Anything that takes children and teens away from their important adults comes with the potential for anxiety to steal into their world. For even the bravest of hearts, this can cause more distress than it deserves to, especially in relation to school. As intrusive as school anxiety can be, it is not a sign of dysfunction or breakage. It is one of the most human experiences, and it can be managed.
When Anxiety Doesn’t Look Like Anxiety – How to Recognise and Manage Behaviour When Anxiety is the Fuel
When the world feels frightening or fragile, kids and teens might respond in ways that fall a decent way short of adorable. They might yell or hit, try to control you, refuse you, push away, push back, or just push. If their behaviour is fuelled by anxiety, it has nothing to do with ‘bad behaviour’ and everything to do with a brain that is trying to find its way back to safety.
When their days come with spikes, our children will turn to us. We won’t always be able to fix the breakages, but we don’t need to. We don’t need to do very much at all. As the important adult in their world, you have a profound capacity to soften the sharp edges and bring their world back to safe enough. Whatever is happening around them, whether it is a natural disaster, a global crisis, or world or family trauma, your words and your presence can heal and strengthen them like nothing else.
The relationship between anxiety and sleep is a complicated one. Sleep strengthens the brain against anxiety, but anxiety at bedtime stops sleep. Anxious thoughts will intrude at bedtime when the world is still, and bodies are still, and when young minds are meant to be still – but – a lack of sleep will make anxiety worse, which will make sleep the next night tougher, which will make anxiety worse.
“What is it with kids today? They don’t seem to have any resilience.”
“Life is tough. They need to harden up!”
Things you’ll never hear me say of course, but what many adults believe. And on the surface it may appear, especially to much older people, that today’s kids are too soft and spoilt to cope with life.
How Parents Can be the ‘Facilitators of Brave’. Anxiety in children and teens: Why their courage starts with ours.
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.