- How to spot childhood anxiety and what to do about it
- Childhood anxiety can be treated, but the challenge is to recognize it
- How does anxiety affect your child’s academics?
- What’s the most effective way to treat children with anxiety?
- All work and no play: Why your kids are anxious
- How can I cope with an anxious child?
- How to discipline a child with anxiety
- How to help your child with school anxiety
- Should my anxious child go on medication?
Discipline is a challenge in most families, but all children need it, even those with anxiety. The original meaning of the word “discipline” is to teach. Children need to be taught how to act, how to treat others, how to manage themselves and their own behavior. Consistent and clear boundaries and expectations will help your children with anxiety–and those without–learn how to maneuver in today’s world.
Is your child’s behavior due to anxiety or simply bad behavior?
The first step in learning how to discipline a child with anxiety is to differentiate between actual bad behavior and bad behavior caused by your child’s anxiety. Either way, you should never let your anxious child get away with something you would not let any other child get away with. The source of your anxious child’s bad behavior just dictates how you will handle the situation, not whether you will handle it.
When you have to “handle” it, stay calm. Sometimes parents can create their own problems in the area of discipline by modeling improper behavior themselves.
Also, be consistent as to what you will and will not tolerate as a parent and with the house rules. If your anxious child figures out that their negative behavior, rooted in anxiety or not, works sometimes, they will keep trying it all the time because they know that eventually, they will get their way. Adopt firm and loving boundaries with your anxious (or non-anxious) child. This is particularly important for an anxious child because failure to adopt these boundaries will result in them adopting refusal and avoidance as a lifestyle.
Boundaries are important for anxious children
It can be difficult to discipline an anxious toddler because they are extremely sensitive and may magnify and misinterpret your reactions. However, it is very important to offer firm boundaries and limits and there need to be consequences if these are crossed.
Boundaries and limits provide security to younger anxious children. It can be helpful to moderate your tone and facial expressions to be as neutral as possible. If you can control your emotions, it will influence your discipline in a positive manner. Consistent discipline methods are vital. Where possible, the child should receive warnings that bad behavior will be punished, e.g., a warning or strike system. Positive behavior should be rewarded and overcoming challenging days or experiences should be recognized to encourage further good behavior.
For older children, the key to discipline is consistency. There should be a good understanding of what the rules are and what the consequences are if the rules are broken. Firm boundaries and limits offer a secure and safe environment and can go a long way in reducing the amount of anxiety surrounding behavior.
It is sometimes necessary to allow the emotions of a situation to settle before discussing the behavior. Let your child know that feelings are always okay, but some behavior is not. Allowing some choices within your routine will give the child some control within their boundaries. For older children, discuss with them why a rule is in place (what is the value or purpose of the rule). If they understand the value being promoted, they are more likely to follow the rule. Remember to model the behavior you would like to see and be willing to admit your own mistakes.
Be consistent and avoid surprises
Discipline is a tough one because we are all different and have different parenting styles. However, what we do know about anxious kids is that surprises, or change of plans or expectations, can be catastrophic in their heads. It is always best to avoid doing any of that.
It is always useful to have a collective approach to managing behavior, including partners, older siblings, grandparents, and school. This helps make it easier to understand for your child. Being clear and consistent with your expectations about behavior is the key to managing all children, with or without anxiety.
Disciplining an anxious child is not that different from other children
In some ways, disciplining a child with anxiety is no different than disciplining a child without anxiety. Discipline is a form of teaching, not just a means of punishing, which means you’ll teach your child what they did right and what they did wrong, and how they can make a better choice next time. You’ll set clear expectations for your child’s behavior that are firm and consistent.
Whenever possible, use natural consequences so your child learns to be in control of their own behavior. Keeping calm and confident when your child breaks the rules will help them trust you to be in charge of their lives, which will help them feel safer and more secure over time.