How to Help Our Children with Anxiety

Clinical Psychologist Dr. Danny O’Rourke will join us for a talk about anxiety and how parents can best support their children this Thursday, January 9, at 7 p.m. in the Library.

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Lindsay Metcalfe, UPrep Counselor

A couple of months ago, I took my six-year-old son to get his flu vaccination. While we were sitting in the waiting room, his typically cheerful, calm demeanor disintegrated as he grew increasingly nervous about getting a shot. I tried to reassure him—“you’ve done this before, it will only hurt for a second, it’s worth it so you don’t get sick”—to no avail. If anything, my words just seemed to agitate him more. When the nurse came out and called his name, he melted into a wailing, fearful puddle on the floor and refused to move.

I was faced with a question that confronts all parents, regardless of their child’s age: How do I get my kid past their fear to do something that I know is beneficial for them? Should I push them or comfort them? If I push them to do something that makes them so anxious, will they be further traumatized? These questions get far more complicated once your child is past the age where you can scoop them up and carry them back to the exam room, as I did. For some kids, those fears and anxieties are transitory and easily managed; for others, they become persistent and begin to affect the quality of the child’s (and family’s) life.

The nurse was a champ and swooped in to give the shot as soon as he held still for a moment.  He looked up at me and said, “That was it?!” The whole way to the car, we talked about how it wasn’t as bad as he had thought, and how he would remember and approach the situation calmly next year. If I had allowed him to avoid the shot, it would have sent the message that he was right to be anxious, that I didn’t think he could handle it. Instead, facing his fear took away its power.

No matter the age of our child, our job as parents is to communicate that we see their distress, we understand that the situation is hard, and that we know they can do it anyway. We help them take baby steps to meeting their goal. Of course, this is much more straightforward with a first grader than it is with an adolescent! Many first graders believe their parents when they tell them that the anticipation of the pain is worse than the pain. After they do the difficult task, they see that facing the fear takes away its power. We talk them through the situation and model how to approach the anxiety, rather than avoiding or accommodating it. 

With adolescents, this assistance isn’t as easily accepted as it was when they were young. How to walk this line of helping our kids with anxiety is hard! Come ask questions of an expert at Parent Ed this Thursday: Dr. Danny O’Rourke will join us for a talk about anxiety and how parents can best support their children. Dr. O’Rourke is a clinical psychologist at the Evidence-Based Treatment Center of Seattle, as well as their Director of Training and Education. He specializes in the treatment of child and adolescent anxiety and has a particular interest in sports psychology. Please join us in the Library starting at 7 p.m. on Thursday; refreshments will be served at 6:30 p.m.


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