4 C.A.L.M. Strategies to Support Your Anxious Child

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4 C.A.L.M. Strategies to Support Your Anxious Child

Find it, fix it, and flip it

By Chan Swee Fen | 22 July 2022

All children feel anxious or worried from time to time. It is a normal part of growing up. As parents, we cannot shield our children from feelings of anxiety. How we can support them is to help them cope with their worries or anxieties.

In a recent podcast, I shared four strategies using the acronym C.A.L.M to help parents support their anxious children. Here they are:

Change negative self-talk to an empowering one

Emotions such as anxiety do not exist in a vacuum.

Our thinking often influences our emotions, which in turn guide our behaviour.

To go deeper and truly understand our children’s concerns, let’s listen out for their self-talk. Some examples of negative self-talk are: “I am not good enough” “I am never going to make it” “No matter how hard I try; I will never measure up.”

I remember when my younger child was in her secondary school years, whenever she was sitting for a school exam, she would say out loud, “I will surely fail this exam.”

It became her automatic response every time an exam was around the corner.

Our thinking often influences our emotions, which in turn guide our behaviour.

I found it baffling that she would articulate such a statements when I or other family members did not engage in such a “fortune-telling” thinking trap with her.

When I noticed the pattern, I asked her, “How do you know you will fail if you have not seen the exam paper or taken the exam.” And she would reply, “I will surely do very badly even if I don’t fail.”

Eventually, I found out that several of her classmates often made such statements in class whenever the school or national exams drew near.

She eventually flipped “I will surely fail” into an empowering belief and went on to do well in the national exams.

So, I used the FIND IT, FIX IT, and FLIP IT techniques to help my child.

Find it – Discover the negative thought that triggers anxious feelings. In her case, it is, “I will surely fail.” Identify this as an unhealthy thought pattern.

Fix it – Challenge these negative thoughts. What is the evidence to support such beliefs? Did she always fail the school exams? What about the times she did not fail? Were there times she did well?

Flip it – Once the self-defeating thought has been identified and scrutinised, change it to a healthy one. For example, we can replace it with, “I will give my best during the exams, and I will be very happy if I do well. Even if I don’t get the results I expect, I can handle it.”

Was it an overnight change? Of course not. But practice makes progress. It is heartening that she eventually flipped “I will surely fail” into an empowering belief and went on to do well in the national exams.

Acknowledge and validate, but do not reinforce

If your child tells you she is afraid her friends would make fun of her because she got a new hairdo, do not dismiss her feelings by saying, “Don’t worry,” or “Just ignore them.”

Also don’t amplify her anxiety by saying, “They may laugh at you, but so what.”

Try this instead, “You are afraid they will laugh at you and make you feel embarrassed. It is okay to be scared. Let us think of ways to help you get through this.”

Learn to cope by thinking things through

Talk with your child about what would happen if her fear came true – how would she handle it?

Brainstorm with your child on what she can say to her classmates in response.

Your child may come up with the idea to ignore her classmates’ teasing until they stop on their own. Or she may say to them “I still like my new hairdo. My parents like it and my dad thinks it is cool.”

For some children or teenagers, having a plan to respond to anxiety-provoking scenarios can reduce the uncertainty they feel.

Model healthy ways of managing anxiety

We can help our children cope with anxious feelings by letting them see how we cope with ours.

Children are very perceptive. If you keep complaining about meeting work deadlines to your spouse or telling friends you are avoiding certain situations because you are worried, they are going to internalise your coping strategies.

I am not suggesting you always present a stoic or unruffled posture and pretend you have it all under control.

But you can intentionally allow your children to hear or watch you manage your fears or worries managing these unpleasant feelings as best you can, and then feeling good about getting through them.

And even if you do vent in front of your kids, not all is lost. Also let them see how you recover your composure, whether it’s by taking time out or going for a walk.

There you have it – four practical ways to calm your child’s nerves.

Which strategy will you start implementing to support your anxious child?

© 2022 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.

Swee Fen is an ordinary woman who desires to inspire others to make an extra-ordinary impact through her family life and life skills workshops, counselling training sessions and writing. You may connect with her at [email protected].
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