Archive for Anxiety & Fear
Childhood anxiety continues to rise, and the reasons are complex and not fully understood. However, there are mistakes that we often make, which tend to cause more problems with anxiety than they solve.
In previous post, we discussed the first two mistakes that will increase your child’s anxiety. These were:
1. Modeling Anxious and Fearful Thinking
This occurs when we allow our own thoughts and fears to be expressed repeatedly to our children, and then they begin to see the world through the same filters of anxiety. We can also direct the questions our children ask themselves, through the types of questions we ask them. When questions reflect anxiety and worry, our children then begin to ask the same questions.
2. Treating Anxious Thoughts Like a Thing
This process is more dangerous than it appears. We take the actual thinking of anxious thoughts, and we look at the outcome we see in our child (i.e., anxiety). We then focus on the outcome, as if it were static and unchanging. We make this ‘thing’ the problem, when the real problem resides in the ‘anxious thoughts’ that cause this thing (anxiety) to occur. We can change thoughts. It’s very difficult to change the consequences of our thoughts, and yet we tend to focus our children on the ‘thing’ rather than the thoughts that produce the ‘thing’ (anxiety).
In this post, my primary focus in on mistake number 3.
3. Protecting Children from Facing The Anxiety
Most childhood anxiety is the result of fears that are not based in reality. As discussed last week, these non-reality based thoughts wreak havoc because they create very real consequences, in the form of anxiety and suffering.
When children believe that there is something to be afraid of, they react as if that fear is real. We can see it. We can resonate with their tearful upset, and pleas for help.
This is where the real problem emerges.
The wide majority of these tearful moments are based in the non-reality based thoughts. Perhaps it a fear of saying goodbye to mommy, as I walk into the classroom. Or perhaps it’s an anxiety about going ‘upstairs’ alone to get a toy or even to go to the bathroom. Or maybe it’s a trepidation about going to soccer practice.
All of these are common. And all of these anxiety based problems share the common theme of children having a moment of discomfort or anxiety because a thought arises that causes the anxiety. The ‘thought’ is not real. There is no danger in the classroom. There is no boogeyman in the hallway upstairs, and no monsters on the soccer field.
So, why do these moments seems to get worse and worse?
Because we simply feed into them. We mean well, but our choices make things worse.
Rather than gently letting our child know that these moments often cause a bit of worry, and that they will get through this moment, we do the opposite. We hold them. We soothe them. We soothe even more. And as they cry, we find ourselves unable to push them forward to face the dreaded experience.
Yet, this is what must be done.
Over and over, through hundreds of studies, the research (as well as my clinical experience) argues that the way we get over fears, is by facing them. The same is true for children.
The more we help children avoid the feared situation, the worse things get. The more we gently reassure them that all will be okay, and then allow them the opportunity to face the situation, we find that they get better.
Every kindergarten and first grade teacher has seen this dozens of times. The parent who lingers, and soothes excessively, will nurture the most clingy, fearful child who shows more and more separation anxiety. Don’t do this!
Here’s my advice: Be courageous!
Trust that they can handle the situation, and let your actions lead more than your words. Show your child how to be courageous, by facing your fears.
They can handle it. But they need you to show them that. They will not fall apart (despite the emotion that sometimes looks that way).
Trust them. They will handle it. That is what is needed. When you honor this, you will see miracles occur in just a very short time…guaranteed!
There are several ways that parents and caretakers can heighten anxiety and create fear, even when they are working hard to avoid this. In fact, this is usually when parents end up with the biggest challenges if their child has anxiety or fear. Without a clear understanding, once we try to protect our children from their fears, our actions usually make things worse very quickly
In the very short term perspective, it can appear as if we just rescued our child. Yet, this is an illusion.
Most of the ‘fears’ that families bring to my office are not based in some reality. In other words, the child is afraid of something that has never happened to them, or they are afraid of something that, in reality, presents no tangible threat.
It is critical, in the early stages, to accurately understand the sources of such anxiety and how you can most effectively help eliminate any parental contribution to making this explode out of control. Let’s explore three common mistakes, which actually disable children over time, by escalating their anxiety.
1. Modeling Anxious and Fearful Thinking
ome of us are wired to be a bit more worrisome by nature. This is reality. However, the secret to keeping these anxious thoughts under control is more within our grasp than it appears.
