two minutes before lights out). Give your child and yourself time to adjust to the new rhythm. Soon you will have a daily rhythm that you and your child feel good about.

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Parent’s Time Out

You might say, “What how can this be? It’s already hard to get a time-out to work for my kids and now you want parents to take a time out!” Yes, that’s exactly what I am suggesting. How many times have you over reacted because your anger got in the way? Often parents punish while they are not thinking clearly because of their emotions.   One way to stop this from happening and set a good example for your child is to take a time-out. This is a break for you so you can calm down, gather your thoughts, and then come up with a reasonable solution. Stating to a child that you are going to take a break to calm down does not mean they get out of being punished. You can even state that you will deal with him/her when you get back. Then remove yourself from the situation. Go in your room, bathroom, somewhere calm. Take a few breaths and think about how you want to handle the situation.

Often our own beliefs get in the way of reacting rationally at first. For example your child might refuse to eat something at dinnertime and this angers you. Your beliefs about it might be that they are privileged to have something to eat and refusing to eat is spoiled behavior or that your child will not get the nutrients s/he needs to grow. Your beliefs are what influence your thoughts/expectations and then lead to your emotions (i.e. anger). Overreacting often intensifies the situation and causes more problems instead of achieving your original goal of having your child eat dinner. Instead, if you take a time-out it helps you to calmly come back to the table and deal with the situation. This also serves as a role model for your child who then sees that you were angry but you handled it well and were able to calm yourself down. Making a statement that you are now feeling calm and able to deal with their behavior lets them know that you are in control and also can be angry without overreacting. Sometimes you might even decide that the behavior does not need a punishment but just a new outlook.

In the future you can ask your child to use the same method of calming down before their behavior gets out of control. The key is before they are out of control. It doesn’t work if you wait too long. When you see your child start to get worked up, offer a quite space so s/he can color, relax, play quietly, etc. until they are noticeably calmer.   Then tell them you are glad they were able to calm down. Once everyone in the family is able to use this method it will lead to a much more positive outcome and help you get what you wanted out of the situation in the first place.

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Children’s tactics to get what they want.

Every child seems to have an instinctively stubborn way of trying to change the word “No” into a “Yes.” It happens to every parent. Your sweet child suddenly turns into a whining, screaming, crying mess when you say “no.”  Usually this is best done in a public place to call more attention to you and make you feel obligated to do something quick to make him/her be quiet. Now other children may have made it through this phase and know that a tantrum won’t work (kudos to you for breaking them of the habit), but now they try more subtle tactics like bargaining or logic to explain why it should be “yes.”  This type of tactic is more sly than the first and you may not even realize you are being had until later when you think, “Why did I let him have that?”  It’s a common problem that all parents face. Figuring out that your child is using these tactics is the first step to developing your own tactics to diffuse the situation and keep your sanity. Children can outsmart the best of us and the only way to beat them at their own tricks is to use the same type of mentality. Discussing “why” with a child that bargains will almost always result in you giving in or having a much longer conversation about candy than you ever wanted to.  The same goes for temper tantrums. Giving a long explanation about why their behavior is not appropriate won’t work. Being clear and consistent are your keys to success. Give the child an explanation ahead of time of what will happen if they try to tantrum or bargain their way into something.  That way when they try it (and you know they will) you can give a reminder about what will happen. Then when they try again (and they will) you follow through. Voila problem solved! Now this will take work because your child will probably wonder why their tactics are no  longer working. They may try again and again to get their tactics to work. But the more consistent you are the quicker they will learn that your rule is supreme. You can once again feel that yes you can outsmart a child (at least sometimes)!

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