Connection Can Alleviate Anxiety in our Children

In the interest of enriching our children’s lives, we often compel them to hurry from one activity to the next.  We may fleetingly realize this is happening, but the necessity of getting them to the appointment on time prevails in the moment.  In these moments, however, a simple reset is possible through connection.

Children may feel disconnected from us because it seems the focus is on achievements–present and future–and no longer on our simple acceptance of who they are.  Disconnection with us naturally causes stress.  In some kids, this can look like acting out, while in others we may only get small signs of internal turmoil.

Stress can be a precursor to anxiety when there is no appropriate outlet for the stress–when there is no way to reset.  When we see signs of stress in our kids, we can take a moment to reset through connection.

How do we do this?  First, give yourself a pat on the back for noticing that your child is stressed.  Then ask yourself if you too are feeling stressed.  Parents who become more self-aware, naturally become more aware of their children and the needs of their children.

Then take a moment to reconnect with yourself with a breath and an internal reset.  Then re-connect with your child.

Let’s think about it in terms of our ability to zoom in on a situation (i.e., to work the details, or to get to the music lesson on time) versus our ability to zoom out (putting the details back into a larger frame of reference).  For example, we might communicate to our children that although we are trying to get to an appointment on time, we also realize that in the big scheme of things being on time to the minute is… not that important.  You might even say to your child, “Wow, I was being out of sorts about this.  I think I’ll take a breath and calm myself down!”  That one breath will also model to your child to breathe a sigh of relief.

It’s a balance to be certain.  As parents we seek to teach discipline and build skills, but also to relay truths such as, “You know it’s fine to be a few minutes late.”  Humor, especially directed at our own anxiety, can be employed to lighten the load.  As we begin to notice and reduce our own anxiety in the moment, our choices expand, and we discover there are many creative solutions to helping our children.

Basically, our ability to reframe the situation with words and actions communicates this deeply comforting message: “We’re fine!”

Studies show that a relaxed, connected relationship between parent and child impacts the brain, so that the right hemisphere of the brain works with the left hemisphere, marrying empathy and non verbal signals to logic in a way that increases the brain’s integration.  And with neural integration a sense of safety and security helps children with the anxieties of daily living.

Here are some tips for you when your child is anxious:

  • Learn to read yourself and your child accurately and respond with empathy to both.
  • Reset stress levels with your child by using eye contact, facial expressions, and a kind and light tone of voice.
  • Reflect your child’s thoughts and feelings, listening with empathy.
  • Apologize for missed connections and reconnect.
  • Accept your child’s emotions without fixing or negating them.

All of these things can help your child to self-regulate emotions.

Author, Jan Matney, LCPC, is Director of the Bozeman nCenter and collaborator with Andrew Matney, Director of the Belgrade nCenter.