Helping Your Anxious Child Build Resilience

by | May 25, 2022 | Mental Health, Parenting

Recently, I had the privilege of leading a few sessions at the Calgary and Edmonton Teachers’ Conventions, and it blew me away that over 300 educators attended my session on self-care strategies. Clearly the last couple of years have been hard for educators!

Many shared with me the struggles they faced. Several teachers told me they wanted to quit. At the same time, I’ve had numerous parents describe how hard the pandemic has been on their child or teen. Many parents don’t know how to help their child through depression and anxiety — and even not wanting to leave the house.

Being the adult in our kids’ lives right now is extremely challenging. That may be the understatement of the year.

One of the problems we face in the mental health field is that we are still working from a disease model that says that we need to “fix” something that is “wrong with you.” Unfortunately, this just sends children, who are already falling through the cracks, even further downward.

In my years of experience as a mom of a child with anxiety, I’ve found that it was me who needed to change. Not him. I had to manage my own anxiety so I could then help him manage his. I had to put my own oxygen mask on, so to speak. I didn’t realize how much I influenced the emotional environment in my home, that I was creating space for anxiety to increase. Not my intention, of course! When I started to work on my own emotional regulation, things started to change in me first, then in our home, and finally in my son. But I had to change first. 

One of the things I have learned is that bursts of anger, anxiety and out of control behaviours are all communicating something much deeper. For many years, as I was working from a disease model of mental health, I was taught to help change behaviour instead of listening to it and observing it. Anger and anxiety, for example, are often bodyguards of far deeper emotions like shame. The biggest problem we face with children falling through the cracks is that as soon as we seek only to change their behaviour, we lose their trust. They have one desire from the adults in their lives: to be understood. Once they feel understood, then we can start to build trust. When we look for the underlying cause of their behaviour, that’s when we connect with them.

There’s no human being out there who hasn’t lost their cool at home or in the classroom at some point. It can be exhausting trying to keep calm all the time, especially during the current state of our world and the complications that has brought to our children’s mental and emotional states. The great news is that according to resilience statistics, we only have to “get it right” 30 per cent of the time in order for our kids to grow up to be healthy, functional adults. Thirty per cent! We can do that!

Turns out, resilience doesn’t come from us being perfect. It comes from how we repair after a rupture. It means seeking to connect more than being right. It means owning our own mistakes and listening to our children.

What we went through with our son was nothing short of excruciating, especially when he was suicidal. To this day, I don’t know how I got through it all. He still struggles with going to school and experiences anxiety and depression, but he is nowhere near where he was before.

This has taught me something powerful: too many of us settle for a story where our kids fall through the cracks because it’s “just the way it is.” Well, not on my watch! I saw with my own eyes my son’s life change because we decided that our family’s future was ours to write, not a diagnosis or the way things are. We, the adults, can write a great future for our kids if we choose to.

After working with youth, parents, and schools for over 20 years, I see now that what our kids really need is a village. That’s what I could have used in the midst of my son’s mental health crisis.

Yes, our family needed counselling, and yes, my son needed care. But we needed so much more. I could have used a coach to walk with me through it all. I needed a community who understood. I needed streamlined communication between our mental health care and my son’s teachers. Everything just felt disconnected, which left us to figure things out on our own. I have a background in mental health and resilience and I found this hard. How much more so do parents and educators who don’t?

My conclusion? We need a village now, more than ever.

What does that look like for you? What are you noticing you need from your community? I would love to hear from you.