Chip Dodd - Helping our kids with anxiety

When our kids struggle with anxiety, we can feel so helpless, unsure of what to do. And anxiety among kids is increasing. Whether due to the pandemic, or for other reasons, anxiety is on the rise in every age group. Stress is at an all-time high.
Today we are going to explore ways to help our kids with anxiety with Dr. Chip Dodd, counselor, speaker, mentor, and author of “The Voice of the Heart” and numerous other books centered on emotions and healing.
What is anxiety?
Dr. Dodd shares that, “Anxiety is a physiological, central nervous system reaction, to thoughts we are having about anticipated disaster. It is always related to future trepidation about something happening that we’re not sure about.” Anxiety leads us to seek something outside of ourselves to control and quell those feelings of uncertainty.  
Fear, however, is an emotion. Fear tells us we are in danger of something happening that we don’t want to happen. It’s a feeling we’ve been given that allows us to ask for help. When we express a fear vulnerably, it sets us up to be able to prevent the thing we fear and it also provides a place for us to go back to to process what did or didn’t happen.
Fear can push us to connection as we seek help whereas anxiety can push us into isolation. Anxiety and fears are both thermostats that can lead us to seek help.
Children get anxious about what is happening and about what could happen next. They aren’t sure where the truth is. They are guessing at how to find level ground. Adults are often anxious about what has already happened or what could happen again. Kids are most often anxious about their two biggest fear – not belonging and not mattering.
Social media platforms are a huge contributor to these anxieties because they don’t affirm how we’re created. They actually go against it. This is why home base has to be a safeplace where your family can process what is happening below the surface. We need to be able to talk about our spiritual root system – our feelings, needs, longings, desires, and hopes.
So often we don’t want our kids to suffer, to have negative thoughts, or to feel bad.  We don’t want them to feel anxious so we try to “fix” it but actually feeling their fears isn’t the problem. The problem is denying how they are feeling.
It’s a natural response to feel fear in situations we don’t have a sense of empowerment over or where we aren’t in control. Kids are often afraid of the dark because it’s full of unknowns. Yet, kids are willing to go into the dark if they have someone to go with them and to hold their hand. So, children aren’t actually afraid of the dark. They are afraid of being alone in the dark, of being uncared for in the dark, of not being seen or heard in the dark. If a child is allowed to have their feelings and process them, when the parent says, “It’s okay for you to feel afraid”, we are teaching our kids they can be real and not have to fake it or pretend. This allows them to embrace their humanity and  not disassociate from it which actually increases anxiety.
So, how can we walk with our kids through their anxiety?
The number one thing is to acknowledge the difference between anxiety and fear. Fear is a good, God given feeling because it helps us to know when we are in danger so we can cry out and ask for help. Fear can teach us how to handle new situations. As we work through fear and ask for help, we discover our ability to get what we need to be safe and to overcome obstacles. Teaching our kids this process is essential.
But what about when scripture tells us, “Do not fear”?  
Isaiah 41:10 says, “Do not fear for I am with you.” That verse or others like it aren’t telling us not to ever feel afraid but rather to realize we can face our fear because God is with us. We are often taught that fear is a weakness or lack of faith but God doesn’t tell us to deny our fear. Rather, He tells us not to be afraid because He is in relationship with us and we are connected to Him.
The world is scary and broken but when we are connected to ourselves, others, and God, we can walk securely even in places where we are fearful. 1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” Anything that bothers us, bothers God. Anything that concerns me, concerns God. We don’t need to tell our kids, “Don’t worry about that. Forget about it. Stop worrying.” We are parents, not coaches. “They need a home base where they can say out loud when life is scary, sad, lonely, or wonderful.” They need a place where they can bring their joys and their tears. Our tendency is to run from struggle instead of staying in the tension but that is where God is revealed. And, we need to teach our kids the same.
What are practical things we can do to be present with our child when they are anxious?
To be present with your child, Dr. Dodd says, “Parent, don’t coach.” We often spend too much time coaching our kids instead of being the parent our kids can come home to after they’ve already been ‘coached’ and critiqued by the world. They need a safe place of acceptance.
