10 Things Parents of Anxious Kids Should Know

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As the parent of a mildly anxious child, I know firsthand how hard it can be to parent an anxious child. You want to fix it for them, but you can’t. You want to tell them not to worry, but those are empty words when the world feels overwhelming. You read everything you can get your hands on, but it never seems quite right. It might make sense, but how will it help your kid?

I get it.

I also know that it’s easier for me than it is for other parents. Helping kids with anxiety is what I do best. I know the signs and red flags and I know how and when to intervene. I also know the process of helping a worrier worry less, including the fact that often the best strategy out there is time.

I get a lot of calls and messages about helping anxious children. In general, parents want to know how to help at home and what they can do to speed up the worry-less process. Here’s the thing: If your child’s anxiety interferes with normal daily living – as in your child can’t get to school, refuses to participate in previously loved activities, isn’t eating or sleeping normally (per your child’s usual eat/sleep habits, that is) or is suddenly withdrawing from peers and family, your child needs treatment. Now. Don’t wait. Anxiety has a way of growing in size fairly quickly and it can impact the whole family.

If you’re not there yet – if you’re worried about your worrier but not sure that therapy is necessary, consider these ten things about kids with anxiety:

They can’t “just stop worrying”.

Anxious kids worry for a variety of reasons. For younger kids, separation is a big issue. For older kids, real world issues (like diseases, natural disasters or violence) can trigger anxiety. Whatever the cause of your child’s anxiety, telling your child not to worry about something isn’t useful. Your child is already worrying. Those words hold little to no value.

When we tell kids to just stop worrying, they feel like they’re doing something wrong. They’re not. It’s how their brains are wired.

It’s hard to sleep when you’re anxious.

Believe me, I get it. Sometimes when you finally reach the end of a long day, you just want everyone to go to sleep without an issue. The problem is that anxiety tends to spike at night. When kids finally slow down enough to rest their bodies, their brains tend to kick into overdrive. All those worries that they tried to stuff during the school day? Those feel huge!

They need help learning to calm their anxious thought cycles at night. Try a worry box. Consider practicing mindfulness together or using guided relaxation.

Little things feel very big.

You might think that your child’s worries are small in size. What’s a timed test when there are things like terrorism in this world? Your child’s triggers feel huge to your child. Resist the urge to minimize your child’s triggers and simply listen and empathize, instead.

Visuals help. A lot.

Children who struggle with anxiety tend to have anticipatory anxiety. They worry about what comes next. You might think that your child has the daily schedule down, but worriers tend to think outside the box when it comes to worrying – they experience intrusive thoughts (ones that alert them to terrible possibilities – like missing the bus, failing a test or car accidents).

Irrational thoughts play a significant role in anxiety. Visuals help kids boss back those intrusive, and often irrational, thoughts. Make posters for the morning routine, school and the evening routine. Keep a wall calendar up to date with upcoming events.

Breaking down tasks is essential.

Worriers tend to get easily overwhelmed by big tasks (like a long homework packet). Teach your anxious child to break down tasks into manageable pieces. Instead of tacking a list of four homework assignments at once, for example, pull out one assignment and then take a break. Slow and steady wins the race when it comes to empowering an anxious child to take control of his anxiety.

They can worry themselves sick.

Sometimes anxious kids talk about their worries constantly. Sometimes they internalize their emotions. Always keep a close eye on the quiet ones – they might actually be worrying themselves into a cold.

Sleep disruption and changes in eating habits tend to go hand-in-hand with anxiety in children. When you’re not eating and sleeping properly and you’re under stress, you’re at risk of getting sick.

Every new behavior is a clue.

Life seems to be on fast forward these days. Kids and parents are highly busy and sometimes parents miss the clues that point to anxiety. Changes in behavior should always be noted when it comes to young children. If a very social child suddenly avoids play dates and going to the park, you know something is amiss. But what about smaller clues? Watch for nail biting, hair twirling, regressed behavior, frequent nightmares, school avoidance, negative statements (I can’t, I hate, I always…) and sticking closer to mom or dad than usual.

Anticipation is emotionally exhausting.

