Over the last few weeks, I’ve mentioned our top motivation-killers at my house: Big Emotions and creativity. Today, I’m revealing the last of our big three: anxiety. I’m not sure if the anxiety at our house is rooted in the ADHD or the dyslexia or something else entirely, but anxiety has been a real motivation-killer at several different points in our homeschool. How do you get your child moving again when anxiety has her totally shut down?
While a lot of the same ideas for motivating an intense child will also work for the anxious child (our anxiety is usually emotionally intense), there are a few things I do differently when dealing specifically with my daughter’s anxiety.
5 steps for motivating your child with anxiety
- Reassure first. Don’t reassure with logic! (I’ve mentioned before that I am really working on this.) Know your child and what that child needs. Reassure with affection and sentiment: “I love you and it’s okay. We will get through this together.” I think, perhaps more than anything, my anxious child needs to be reminded that she’s not alone, that I’m there supporting her through all her struggles.
- Validate her feelings and assure her that you will do all that you can to prevent her fears from becoming reality. “I can see how that would be devastating, but I will not allow anyone to laugh at you.” “I can see why you would be terrified, but I will make sure that [whatever the fear] doesn’t happen.” While my natural instinct is to tell my child that what she feels will never happen and logically explain why that fear is absurd, this just doesn’t have the same outcome as telling her that I will not allow that fear to occur. Sometimes, I can’t make that promise. It’s not in my realm of protection. In those cases, I reassure that if it were to ever happen, we would overcome it together, that she wouldn’t be facing that situation alone.
- Be for her, not against her. I mentioned this in my post about motivating your intense child. Of course, we are “for” our children. But it is easy to default to an “us against them” when the work isn’t getting done. By positioning myself as the ally, I and my child work together against the obstacle or natural consequence, instead of against each other. I am not punishing her with the consequences; the consequences are hers. But I want to work alongside her to find a strategy to help her make good decisions and avoid those consequences.
- End on a positive note. Humor, a secret code word between the two of us to reassure her in anxious moments, a treat (food heals the soul), a hug—anything that seals the deal and provides a little nudge of momentum.
- Set up the learning environment to reassure the child the next time you encounter that obstacle. When we begin a subject or an assignment that I know my daughter is naturally anxious about, I begin by going over what we’ve discussed before, and remind her of what we are doing differently this time to make sure that her fears are not a reality. Reading used to be our anxiety-subject; then it became spelling. For a long time, she would burst into tears and shut down at even the sight of an assignment that required spelling. Slowly, we’ve worked through the anxieties from both of those subjects. And the other weekend, she picked up a spelling book on her own on a day off to work through some of the activities! Talk about a miracle! Though she is not completely confident in spelling, we’ve definitely come a long way.
Motivating a child with anxiety takes an enormous amount of patience. And I have to remember that even though the fears don’t always make sense to me, they are very real to my child. I’m not always grateful for these moments. I’m not always patient. I’m sure, at times, I’ve aggravated and intensified some of those feelings by handling it the wrong way. But as I look back over the weeks, and think about what God is doing in my life through this journey, I appreciate so much more how God handles my fears.
How illogical are mine most of the time! I have an almighty God who knows and cares: what do I have to be afraid of? And yet, God doesn’t launch into all the reasons why those fears don’t make sense. Instead, He assures me—”Don’t be afraid!” And He’s there for me—”I will never leave you or forsake you.” In the end, these are the verses and promises that both my child and I have to come back to. She and I are both scared, anxious little sheep, but He is the good Shepherd of us both.