When we try to tell our kids not to feel anxious or afraid, we are actually comforting ourselves.  As parents, we need to learn to tolerate our own feelings and fear. Sometimes we don’t let our kids share their honest feelings because it is so painful to hear and experience ourselves. We can feel so much blame and self-condemnation when our kids are hurting that we may send a message to them to shut down their feelings so we can escape them too.
We instead must be willing to seek help, from friends, from other parents, from professionals when we are afraid or in need. When we ask for the help we need, we become someone who can then be asked for help too. Instead of hiding our feelings and fears, we need to cry out and reach out to others. Parents need to gain the ability to stay in their own feelings so they can stay with their child when they are feeling big feelings too.  
Dr Dodd says, as single parents, “We are not made to do this alone. Just because we are alone now, that doesn’t mean we are broken. It means we are in need. Two very different things.” Unfortunately, for so many of us, feeling “in need is something shameful that needs to be hidden, instead of something that needs to be spoken.” So, we have to become willing to speak  up about the things we need and not hide them so our kids can do the same. We need to be willing to accept the limits of our humanity and turn our lives over to the care of God “as we understand Him”.
Interestingly, we haven’t even talked specifically yet about the child with anxiety. Because what our anxious child needs most is a parent who is safe to bring their feelings and fears to so they can ask for what they need. And, we, as parents, have to be able to do that for ourselves first.
So much of single parenting is doing the work of recovery to find peace with our powerlessness, admitting our needs, and reaching out to have them met in healthy ways. It’s not about having all the right answers for our kids. It’s about being present with them, being able to say, “I am with you in the fear. I am with you in the anxiety”.
That posture as parents is crucial when we have a child with anxiety. First, we need to know our own story and feeling so we can then know our child’s. Once er tune in to own hearts, we will then have a good idea of what our child may be feeling and going through too. Second, once we identify our own feelings fears about having a child who is struggling, isolating, depressed, etc. then we can seek out help for ourselves, whether professionals or support related to our circumstance. A key truth for single parents wanting to help their children with anxiety, says Dodd, is that, “Your growth equals their security”.
So, what are some questions we can ask to allow our kids to bring us into their fear with them?
“Your face looks a certain way. Are you okay?”
“Just because I go through things, that doesn’t mean you can’t tell me things. Just because we are struggling, doesn’t mean your struggle doesn’t matter. Please don’t take care of me by not having your own experience. Talk to me about that.”
We offer invitation but we don’t control the heart of a child. We can’t force it or coerce it. And, that is difficult because we love our children. But we can ask and we can stay present.
When is it time to seek counsel?
When we see symptoms that are frightening, it is time to seek therapeutic help for you and for your child. If your child is shut off and shut down, get help. Dr. Dodd suggests therapy for anxiety before you see a physician or psychiatrist because often doctors try to ‘play therapist’ using pharmaceuticals because they aren’t trained to work through the necessary dynamics, emotionally and relationally. The anxiety may be related to things your family is experiencing or has experienced so going together is a good place to start.
The reality is our children don’t live in the same world we grew up in. They face anxieties and stressors we didn’t have to experience. They need us as parents to provide a safe place for them to be seen, heard, and validated. Know yourself and know your child. Allow them to celebrate in front of you and allow them to grieve in front of you. Listen to the voice of your own heart so you can hear their heart too. This is a great place to start with your child who may be struggling.

Every month we focus on a theme important to single parents and this month our focus is on parenting. Each week in our online Solo Parent Society groups, we talk further about our podcast topics. Single parents, we invite you to join any one of our groups, meeting 6 days a week. Check out our game nights too for casual fun and a time of sharing afterward.
As you walk the journey of single parenting, we want you to know you are not alone! Solo Parent Society’s mission is to offer encouragement and hope through our weekly groups,  our communities on Facebook and Instagram (@soloparentsociety), and our weekly podcast. Subscribe here on AccessMore or wherever you get your podcasts. You can access all of this and more using the free Solo Parent app.

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