Calm in Calamity
Much like patience, handling yourself in a steady, composed way is what will be most helpful to your child with anxiety. Even if you get stressed or feel overwhelmed, modeling how to collect yourself and work through a tough spot shows your child that she can learn to do the same thing.
Be a Model
This is what modeling looks like. First learn the breathing techniques in Chapter 16. Then when your child is flustered and starting to have a meltdown, whether you are as upset, or not, look directly into her eyes and start counting, out loud, and do some deep breathing.
Just keep doing it, with an encouraging smile, and after a minute say, “Hey, that felt good, let's try it together.” Take your child gently by the hand and find a place to sit. Look into each other's eyes and breathe together. If she refuses because she is too far into the meltdown, you do it anyway. As hard as it might feel, pay no attention to her protests, and close your eyes if you need to. When you feel calmer, or after a few minutes have passed, just walk away and say, “When you are ready, come find me.” This is no different from when your child has a temper tantrum; you do not want to become part of the problem. In this case, you are modeling a solution. Realizing that sometimes your child's meltdown will occur at inopportune times, you need to keep the end result in mind as you breathe your way through not reacting with anger.
How can I take the time to do the breathing thing, I will be late for work!
Yes, it is true this will take a few minutes, but a meltdown is going to take the same amount of time anyway, so what do you have to lose? Your best bet is to stay calm, matter-of-fact, and sympathetic: “I know you are struggling because you do not want to get ready to go, but I need to go to work and you need to go to daycare. Let's try some of the breathing we practiced earlier.”
With a teen, gently remind him about the breathing techniques learned, and start doing it yourself as you look directly at him, coaxing him with your eyes. You can also ask him if he needs to have a minute to himself or go into his room and scream into a pillow to get his frustration out. Again, do not join into the craziness by yelling back or telling him “This is ridiculous, all I asked was that you get your gym bag ready, and you are screaming at me.” Teens may sometimes admit they don't know why they are yelling or crying. Many times they may just want to say “okay mom,” but they yell instead because they feel so out of control. Remember when parents yell back, they are not helping. Whichever tools you remind your child about, give him a chance to implement them. Use positive statements to help, like “I see how frustrating being rushed is for you, but I know you want to go and will calm yourself down to make that happen.”
Part of being calm is to exude an air of knowing, or confidence. Verbalizing statements like “I know you are upset, I trust you can do this,” or “I know this feels hard for you, you are strong though, I've seen it,” can be very calming and helpful. Your children need to feel your confidence in them. They count on you when their emotions are too big and logic is lost to them. If your child is misbehaving, it is best not to argue or debate with her. Quietly remind her of the rules and consequences of acting out behavior and ask if she would like to do some calming behaviors, or take the consequence. If your child chooses to use tools to de-escalate, praise her with confidence: “I knew you could do this, I am so proud of you,” or, “Wow, look at you, I love your strength.”
If your child has a meltdown instead, do not assume falling apart was her choice, because sometimes, just as with a tantrum, the anxiety is so big your child cannot figure out how to get on top of it anymore.
Express your confidence by practicing the rule of “No shame, no blame.” Instead, after a struggle or meltdown, ask your child to think about why it went too far and use the plan outlined previously to be proactive about eliminating that particular stressor, if possible, in the future.