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11 Things Every Parent of an Anxious Child Knows

Photograph by Twenty20

Last year, at about this time, my son became so terrified of the creepy clown from the “It” movie posters that he became overrun with anxiety. As heartbreaking as it was to hear, “Meredith, your son lives with a very high level of anxiety,” it was also a bit of a revelation. Suddenly, behaviors I hadn’t understood made sense. More importantly, I stopped blaming him for things that seemed like bad behavior when really, his behavior was his way of saying, “Help! I’m drowning in worries.”

If you’ve got a kid who seems to carry the weight of the world in their brain, chances are you’ve got an anxious one too. Here’s a few things I’ve learned about mine. Maybe some of it will sound familiar.

Anxiety is managed, not cured. Anxiety comes in waves, like high and low tide. But, like the tide, it never goes away. Kids mature, they learn to cope and parents learn to be helpful. But anxiety morphs, changes and almost always returns.

Anxious kids probably have anxious parents. Sometimes it seems like your kid’s worries came out of the blue, but chances are you’ve got some worries too.

Transitions are hard. Anxious kids usually like to know what’s coming, will have a thousand questions about schedules and won’t always deal with change well.

The new school year is a hotbed of anxiety. Prepare for bad dreams, mystery ailments and disrupted sleep before the school year begins.

There’s a lot going on inside your worried kid’s brain. The more you can help them talk about it, the less it swims in his or her head.

Worries go bump in the night. Anxious kids can seem fine all day and then worries all comes into their heads in the middle of the night, which means often waking mom or dad. I set aside time before bed each night to talk to my son about his worries. It seems to help, so they don’t pay him a visit at 3 a.m.

Worried kids have very busy brains. There’s a lot going on inside your worried kid’s brain. The more you can help them talk about it, the less it swims in their head.

Avoidance leads to more anxiety. When my kid talked about death or fears, my gut instinct had always been to avoid it and tell him he’ll be fine. Not any more. Worried kids need you to finish the story for them, instead of avoid it. That can mean talking about some super difficult subjects, like death or safety.

Anxious kids require honesty. Anxious kids are usually highly intelligent. When they ask, “What if we have a fire?” or “Are you ever going to die?” they need to hear the truth. By reassuring them that they are always safe and well cared for, while being age appropriately honest, you actually assuage their fears.

Anxiety can create some pretty creative ailments. My son recently convinced himself, and me, that he had a bladder infection. Turns out he was fine. He was just worried. Sigh.

Kids with anxiety can seem obstinate but usually aren’t. Anxious kids can often be labeled as poorly behaved. And while they may adopt some bad behaviors, it’s usually their way of showing they’re in trouble.

School isn’t always a party for kids with anxiety. Social dynamics, pressure, tests—they all weigh heavy on anxious kids.

Truth be told, everything can weigh heavy on anxious kids. While anxious kids can often seem like kids who need more discipline and rules, I found what they need most is patience and guidance. They're not rule-breakers. They're struggling. Those big brains are filled with worries!

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