Dr. Elaine Ducharme’s Blog About Child Anxiety
It seems that our children are experiencing so much anxiety. And the problem seems to be getting worse. Parents find their own anxiety rising when their kids are anxious. And most parents believe that the best thing they can do is get rid of the anxiety and help their child feel secure. One of the problems with this approach, is that in order to use this approach, parents essentially have to change the environment, give their child medication, help their child avoid situations and constantly try to protect the child from a frightening situation. Parents routinely will let their kids sleep with them, stay home from school, avoid parties in order to limit exposure to the scary situation or thing. Unfortunately, this approach tends to backfire a lot! What happens, is that the child learns that if Mom or Dad help them to avoid the situation, it must really be scary. We often end up with an entire group including family, friends, school personnel and even therapists that actually reinforce the fears.
So what is the answer? Well, most of the time, it is far better to let your child face the fear. It is important for kids to learn that being human means that you will be afraid sometimes. Anxiety is normal. Therefore, their feelings are normal. They don’t need to figure out ways to avoid the fears, they need to figure out better ways to deal with whatever is bothering them. Lynn Lyons, in an article called, Taming the Wild Things that appeared in Psychotherapy Networker, points out that teaching kids to manage anxiety is not about simply teaching them to relax and feel comfortable. She feels they need to shift the way they think about things. They need to learn how to interrupt the physical symptoms that frequently accompany anxiety. They need to learn to slow down and reboot their body response, which helps them see they are capable of shifting their emotional reactions as well. This is truly empowering.
I encourage you to think about how you handle your kid’s anxiety. Do you help them avoid the fear or help them gain the tools to overcome it. Share the tools you use when you are in a scary situation. And if you and your child are still struggling, talk to a psychologist or other mental health professional trained in helping kids to conquer their fears.