If your anxious child seems tired most of the time, it’s because she is. Anticipating bad things and worrying about when disaster might strike is emotionally exhausting. Anxious children have a tendency to worry on the inside without giving it away to the adults in the room. It’s very tiring to exist in a perpetual state of worry. Watch for fatigue and factor in downtime.

It’s hard to choose when you worry about outcomes.

Anxious children have a very difficult time making decisions. Parents often confide in me that it’s very frustrating when the child can’t even choose between ice cream flavors. What might seem like a simple choice to you might actually be very hard for your anxious child.

Practice patience and help your child consider pros and cons.

Anxious kids need comfort.

When you have an anxious child, handle with care. They don’t need toughening up. They don’t need to learn to shake it off. They definitely don’t need to just get through it.

Anxious kids need empathy, comfort and understanding. They need support at home, at school and out in the world. They will learn to cope with their anxiety, but it won’t happen overnight. They need you now so that they won’t need you so much later on.

3 Things you can do right now to help confront anxiety!

Name it and explain it.

Use the word “anxiety”. You don’t need to hide it or sugarcoat it. There’s nothing wrong with having anxiety. In fact, some anxiety is healthy. Without worry, you might run right in front of a car without even looking!

Tell your child that the worry center in her brain, the amygdala, has a heightened response. It’s job is to switch on when it senses danger – that’s what helps us make quick decisions to get out of a dangerous situation. In an anxious child, the worry center can overestimate danger and send alert signals when it doesn’t need to. In anxious kids, the worry brain crowds out the happy brain and that causes a build up of stress.

Try this worry brain activity at home to help your child understand it better.

Breathe.

Learning the art of relaxation breathing is the best first step for helping a worrier. Mindfulness programs and guided relaxation programs are great for teaching this important skill, but you can start with a little rainbow breathing.

Ask your child to sit comfortably and breathe in for a count of four, hold for three and breathe out for four. Count out loud to help your child slow his breathing. Now have your child close his eyes and breathe all of the colors of the rainbow while visualizing each color as it appears.

Boss back.

Teaching kids to talk back to their worry brains is huge. It helps them take control of their intrusive thoughts. It does take time and practice.

Ask your child to name the thoughts that trigger his worry center. Together, make a list of positive counter statements to boss back. If the worry is, “I’m terrible at math”, the counter statement might be, “I can ask for help when I need it.”

Practice regularly for best results.

For more great strategies to help your child work through childhood stress and anxiety, pick up your copy of The Happy Kid Handbook!

 

 

The Happy Kid Handbook on FOX NEWS Health

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Image via pexels

I’m back from a whirlwind trip of speaking at schools and media appearances to spread the word about The Happy Kid Handbook and, more importantly, to discuss childhood stress and taking back childhood. I met countless amazing parents along the way and we had some very lively discussions about helping our kids thrive.

Stay tuned for an upcoming post on the power of play – specifically higher level play (what it means and why your kids need it).

In the meantime, I wanted to share one of my favorite clips from the past week. I stopped by FOX NEWS Health in NYC and had a great chat about the importance of letting kids be kids. I hope you enjoy it!

Before you go…it is November and November brings gratitude – this week on PBS Parents I shared some strategies for promoting gratitude all year long. Check out, “For Greater Happiness, Teach Gratitude“.

 

Sending happy thoughts your way!

The Happy Kid Handbook in Stores Now!

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Yesterday was an exciting day! Thanks to so many of you, The Happy Kid Handbook made it to #1 for parenting on Amazon! I am humbled by and grateful for your support. This is just the beginning. In the coming weeks I will hit the road to talk about the book and share my passion for taking back childhood and empowering our kids to live happy lives.

There were some great articles about the book yesterday. While I did my best to share them on social media as much as possible, I decided to share them here just in case you missed something that might be helpful to you and your family.

Yahoo interviewed me a few weeks ago and shared 8 Ways to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World. That was a super fun interview and I love the article.

Club Mid for Scary Mommy shared an exclusive excerpt of the book. Check out How Do We Teach Our Kids About Forgiveness? for some tips straight from the book!

