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Even If…and Other Conversations to Combat Anxiety

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There really is an anxiety epidemic impacting today’s young ones. Anxiety is the most common mental health issue they face, making up about half of all mental illness in our country. Interestingly, 7.7% of girls aged 12 – 17-year-old have a diagnosed anxiety disorder.

Everywhere I go parents and teachers are talking about anxious kids. However, these conversations are only useful if they are based on accurate information, and are solution focused. I get really concerned that incorrect labelling, misinformation (and plain old anxiety itself) may be shaping our children’s futures.

The truth is that for most of our kids, anxiety is not a life-long diagnosis, and there is much we can do to support them. SO MUCH! I hope these three very specific conversations will help you boost resilience in your child during their anxious moments, and enable them to be courageous when feeling challenged.

Conversation One: “Even if…”

“What if…” is often the centre of our conversations, especially when we are worried about our kids.  We might ask ourselves, “What if they fail, get rejected, feel stressed, don’t cope when we are separated from them?” There are so, so many “what if” scenarios that we can explore in our minds.

But what would happen if we replaced “what if….” with “even if…”? It’s a small but profound shift which enables us to process the potential risks (which we need to do as parents), while focusing on the end game. It acknowledges the challenges while championing their strengths.

“What if…” puts their focus on what may go wrong. “Even if …” reinforces the fact that no matter what life throws us, we can adapt, respond well and find joy. We want to reinforce and help our children discover that, as human beings, we are incredibly resilient.

Conversation Two: It’s not the size. It’s the direction.

Karen Young, author of children’s book Hey Sigmund, is such a wonderful person and is also my all-time favourite anxiety expert.  She often talks about anxiety being an opportunity to be brave, which I love.

I have rarely seen brave manifest in a super-hero size leap which instantly changes the landscape. That’s the sensationalised, Hollywood concept. Karen says that even a shuffle, in the right direction, is worth celebrating.  The direction of the step is far more important than the size of it.

Let’s paint a realistic picture of courage. We can then celebrate and build on the momentum which every small step creates. Conversations that ask, “What is one small thing you can do” might be a game changer for some children who are anticipating anxiety will dissolve in one big action.

Conversation Three: What makes you feel stronger?

Ideally we want our children to move from overwhelmed to calm, using positive coping strategies rather than quick-fixes. Positive coping strategies make them feel stronger and strengthen their brave!  Poor coping strategies deplete and reduce their strength.

We know that binge eating, excessive time online, cutting or crying until late at night don’t help them feel stronger. But I want them to discover that for themselves.

During stressful times I often ask my children these questions – What makes your body feel stronger? What makes your mind feel stronger?  What makes your soul feel stronger?  I also remind them that they need their strength so it’s worth looking after.

Let’s boost those things which make our children feel stronger, and in turn make it easier for them to choose brave and believe in “even if….”

RECOMMENDED READING: For more, check out Michelle’s book “Everyday Resilience: Helping Kids Handle Friendship Drama, Academic Pressure and the Self-doubt of Growing Up”. 

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