This is the magical method that helps my kids deal with anxiety

Motherly Collective

One of my kids got sick at a friend’s birthday party. The kind of sick where you have to leave early and you never want to see your friends again. The kind where you feel utterly humiliated. Even once my child was healthy again, they still wanted to stay home—just one more day.

Of course, I knew what this was really about.

It was clear that my kid was embarrassed about having gotten sick at the party and was convinced that their friends now hated them. So, my child wanted to avoid seeing them. Because, what if their fears were true?

As a mom, of course I knew that this (probably) was not the case. Of course, even if it were, my child still had to go to school. So how could I handle this? 

I’ve learned that when my child shares something like this—that they’re afraid to go back to school because their friends might hate them—to see it as an opportunity. An opportunity to come alongside my child and help them not only process this anxiety but also move forward in and through it.

The way we do that, in my family, is pretty easy. It doesn’t involve any fancy breathing techniques or role playing (although those tools certainly have their place when addressing anxiety). Nor does it entail having the perfect, scripted answer.

All it takes is something called “common humanity.” Common humanity is considered a key part of compassion—both to show toward others but also toward oneself. 

Common humanity involves stepping outside of our current situation and realizing that we aren’t alone in it. We step back and recognize that other people have been in similar situations. We pause and recognize that this experience—and how we’re feeling as a result—in fact, is common to many other humans. 

Simply put? It’s normal. It’s normal to feel this way, given these specific circumstances. Other people would likely feel the same way you do if they were in your shoes. How you’re feeling right now is normal.

And that’s where the magic of common humanity comes in. It can help regulate emotions and, in doing so, help neutralize our fears and anxieties. In some weird way, knowing we aren’t alone makes our worries more manageable and, as a result, allows us to be more brave in the face of them. 

So when my kid shares their anxiety about returning to school, here’s what I didn’t say: 

“Don’t worry about it! Everything’s going to be fine.”

“That’s silly. No one will hate you.”

“Just be yourself. Everyone loves you!”

Those may all be true. They may all come from a place of love and from our own lived experience. They may all have a place in later conversations. But, at least at first, they are not what’s going to help my child when they’re struggling with anxiety. 

Instead, by taking this tactic of common humanity, my husband and I validate and normalize what our child is feeling in a particular experience. Here’s what we might say, instead: 

“It’s completely normal to feel like that after what happened.”

“It makes sense how you’re feeling. I’d be nervous, too.”

It’s really so simple. It’s like taking a balloon that’s growing and growing and about to burst, and pricking it to make the tiniest little hole. Suddenly, the pressure releases and that balloon deflates down to a manageable size. Common humanity can do the same thing to our anxieties.

So we talked with our child, empathizing with and validating their fears. Then, the next day, they went back to school. They were still nervous, but they knew that it was normal to feel that way. Despite their fears and feelings, they felt prepared to face their challenge.

Later that day, they came home from school skipping. When we asked how their friends acted when they saw them, my child smiled, sharing that their friends were just glad they were better and back at school. Then they went on to share everything else that went on at school that day, their earlier fears of scowls and slanders now a forgotten thing of the past.

And you know what?

That’s normal, too.

Because when our anxieties are proven wrong, they naturally dissipate. Like they had never existed in the first place.

Which is why this idea of common humanity is so important. Because when a situation resolves itself, it’s easy to forget how worried we were. Instead, we blissfully move on without realizing that our great fears never actually came to pass: That our best friends didn’t hate us. That we weren’t abandoned like we’d imagined. 

So when we find ourselves in those places again—as we inevitably will in life—we’re apt to find ourselves just as overwhelmed and anxious as before. That is why we have to be reminded,again and again,that these fears and feelings are natural. That we’ve all felt this way before and anyone else would feel the same.

Because that’s normal. 

And there’s immense power in reminding our children of that, too.

This story is a part of The Motherly Collective contributor network where we showcase the stories, experiences and advice from brands, writers and experts who want to share their perspective with our community. We believe that there is no single story of motherhood, and that every mother’s journey is unique. By amplifying each mother’s experience and offering expert-driven content, we can support, inform and inspire each other on this incredible journey. If you’re interested in contributing to The Motherly Collective please click here.

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