I have noticed over the past few months that my seven-year-old is more irritable and angry than usual, is waking up at night with nightmares (which is not normal for her), and is resistant to do things that never bothered her before. When I try to ask her what’s going on, she just says she doesn’t know. How can I help?
– Concerned but Unsure
Well done on knowing your child so well and noticing these shifts. Awareness is the best starting point, and you are already doing it. It is also great that you are checking in with your daughter, showing her that you see her and that you care. The next step is offering her confidence that you can help her manage this.
But what is this
? Based on just the few symptoms you listed, I would venture to guess your little one is dealing with anxious thoughts and feelings. Sometimes the root of anxiety is an identifiable stressor, but sometimes it is nebulous and without a pinpointable cause. With that in mind, it could be why your daughter isn’t sure what is happening for her or isn’t able to describe it.
The past couple years have shaken up all of our worlds, including those of our children. The messaging we parents often receive is that children are resilient, and while they certainly are, it does not mean they are not strongly impacted. Two years into the pandemic, your seven-year-old has had a pretty constant flux, with an incredible amount of changes, for over a quarter of her life!
What you will want to do for your daughter is to help her to feel like she isn’t alone in feeling anxiety, and to show her that she can handle it. The goal is actually not to tell her that she can make her anxiety go away—anxiety has a sneaky way of popping up time and time again, and what we want is for her to know she can cope, not that she has failed for not squashing its existence. (A lot of kids feel this way if they think that’s the goal.)
So how can you offer her confidence about managing these new feelings she’s experiencing? Help her to realize and understand the following:
1. She isn’t alone in feeling anxious
Help your daughter by putting a name to her experiences, and make sure to share with her some worries that you had as a child. Express that you know what it is like to feel anxious.
It may sound something like, “What you’re feeling reminds me of how I felt sometimes when I was around your age. And what I learned was that I was feeling anxious
. Have you heard of anxiety before? What do you know about it?”
2. She can handle her anxiety
From there, you can help her to understand that we can take on our fears, worries, and anxiety by challenging ourselves to not
hide from them. When we hide from our fears and anxiety, it is actually counterproductive, making them grow even bigger. But when we acknowledge our anxiety as we push ourselves to face our fears, we learn we can handle and tolerate them, which then makes them smaller (and makes us feel more powerful against them).
This may sound something like, “You feel really nervous and anxious. That’s uncomfortable, but I know that you can handle it. You can be brave at the same time as feeling this way, and when you push yourself, you will show yourself that your fear/worry/anxiety is not as scary or as big as it seems right now.”
There are also many books (for children and adults!) that can help support your conversation with her, including my newest book Fear Not: How to Face Your Fear and Anxiety Head On
. Keep up the great work of supporting your girl.
– Christina Furnival, MS, LPCC