“My son has anxiety and I want some tools to help him,” she said.
Last night I had a chat with a previous Mindfulness student who reached out for help. She’s on a waitlist to see a counselor, in the meantime, she wanted to learn some Mindfulness tools and breathing techniques to support him.
It ended up with her in tears because she had such big breakthroughs. If you struggle with anxiety or have a child who is, these are a few tips from our conversation:
- Be Mindful of your language. This is a small tweak that is extremely powerful in shifting mindset and empowering your child to deal with difficult emotions like anxiety. Language is powerful. It is how we frame and make sense of reality because how we define our experiences and ourselves.
Instead of, “you’re an anxious kid” or “you’re really worried” tethers the felt experience (anxiety) with their, identity making them feel like anxiety is who they are instead of something they are feeling right now.
It’s the difference between, “I’m anxious” vs “I’m experiencing anxiety right now.” The first example makes the anxiety part of identity, the second illustrates that anxiety is a feeling and is temporary.
Instead, choose language such as, “I can see you’re feeling anxious right now” or “I see your mind is telling you a story that is making you worried.”
Both of these examples create space between your child and the feeling. Becoming something that can be observed rather than consumed by (illustrating “you are not your thoughts”). It also separates feelings (anxiety) from who they are.
Why does this matter? Creating a wedge between your experience and your identity gives you agency and room to make choices and use interventions that help you cope. It reminds you that although this is tough, it is temporary and will end.
Using language that binds your experience to who you are makes you stuck and hopeless because you believe it will always be this way. After all, how do you change who you are?
- Resilience is built by doing hard things. Anxiety = Uncertainty + Our underestimation of our ability to cope. Kids (and adults) need to take risks and fail often. Resilience is a muscle built from making mistakes, failing, and building the tolerance to deal with the discomfort of those feelings so we can get up faster. Rather than protecting our kids from failure, we need to help them learn how to tolerate it.
One way to do this is to remind them of their strength and capacity to do hard things. Give them specifics of times they were stressed, worried, and scared and remind them of how they got through it and that you know they’ll get through it again.
Why does this matter? Of course we protect our kids because we love them and we don’t want them to suffer like we did. We want better for them because we are good parents, and that wish for them is beautiful. However, mistakes and failure are critical in learning to tolerate uncomfortable feelings so that we can be successful confident adults. Confidence isn’t born from the absence of struggle; it is the direct result of it.
- Believe in your kids’ capacity. This one is a BIG one, and one that I learned from my husband that is rooted in research. Magnus has always been a cautious kid and I used to stress over how he would react in new situations like swimming lessons or even a playground with kids he didn’t know. Dave would coach me on how to say goodbye and walk away smiling even when I was a worried mess inside.
Here’s the scoop: your worry is contagious and so is your confidence. If you’re unsure or don’t believe your kid can handle it, why on earth would they believe they can?
Why does this matter? They feel your uncertainty. This is where you get to do your inner work of putting your fears aside and taking on the mindset that your kid is just as strong, capable, and resilient as any other kid and OF COURSE they will get through this and be fine. Your confidence and assurance will help them believe it in themselves, and that will help them get through it.
As a Mindfulness teacher, my most important thoughts on anxiety is that anxiety is an emotion, and all emotions want to move through you. Learning how to see the emotion as something happening within you (instead of being you), and creating space and tolerance for it to do so instead of trying to change or get rid of it, gives us the skills, confidence and resilience to get through the difficult moments in our lives knowing we will be okay on the other side of it.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on these Mindfulness tips and which one resonated with you most. Head to the comments and let me know!