7 Parenting Strategies to Help Children Cope With Anxiety
As coaches in the Biblical Parenting Coaching Program, we have developed 7 parenting tools to bring about change in children. We want to share them here with you so that you can use them specifically to address anxiety in rather challenging situations.
Each one of these tools represents an endless bucket of ideas. The nice thing about understanding these 7 tools is that they categorize your approaches so that you can have a more complete strategy to help your child change.
We developed these 7 tools as we examined the way God interacts with us, his children. He wants to change our hearts and he uses these 7 tools to do so. As you look at each tool, you might take one or two ideas and put them onto a written plan. Strategy is important as you work with a child who tends to feel anxious. It’s often a long-term process to help a child grow and mature in this area.
Keep in mind that most parents gravitate to one of these tools already. Don’t lose the good you’re doing in that one area, although you might adjust it a bit to maximize its effectiveness. Look for solutions in other tools to round out your approach. Proverbs describes the complicated nature of the heart when it says in 20:5, “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.” So, trying new approaches might open new windows in your child’s heart.
When addressing anxiety, it’s usually necessary to embrace a multi-tool approach. Notice how the following tools can work independently but also dove-tail together to form a more complete strategy.
Tool #1: Relationship
Relationship softens the heart. Sometimes children create so much tension in the home through attitude, conflict, and drama, that the hearts of both parents and children become hard toward each other. Looking for ways to soften the child’s heart can provide pathways for change to take place.
When you consider building relationship, think of emotional connectedness. What kinds of things can you do with your child to bring a smile, open the heart, or generate a significant conversation? It might be a hug, a compliment, playing a game, cooking a meal together, asking a personal question, or simply listening to the child talk.
When it comes to anxiety, comfort is one of the important practices in this relationship tool. Empathy, concern, and companionship show that you care and they go a long way to prepare the heart for other tools that can make a difference.
Revelation 3:20 is one of the verses describing the way God uses this tool in our lives. “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”
You’ll know you’re overemphasizing this tool when a child starts to take advantage of the relationship, resorts to manipulation, or when this approach isn’t working and needs additional tools.
Tool #2: Firmness
When you think about firmness, don’t just think about consequences. Think about guiding a child in a direction. Firmness often uses the words, “You need to…” to direct the child toward the path. Firmness raises the awareness level quickly that a child is moving into negative area. It sets up warning signs to prevent a situation from escalating. Firmness stops the process earlier but it is always important to balance firmness with relationship.
Firmness builds character. By creating structures for change, setting boundaries on interaction, and by directing a child to practice a new approach, you help a child build coping skills necessary for significant anxiety management.
One of the many examples of firmness in the Bible takes place when Jesus healed a man and then challenged him, “Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you” (John 5:14).
When using firmness, be careful of harshness. Sometimes parents believe that firmness and harshness are the same thing. Firmness lays down the tracks in the road that a child needs to follow to build healthy emotional management. Harshness gets in the way and can damage the very relationship you’re trying to strengthen.
Tool #3: Visioning
Each tool has its strength and visioning might just be a powerful addition to your approach. Visioning communicates perspective. It helps a child understand why. And when you use it, it builds internal motivation to work on a problem grows. The child takes on the challenge, recognizes why we’re working on this, and begins to take their own positive initiative. Children with challenges need a vision.
You might say, “The work you’re doing now with your anxiety will help you for the rest of your life. All people must address this and by exercising your heart now, you’ll be way ahead.” Or, “You’re going to feel much better about yourself and the world as you change the way you approach anxiety.”
Visioning provides hope and helps children rise above their current experience to the larger benefits awaiting them. Philippians 1:6 is just one of the many verses that describe the way God uses visioning in our own lives, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
Be careful when you vision that what you’re saying is realistic. Sometimes visioning can sound like manipulation. It works best when children can have their head in the clouds while their feet are still on the ground. Vision and practicality must remain in balance.
Tool #4: Teaching
Teaching tells children how, not just what. It’s the how that also promotes hope because children feel like they now have a ladder to help them get out of the pit. Anxiety can be overwhelming. The teaching tool helps children know how to recognize it coming on, how to work their plan, and how to practice emotional management.
Jesus told us that part of the work of the Holy Spirit is that he, “will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26). God uses the teaching component with us as he is bringing about change in our hearts.
