Our children see us at our best and at our most vulnerable. It’s easy to think that they don’t come together. It’s easy to think that for them, our ‘best’ are the things that feel good for them – our depth of love for them, the way their name sounds when it’s floating on our voice, our laugh when its threading through theirs, the way we hold them close, the way the world feels better when we sit cross-legged on the floor beside them. The truth though, is that our most vulnerable times can also be our best for them – not despite them, but because of them.
Anxiety in children and teens can shrink their world more than anything should. Sometimes anxiety will do what it was designed to do, and show up in response to a real threat. Most often though, anxiety will show up, not in response to danger, but to something meaningful or important. This is when anxiety can really get in the way for our young ones. Instead of holding them back from something life-threatening, it just holds them back.
The planet is hurting and our children are feeling it. For too many of our children and teens, the environmental crisis is feeling bigger than humanity’s capacity to turn it around. When this happens, eco-anxiety – anxiety about the environmental crisis – drives hopelessness, helplessness and despair, stealing their sense of safety and security in the world. As part of a humanity that is facing a global environmental crisis, we have some important work to do. We have to heal and protect our planet, and just as urgently, we need to give hope back to our children. We need to ease their anxiety, and help them discover their own power to make a difference.
The world is seeing too many days where humanity is shaken by another catastrophic world event. Catastrophic trauma comes with ripples. The world is such a small place now, and when breakage happens, the news can easily and quickly travel to our children, wherever they are. This can breathe life into anxiety and unfathomable possibilities. ‘What if something happens while I’m not with you?’ ‘Could this happen to us?’
Anxiety in children and teens can make everyone feel helpless. It can come from anywhere and nowhere, and often it makes no sense at all. This is because anxiety is a primitive, instinctive response, not a rational one. Anxiety is driven by a strong, beautiful, healthy brain that is doing exactly what brains are meant to do – protect us from threat. Sometimes though, they can work a little too hard and have us avoiding the things that we’d be better moving towards.
An anxious mind is also a beautifully creative, imaginative mind. This is a great thing, except for when that imagination and creativity is being used to imagine outcomes that feel unbearable, however unlikely they may be. These thoughts of what ‘could’ happen, drive self-talk, which in turn directs behaviour towards doing whatever is necessary to avoid a bad outcome. Hello perfectionism.
Imagine this. You’re travelling along the freeway when your brakes feel as though they might fail. They’re working, but something feels off. This has never happened before. You drive the car to the closest mechanic. After a thorough inspection of the car, you’re told everything is fine and there’s nothing to worry about.
Anxiety is persuasive and determined and it’s masterful at organising families, days and lives around itself. If you have a child who struggles with anxiety, take heart – it’s very possible to change anxiety’s heavy hand in your child’s life. With guidance, information and strategies, anxiety can be given the place is deserves, which is somewhere well away from centre stage.
Dealing with anxiety in children can be confusing for everyone. Anxiety doesn’t always make sense because it doesn’t always come with an obvious trigger. It is driven by a strong, healthy, determined brain, but one that is overprotective and quick to sense danger, even when there isn’t any. As the trusted adult in your child’s life, your response can have a powerful effect on calming an anxious brain and uncovering the brave behaviour that all kids with anxiety are wonderfully capable of.
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