My friends at mom.me shared another exclusive excerpt from the book – this one on raising kids who speak up. Read 5 Ways to Raise a Kid Who Speaks Up for more on teaching assertiveness skills.

Also on mom.me, my dear friend Sherri wrote The Secret to Raising a Happy Kid – warning, always bring tissues when reading Sherri.

By now you know I’m a huge believer in the power of play. My friend Marilyin at Roots of Action shared this article on the importance of play: The Benefits of Play are “Oh, So Big!”

Passion is always a hot topic. Should a kid have just one or is more really better? I enjoyed writing this article for Psychology Today: How to Support and Nurture Your Child’s Passions.

And you don’t want to miss 5 Steps to a Happier Home on EverydayFamily.com.

Thank you so very much! If you didn’t get your copy, please check it out!

If you did, and you want to stop by Amazon and leave a review…I will owe you a giant hug and a latte!

I’ll have some bookstore and speaking dates for you soon…stay tuned!

Get out and play!

The Happy Kid Handbook on California Charter

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Things are getting busy as we prepare for the 10/20/15 launch of The Happy Kid Handbook! If you’re curious about the book, check out this clip set to air on California Charter this week!

I chatted with host Brad Pomerance about all things Happy Kid, including how to reduce stress, why our kids are so busy and the importance of understanding temperament when it comes to parenting our kids.

We had a blast comparing parenting stories and discussing where to go from here. I hope you enjoy it!

Please consider preordering your copy of The Happy Kid Handbook today! Incidentally, I still have a few cute feelings faces magnets left to distribute for preorders…get yours while they last!

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To see a few specific relaxation strategies from the book, please check out this article on Quartz!

Feelings Faces Magnets With The Happy Kid Handbook!

 

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Big News!!!

We are just one month away from the release of my first book, The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World (Tarcher Books, Penguin Random House)!

I’ve been a writer since I can remember and this book is a dream come true. I put my heart and soul into this book and it is my greatest hope that it will bring some comfort to some of you along this parenting journey.

A gift for you…

Emotional regulation plays a big role in helping kids learn how to cope with the hard stuff that life has to offer. The truth is that we all experience ups and downs along the way and, despite all best efforts, we can’t protect our children from obstacles in their paths. We can, however, give them the tools they need to work through those obstacles on their own.

This is a theme in Happy Kid: Empowering our kids to work through obstacles independently so that they can live happy lives!

A first great step is helping your child build a feelings vocabulary. When kids can accurately identify their feelings, they can learn how to cope with them. Sounds simple, right? I can’t tell you how many kids sit on my couch and struggle to answer the following question: “How do you feel today?”

I love feelings faces charts because they help kids draw the connections between facial expressions and emotions. They also open the door to communication about feelings. I put a feelings faces poster on my family room wall when my daughter was 18 months old, and we still use it to this day!

You see those adorable magnets in the picture above? I worked with a talented artist, my dear friend Stacie Ottoson, to create those just for you! The first 50 people to preorder The Happy Kid Handbook will receive a custom designed Happy Kid feelings faces magnetic chart (size 4×6) as a token of my deep appreciation of your support of the book.

How do you get one?

It’s easy. Follow these steps:

  1. Preorder The Happy Kid Handbook through one of the links below or at your favorite local bookstore (support your local independent bookstores – please!)
  2. Take a screenshot or picture of your receipt – block out or blur that credit card info, though.
  3. Email your receipt to me at katiehurleylcsw(at)gmail(dot)com or send me a private message on Facebook.
  4. Include your full name and mailing address (United States only for now!)

Preorder The Happy Kid Handbook here:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Books-A-Million

IndieBound

If you already preordered the book because you’re simply amazing – you still get the magnet. Just let me know where to find you!

I’m ready to send out 50 feelings faces magnets – let’s get to it!

I can’t thank you enough for your support. Many of you loyal readers have been there from the beginning – you helped me get here. For that, I am full of gratitude.

Stay tuned for upcoming bookstore and speaking events…

It’s time to start spreading the happy with #TheHappyKidHandbook!