Most children need a written plan to manage anxiety because the solutions are multi-faceted. It’s typically not just one idea or solution that will help all the time. The solutions can be broken into two groups: what you do and what you say to yourself. In the do category, kids might pray, take a deep breath, get a drink, look up, walk around the room, talk to someone, watch something funny, or even stand up straight. Children and young people can say important things to themselves such as “I’ve got this,” “God’s got this,” “I need to slow down,” “This is only temporary,” “This isn’t as bad as I’m making it out to be,” “I need to take a break.”
When using this tool, be careful about talking too much. Sometimes parents like to teach when kids aren’t ready to listen. Lectures and nagging are words that describe improper use of this tool. Some children learn best through experience, not through dialogue. For example, you might have the child develop the above lists and interview other people to see what they do and say to themselves to manage their own anxiety. The experiential form of teaching might be the window into your child’s heart.
Tool #5: Coaching
Coming alongside a child communicates a message of support and encouragement. This one tool repositions a parent from being critical to being supportive, from being a policeman to a coach.
Coaching requires the use of other tools. Relationship, visioning, teaching, and firmness all work together with the tool of coaching. The main benefit of this tool is the attitude the parent communicates. Often children become more responsive to parental leadership when they see the coaching attitude in mom or dad.
When Jesus promised the Holy Spirit he said, “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13). The coaching role of the Holy Spirit in our lives is a great treasure.
When using the coaching tool, you might say, “I see you’re starting to ramp up here, can you work your plan?” “You can do this.” “Let me help you with this for a few minutes.”
This tool gets misused by the parent who tries to do more for the child than is helpful. Try to keep a careful balance between coaching and enabling a child. You want to Avoid Traffic Cop Parenting, When a child’s dialogue about bad things crosses the line, you’ll have to be the one to stop the conversation instead of believing that continuing down that path is helpful.
Tool #6: Prayer
The spiritual resources to bring about change are superpowers. When a child utilizes this tool, major changes take place. Parents help their children by praying for them and with them. Giving a problem to the Lord is one of the greatest ways to release anxiety from one’s heart.
James 4:2 reminds us that, “You do not have because you do not ask God.” And 1 Thessalonians 5:17 encourages us to “pray without ceasing.” When a person prays, they open themselves up to receive the power of God.
Children often don’t know how to pray. They believe that praying is saying some magic words. Prayer is an attitude of listening, not just talking. Prayer releases power to come into a person but it may look different than what one might expect.
A good way for a child to pray is to say, “God, please show me how I can fit into your plans today.” Many children want God to do what they want but a more yielded response would open a child’s heart more to receive God’s direction.
Be careful when using spiritual resources that condemnation doesn’t creep into your approach. To overemphasize the idea that “God doesn’t want you to feel anxious,” can lead to shame.
Tool #7: Transfer Responsibility to the Child
Every person is responsible for their own part of the problem, and the solution. Although you have a heavy influence on your child, it’s important that every child recognize that the problem is ultimately theirs to work out. This can be frightening at first, but actually empowers a child in the end.
Children and young people who believe that others are responsible for their problems develop a victim mentality. The danger then is that they feel powerless leading to greater anxiety and hopelessness.
God regularly transfers responsibility to us. Joshua told the people, “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15). And when Moses was addressing the Israelites who were to go into the promised land he exhorted them to “Choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19). Essentially they were both saying that there is a promised land. God is taking you there. But even when you’re in it, you will need to choose to live in a way that is best.
Use words like, “I’d like to help you with your problem of anxiety.” Or, “You want to control your emotions instead of allowing them to control you.” These empowering words accompanied by other tools can make a huge difference.
If you want to learn more about how all these tools work together, consider the book Motivate Your Child Action Plan. This book contains 12 chapters and 12 audio sessions to go along with them. It helps you create an action plan for change in your child. It works very well as a guide to help you develop a multi-faceted approach to anxiety.
The Biblical Parenting Coaching Program offers personal coaches to walk with you as a parent, helping you develop strategies to equip your child with life skills. They bring even more practical ideas in each of these areas to help you equip your child for change.
This is part 5 in a 5-part series of articles on Helping Children who Struggle with Anxiety. If you missed our first article in this series, Click here to read Two Quick-Fix Anxiety Solutions that Usually Don’t Work.