4 Ways to Help Your PANS Child or Teenager With AnxietyJun 07, 2021
If you are a PANS parent, anxiety may be one of your child or teenager's biggest challenges. PANS anxiety can show up as separation anxiety, phobias, panic attacks, or as part of OCD. It's heartbreaking to watch our PANS kids struggle in this way when we want so much for them to feel safe.
I know first hand what this feels like as a PANS parent!
Here are some strategies that I have used in my PANS home and with PANS clients in my private practice.
4 Things That PANS Parents Can Do to Support an Anxious Child or Teenager:
1. Validate and express empathy about the anxiety
Some of the anxiety that PANS kids and teenagers can seem really difficulty to understand! Anxiety can be unbearable, and the worries and fears feel very real even if they seem unrealistic from an outside perspective. Letting your PANS child or teenager know that you believe them and will listen to them is very powerful. Just feeling "seen" and "heard" helps calm some of the anxiety. Express patience and empathy about how uncomfortable they are and how it is not their fault that they are having these feelings.
2. Teach your child to recognize the anxiety when it creeps in
While it's important to be empathetic about your child or teen's anxiety, as PANS parents we also want to empower them to face their fears. One way to do this is to help your child be an "anxiety detective" and "spot" the anxiety when it's creeping in. For teens, this can be re-framed as "being on the lookout for anxiety".
3. Next, help your child or teen to name the anxiety
Once they have begun "spotting" the anxiety when it creeps in, help you child or teen to name the anxiety. For younger kids, they can give it an actual name, such as a "worry bully". For teens, gently help them notice when they may be having anxiety. In the therapy world, we often say, "you need to name it to tame it". That means, by naming what you are feeling, you gain a sense of control over the feeling.
4. Together with your PANS child or teen, create a list of how their anxiety is preventing them from doing enjoyable activities
Take step 3 farther by working together to create a list of things that your child or teen's anxiety is keeping them from doing. Brainstorm with them about different aspects of their life including school, friends, family, extracurricular activities, etc. It's important to not only talk about this, but also to write it down.
5. Make a plan with your PANS child or teen to face his or her fears in small, gradual steps.
Once you have a list of activities that anxiety is preventing your child or teen from enjoying, pick one thing from the list that your child or teen would like to get back to doing. Try to start with the least anxiety provoking activity on the list, because this will be easier to work towards effectively. Plan out step-by-step how your child or teen can begin to face their fear. For example, if they are anxious about going to a friend's house, step 1 can be just stopping by for a few minutes to say hello to the friend from outside the house. Stick with the first step until your child or teen feels little or no anxiety about that step. Then, move to the next manageable step towards the feared situation. Stick with that step until there is little or no anxiety. Step by step they will get there! If it feels that you can't make progress this way with your child or teen, make sure to reach out for professional help.
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