Helping My Child Deal with Anxiety

Marie Osborne

Marie Osborne
Updated Aug 03, 2023
Helping My Child Deal with Anxiety

I have learned a lot in my battle with anxiety, and I am so thankful none of it was wasted. I can pass it on and serve my children, and hopefully, they can do the same for someone else. 

Her tummy hurts again. It’s been happening more and more often. She comes in complaining of a tummy ache, wanting me to hold her, to pray with her, and asking God why she feels like this. Why doesn’t her body feel good anymore? We sit on my bed as I hold her to my chest and stroke her hair. “Is something worrying you, sweetheart?” “I just don’t feel right, Mom. Something’s not right.”

My Own Battle with Anxiety

I’ve battled depression and anxiety for over 17 years. If you had asked me in the beginning how God might use this battle, I would have had no idea. In the thick of it, I felt ashamed, guilty, depressed that I was depressed and anxious. But as the battle wore on, as the years passed by, as I gathered tools and resources and learned how to fight, how to manage, and how to thrive in the midst of the struggle, I saw how He planned to use it. 

As He comforted me, I have had the opportunity to comfort others. The first was a close friend. Someone I never would have guessed struggled with mental illness. It was the first time that I saw what God could do with this. That my mental health struggles would not be wasted. That He is always working for our good. Even when we are living in deep, dark places, He knows and He sends a beacon of light. He sent helpers to bring that beacon of light for me, and I have been that beacon for others. 

My Kids' Battle with Anxiety

Now, as a mom, I am that beacon for my kids. No mother wants to watch their kids suffer. We want them to have it better than we did, to skip the painful parts we suffered through. But we cannot control the world around them. We cannot control their brain chemistry or DNA. We cannot spare them the struggle of anxiety or depression. 

My kids have always had big feelings. They love deeply, rejoice wholeheartedly, and celebrate enthusiastically. They are encouragers and cheerleaders, but they are also grievers and worriers. They ask a ton of questions about why things are the way they are, what can we do about it, what will happen and who will it happen to and what will we do if the worst comes to pass. They have too many thoughts and feelings for their little bodies and sometimes that comes out in stomach aches or headaches or tears or yelling. My kids have big feelings, and that often means we have to work through anxiety together.

I often feel like I have no idea what I am doing as a parent. I often feel ill-equipped and underprepared, but strangely, my battle with mental illness has given me a great deal of confidence in helping my kids deal with anxiety. They come to me in tears or with a stomach ache or headache, and we start to talk it out. As the conversation progresses, as I learn this is anxiety and not something else, all the tools and practices I’ve learned over the years click into place. 

Weapons in the Battle

The first thing I always offer my kids is physical touch. All three of my kids thrive on physical touch, so I offer to hold them, even though they are getting larger now and that can be hard and uncomfortable. I know from my own experience with anxiety, panic attacks in particular, that the person doesn’t always want to be touched. That is why I offer it, but don’t move to hold them until they tell me they want to be held. If they want to be held, I often do some of their favorite soothing touches. Rubbing or scratching their back, stroking their hair, rocking back and forth, etc. Even then, they may not want anything other than to be held, so I let them dictate what they need. If they do not want to be held, I ask where they want me to sit and proceed from there.

Once we are in a comfortable position physically, I begin to pray. I always start with prayer. One of the things I learned from my own struggles with mental illness and anxiety specifically is I could not effectively pray for myself. I could not take my own thoughts captive. I could not recite scripture. I needed help from someone else, a beacon of light in the darkness, to begin to pray for me. To invite spiritual forces to wage war on my behalf. To plead for God’s healing and presence and peace. To speak words of truth and love over me in the midst of my battle.

After I have prayed, we work on breathing. We take deep slow breaths. I coach them in several deep breathing techniques that I have learned, and I continue to pray over them. As we breathe slowly and pray continually, I can usually feel them begin to release their anxiety. I can feel their bodies loosen and relax. They become less tense and wound up, softer and surrendered. This is often enough to ease the burden for the day.

Sometimes they require more. In times of intense anxiety and fear, we press on. I have found the use of our senses to be particularly helpful. I ask them what they can smell, what they can taste, what they can hear, what they feel, and what they see. We go through this over and over, grounding them in the present, bringing their mind to focus on what is real and true right now.

Sometimes that isn’t enough either. In those instances, we use the alphabet. I hold them and speak softly, soothingly, as we make an alphabetical list. We choose something pleasant and distracting, maybe even silly. An alphabetical list of animals. An alphabetical list of foods. An alphabetical list of Pokemon characters. Sometimes I need to make the list for them. Sometimes the anxiety is too fierce for them to do anything but listen, taking in my voice, my touch, my peace.

Leading Them in the Fight

It has been a privilege to minister to my children in their worries and fears. It has also been heartbreaking to watch them struggle. Though my own battles with mental illness have been far worse than theirs (Thank you, Jesus), it hurts my heart to see them struggle at all. I want them to be filled with joy and peace, all day every day, but that is not how life works out. Instead, I have the incredible honor of comforting them as I have been comforted, of showing them the love and peace and the presence of Jesus by being a loving, peaceful, present parent. I have learned a lot in my battle with anxiety, and I am so thankful none of it was wasted. I can pass it on and serve my children, and hopefully, they can do the same for someone else. Each of us passing on the light that was given to us when we were in the darkness.

Free Bedtime Story for Kids: 

Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/Nadezhda1906