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Navigating Anxiety in Children When You're Also Struggling With Anxiety With Kristen

Kristen McNeely is an LMFT who primarily works with children who have ADHD, anxiety, and other emotional behavior disorders that result in challenging behaviors in the classroom. Because Kristen knows firsthand how much anxiety can impact children, she started her private practice to consult parents and provide support to their anxious kids.

And since Kristen’s area of expertise is in childhood anxiety, I couldn’t think of a better guest to have joining me today! Kristen will be answering many of the questions that parents who are struggling with anxiety often have about anxiety in children. So let’s get into it!

Navigating Anxiety in Children When You're Also Struggling With Anxiety With Kristen

Causes and Signs of Anxiety in Children

Kristen shared that anxiety can appear very differently in each child. Still, some signs include irritability, intolerance of loud noises, difficulty with textures, difficulty sleeping, and trouble focusing at school. Many of the symptoms of anxiety in children overlap with ADHD, and Kristen says that the underlying cause of these behaviors might simply be anxiety.

We know that there is a genetic predisposition to anxiety, but Kristen also mentioned that parents might unknowingly (with the best of intentions!) provide accommodations for their child’s anxiety. Over time, these accommodations only enforce the anxiety. Eventually, this can create a pattern of avoidance.

Tips for Helping Your Child Navigate Big Emotions

Kristen says that teaching kids to distract themselves away from anxiety can be problematic, and I asked if she could explain why this can be unhelpful! In response, she shared that learning how to sit with anxious thoughts and feelings is much healthier in the long run, as distraction can often lead to avoidance in the future. She shared that in general, teaching your child how to acknowledge uncomfortable emotions sets them up for much more success in the future, and I couldn’t agree more.

Kristen also mentioned the importance of not providing reassurance all the time! If you struggle with anxiety, you’re probably pretty familiar with wanting to ask for reassurance from others. While some amount of assurance is healthy and normal for children, it’s important for parents to not constantly provide reassurance. Similarly, Kristen doesn’t recommend following a rigid schedule with children. Because when that schedule is broken, it can often lead to increased anxiety.

Advice to Parents Who Might Also Struggle With Anxiety

Kristen and I talked about how many parents with anxiety worry that they might create anxiety in their children by revealing that they’re struggling themselves. Kristen mentioned that as parents, we are biologically hardwired to comfort our children when they’re in distress. Knowing that our response is biological helps to take away some of that guilt! She mentioned that once we remove some of that guilt, we can bring more awareness to our anxious patterns. As we begin to learn how to regulate ourselves, we model a healthy example for our children. So this is your reminder to drop the guilt and remember that it’s okay if you’re struggling too!

I hope you enjoyed this episode with Kristen! She had even more wisdom to share in the full podcast episode, so you won’t want to miss it!

Kristen McNeely, LMFT BCBA, child anxiety and behavior expert @childhood.empowered

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