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Supporting your child when they are anxious

As parents, it is important we can recognise anxious feelings within ourselves and others. When we talk about anxiety, we are largely talking about concerns about what is going to happen in the future; concerns are not about the past so much but about thoughts and fears about what might happen.

Anxiety can show up through:

 

  • Repetitive behaviours 
  • Negative thoughts and feeling
  • Feeling confused and overwhelmed
  • Choosing approaches to coping that lead to further negative outcomes.
  • Avoidance behaviour
  • Reduction in attention 

 

Approaches for anxiety

 

You know your child best, so please feel free to select approaches that specifically work for your family and your child’s age, current challenges and needs. 

 

Approaches for the family…

 

  • Introduce a family worry bin: Validate that we all have worries, parents and children.  Begin by making sure there is the time created each day for your child to express their daily concerns openly and once things have been talked through and solutions and priorities agreed then take joy in liberatingly disposing of the worry…into the bin!
  • Try mindful eating (yes!): This is all about focusing on the senses and the immediacy of what it being experienced in the moment (not the future). Ask your child questions about taste, texture and aromas, if you find it funny in the end then this outcome is ok too! Family mealtimes are also a great time to slow things down not speed things up. Chew, chew, then chew some more. Mindful eating can be good for our minds and bodies plus its a precious time for families to come together and reap the rewards of connection. 
  • Help your child connect with inner strengths: Show light onto the capabilities your child already holds (they may just have forgotten). Explore previous family/life challenges they have overcome, especially times of change and uncertainty. We all have our own inner toolbox of resilience to draw upon, help your child explore theirs.
  • Identify the emotions: The challenge of expressing how we are feeling can be half the battle when it comes to anxiety. Show your child a list of emotions so they can express themselves more accurately and freely.  This will create immediate relief and help to reduce daily stress levels building. 
  • Show a new perspective: Learning about what exactly your child anxious is about and to what extent they are overestimating the ‘danger’ is directly linked to how they perceive their ability to handle the situation. Ask questions that reframe their thinking:
  1. What is the actual evidence for their anxiety-provoking thoughts? What is the evidence against them? 
  2. How likely is it that their worry will come true? 
  3. What is the worst thing that can happen if it does? 
  4. What is actually most likely to happen? 
  5. What are the good things that have been happening that may have been ignored? 

 

For your child…

 

  • Identify with elements within your child’s control: Some of what is going on within your child’s world is within their current control and other obvious factors will be out of their control. Encourage children to appreciate that they can control their thoughts, their work environment, their daily behaviours and routine, their diet, their daily exercise and their use of technologies. There is always a positive sense of autonomy to found in doing we gain a sense of power creating in our own choices. 
  • Use the A.P.P.L.E approach: Use this helpful acronym (Acknowledge, Pause, Pull Back, Let go, Explore) to guide your child when they are in moments of feeling overwhelmed with their emotions and experiencing anxious symptoms. This can help when we struggle with things that are out of our control. Remember that thoughts are not facts. When your child wants there to be certainty show them how we don’t need to resist, but instead breath and accept. Know that in this moment your child is doing OK. Encourage them to let go of this need to reach for certainty. Sometimes, the search of the certainty when it is not around us can be the cause of unease. See our resource section for more information on using this approach. (English version text)
  • Active listening: Actively listening to what your child has to say is the very first step that can provide anxiety relief.  Your ability to fully empathise with your child’s anxiety and taking it seriously is very important to them. Here are some essential active listening skills you could use:
  1. Get close to your child when they’re speaking: look at them attentively and focus on what they are saying to you.
  2. Paraphrase: summarise your child’s main points and how you think they might be feeling to make sure you’ve understood them correctly.
  3. Put your own judgments aside and look at the situation from their point of view.
  4. Ask your child about what they need and how they would like to deal with the situation.
  5. Show your child your interest and empathy by nodding your head and making comments like ‘I see’, ‘That sounds hard/great/tricky ...’ and so on.

 

For parents…

 

  • Adjust expectations to alleviate the pressure: If your child doesn’t seem to be reaching the set expectations, maybe the standards were set too high to begin with, hence the anxiety! Adjust the expectations, acknowledge and praise your child’s efforts. Remember this situation is unique and challenging for them and they will be doing their best to adapt. Consider the following when making adjustments for your child:
    1. Create a balanced routine: Make sure you agree on enjoyable and meaningful activities within their day as well as class and study time.  Change the environment, minimize destructions and set a time for breaks. 
    2. Check their positive self-talk: Ask them how they talk to themselves (in their head) and ask them if they would talk to their own friend that way. Encourage them to adopt the same compassion they show to their friends, to themselves.  
    3. Set realistic goals: break down anxiety-provoking activities into smaller steps. 
  • Beware of your own communication style: Communicate in the home in a way that’s age appropriate for your child. Sometimes the news or adult conversations heard out of context can alarm younger listeners. 
  • Monitor your own levels of anxiety: During these times of home schooling and home working, take time to recognise your own emotions. On a day to day basis, children are likely to be sensitive to the anxieties of their parents. You will have heard the phrase during the safety announcement before take-off on a plane; “put on your own oxygen mask before helping others”. This is because we need to consider our own wellbeing before we can effectively assist in others, most importantly our children. Teach your children by becoming a model for taking care of your physical and emotional health.

Toolbox techniques

For the family

For your children

For parents

Family worry bin

x

 

 

Mindful eating

x

 

 

Active listening + identify key emotions

 

x

 

Identify elements within their control

 

x

 

Perspective taking

 

x

 

A.P.P.L.E anxiety release approach

(Step back, observe and let go technique)

 

x

 

Review and adjust expectations 

 

x

 

Age appropriate conversations/open family discussions

x

 

x

Parents anxiety self-assessment + self-care

 

 

x

10 minutes of mindfulness 

 

x

 

Muscle relations exercise + body scan check

 

x

 

Adjusting expectations

 

x

 

23-day meditation challenge

x

 

 

 

At CDL we would like to support all families, parents and students adjusting at this time. If you genuinely feel your child is experiencing a heightened level of anxiety, then please approach their relevant teachers directly or get in touch with the counselling service. We can help explore academic and system adjustments so that your child feels fully supported. If this applies to your child then please email bridgetcurran@cdl.ch , Head of Student Support Services, so we can assist you further.

 

Resources: expand your toolbox further

 

  • We suggest taking a look at the anxiety UK website and follow some of their online resource videos.This will help you learn more about talking to your child about how they are feeling and offer some direct videos to offer to your child or do as a family.
  • For a guided muscle relaxation exercise to reduce muscle tension that the whole family can do, watch this video.
  • To take part in a mindfulness session for older children and teens you can listen to the clip here.
  • Ask your child to take a body scan check to release anxious feelings through connecting with their body without judgement.  Listen and watch here.

 


 

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