Model Effective Coping Skills for Your Child
Every parent worries about their child during times of anxiety and stress. One of the most effective ways you can help your child manage their emotions at this time is by modeling effective coping skills yourself. Regardless of what you say to your child, it’s what you live out before them that will have the biggest impact on their abilities to cope with stress.
You may share your child’s anxiety, or maybe you have been anxious in the past. Open up about what has made you feel that way and what you have done that helped you manage your emotions. This can convey that feelings are normal and that even adults have to learn to cope. This also helps your child feel less isolated and more secure that they are not alone. Be careful, however, not to one-up your child, or come across as though you are dismissing the severity of their own circumstances.
Routines can provide comfort and security by enabling your child to predict what is going to happen that day. Knowing the plan, either because it’s the routine or because you have discussed what is going to happen next, enables your child time to process and prepare mentally for a transition in activities. Surprises often reinforce feelings of anxiety and insecurity. You want to make your child’s life as predictable as possible while they work through their emotions. When something unexpected does come up, enabling your child to have some measure of control can help reduce their anxiety. Offering them choices about what time, where, or in what order events happen can give them some sense of control.
Avoiding emotions is not the same as coping with them. While some distracting activities, such as video gaming and social media can be useful in limited doses, over-indulging in these often serve as escapes which allow your child to avoid dealing with difficult emotions. Left to their own devices, children sometimes give up needed sleep in order to spend time in these activities, which decreases their ability to handle their emotions. It is important that you recognize when such behavior becomes unhealthy and step in to regulate them.
Much of your child’s ability to negotiate challenging emotions throughout life will depend on the self-confidence they develop as a child. Through creating a sense of safety, acceptance, and predictability, you can create an environment for your child to gain the confidence that they can cope with uncomfortable feelings and empower them to keep moving forward whenever they encounter anxious situations.