And then there was a book…

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I have wanted to be an author since I was eight years old…

I remember sitting in my pink and green room, colors chosen for (not by) me, with a legal pad (borrowed from my dad – not a lawyer) and a pencil sharpened down to a nub writing one page stories about ghosts (always a topic of morbid fascination), friendship, and family.  I wrote until my hand began to ache, the words spilling out of me at an alarming rate.  It was never planned.  I don’t remember sitting around thinking about stories.  The words just came to me.

As I grew, my goals changed.  By my sophomore year in high school, I was determined to help kids.  A dear friend of mine had been through more than I could ever even begin to process.  I lived a fairly sheltered life during that time.  My parents were married.  My grandparents were alive.  Problems were hidden from the kids.  We were tasked with simply being kids.  But this friend of mine…she lived a different, far less sheltered life.  Although she didn’t know it, I worried about her a lot.  I wanted to help.  I wanted to erase her sadness.  I wanted to make it better.  To this day, she probably doesn’t know that she is the reason that I do what I do.

But I never stopped writing.  In high school, in college, and even in graduate school…I never stopped writing.  I wrote unfinished novels, unfinished nonfiction, and words meant only to heal my soul.  I wrote my way through my grief when my father died without notice.  I wrote my way through infertility, pregnancy loss, and just about everything else.  I just kept writing.

And then, one day, I started a blog.  Relying on my knowledge of child development and my expertise in parenting, I just kept writing.  You read it.  You shared it.  You asked for more.  So I kept writing.  With that, I revisited that lifelong goal of becoming a published author.  That little voice somewhere deep in my soul just kept whispering, “You can do this.”

I’m pleased to announce that dreams do come true.  I’ve worked hard.  I’ve worked late into the night and early in the morning.  I’ve fought hard to balance my writing, my clients, and my family, with my children always in the lead position.  And it all paid off.

If you’ve been around here for a while, you know that I’m committed to helping parents raise happy kids.  One topic at a time, I help parents focus on the positive and enjoy the parenting journey (that’s my goal, anyway).

What you don’t know is that I’ve been busy writing, editing, and, with the help of my incredible literary agent, submitting a proposal for a parenting book on this very topic.  “The Happy Kid Handbook:  How to Raise Cheerful Children in a Stressful World” will be published by Tarcher/Penguin!

Check out this amazing announcement in Publisher’s Marketplace:

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There will be countless thank you’s in the months to come…but for today I want to keep it simple.  A HUGE thank you to the following:

Lauren Galit at LKG Agency:  Lauren has believed in me from the very first moment we spoke on the phone.  It was an instant connection.  She has cheered me on, pushed me, and helped me find my way in this giant world of publishing.  Thank you seems insufficient…we did this together and I can’t even describe the gratitude that warms my heart every time I think of her, see her name pop up in my inbox, or laugh out loud at a text exchange that occurs at the perfect moment.  Lauren is so much more than a literary agent.  She is a visionary.

Sara Carder at Tarcher/Penguin:  Every writer dreams of finding the perfect editor for any given project.  I am lucky enough to have that particular dream come true.  Sara believes in the Happy Kid message.  She is full of positive energy and she genuinely wants to help me get this message to the world.  I am so very grateful for her support right out of the gate, and look forward to working with her along the way.  I do believe that Happy Kid is in the best possible hands with the best possible publisher.  For that, I am beyond grateful.

Sean Hurley:  I am not only lucky enough to be married to my best friend, but I am lucky enough to married to a man who believes in big dreams, love, and happiness.  Sean has supported me from the very first moment that I announced my intention to finally become a published author, almost three years ago.  He has cheered me on, held my hand, and pushed me when I need pushing.  He is the dream catcher of the universe, and that positive energy helped me find my way.

My kids:  I am lucky enough to have two incredible children who fill my soul with happiness each and every day.  That, above all, inspires me.

My readers:  YOU have made this blog what it is today.  You read, you share, you ask questions, and you come back for more.  What began as a tiny little blog in a huge blogging world has grown into a community of incredible parents – for that, I am grateful (and humbled).  Happy Kid is written with all of you in mind.

Stay tuned for updates and, of course, more articles and posts in all of my usual places.  And now…please excuse me while I chain myself to my laptop and finish writing this book!

Have a HAPPY day!