Anxious thoughts feed on our attention, and repetition. The more energy and attention we give to them, the more they show up. The more we ‘believe’ them, the stronger they get. The more we discuss them, the more they haunt us.
For our children however the effect of our anxious thinking is much stronger ON THEM, than it is on us. This is particularly true when children are younger, and when we allow those anxious thoughts to filter into our parenting behavior.
For example, when we are afraid that our son can’t handle his new classroom, we begin talking about it. We discuss how scary news things are. We encourage them to tell us their deepest worries, and to ‘call me’ if you need to. When our son responds with a question or worry, we resonate with that worry. This is how our modeling anxiety becomes a palpable part of our child’s thinking.
2. Treating Anxious Thoughts Like a Thing
When we label a child’s reaction as anxiety, we perform a mystical transformation. We turn the consequence of anxious thinking, into a thing or entity (i.e., anxiety).
Of course, the feelings that we call anxiety are real. However, we deceive ourselves when we think of the feelings as the ‘thing’ that is the problem. The feelings are the result of the problem thinking. The feelings are a pointer to the source of the problem: anxious thoughts and fearful thoughts! The anxiety your child feels is like the caboose of the train; the direction (and the substance) of the train is controlled by the thinking.
Why is this important? Because ‘the caboose’ cannot change where the train is headed. The power is in shifting the thinking, and then the feelings will change. When we discuss ‘anxiety’ without attention to the anxious thinking, our children have no sense of control. The consequence (anxiety) is, in fact, predetermined by the thoughts that precede it.
We want to focus on what is changeable, and within our control. This would be the anxious or fearful thoughts
With our children, we need to address their anxious thinking, and try to avoid calling this anxiety. They have no idea of what to do with the anxious feelings. However, you can, with a little awareness, help them change their thoughts.
When the thoughts change, the feelings will change. This is more powerful, and useful. This shift allows you and your child to know that there is a way to be free of the anxious thoughts, and the anxiety feelings that follow.
In part two, I will cover the most significant mistake we tend to make with childhood anxiety, and how to correct these errors.
Children and Divorce: The Role Of Having Both Parents Nearby, and Involved.
In my coaching and therapy practice, I frequently consult with parents who are separating or going through a divorce. Children and divorce, when heard in the same sentence, if often words that strike fear into the hearts of parents.
When children and divorce combine with parents seeking to relocate, divorce often becomes very, very messy. In some situations, parents seek to relocate hours away from their ex partner. The courts, when evaluating children and divorce issues, often turn to mental health professionals to offer their opinion. Frequently, mental health experts have supported such relocations based upon the presumptive value of a stable custodial parent, and assume that there will be more happiness and support with an extended family or perhaps a new partner or new employment.
This can be a touchy topic for parents going through divorce. And yet, it is difficult if not impossible, to accurately claim that we know for certain a particular choice is in the “best interest” of a child.
Children and Divorce: Highly Dysfunctional Relationships.
There are times when parents divorce, and it is clear that their relationship is highly dysfunctional and having both parents involved causes harm to children. This is an extremely rare situation, and applies to those parents where there is violence, or extreme personality disorders, or perhaps there is a psychotic or substance abuse parent. Again, these are relatively rare situations, and are best evaluated by an independent expert.
This is not the norm for parents who are going through a fairly typical divorce, and are angry and unhappy with each other. This is not the norm for most couples. In most situations, having both parents involved is good for children.
In the past, mental health professionals frequently supported the overwhelming importance of the primary caretaker. In other words, we have valued that role in a way that minimized the importance of the parent who may be the breadwinner for the family (often, but not always, dad). Yet, most of us are able to recognize that this doesn’t make sense for the modern family where both parents play a very active role in the children’s lives. Now, recent data supports what most of us intuitively understand:
Children Going Through Divorce Thrive More Often With Both Parents Involved!
Some fascinating data has emerged in the last decade, and this research strongly supports the value of having both parents involved (in the majority of situations—not all).
Within four years of separation and divorce, about one fourth of mothers with custody move to a new location. Many fathers obviously disagree with this move, and this poses a dilemma for the courts. In essence, the court struggles with a custodial parent’s desire to create better circumstances for themselves versus the interest of the non-custodial parent’s desire to maintain frequent contact with their children.
In the past, the laws have treated this in an unpredictable manner. Judges have been free to interpret the law in a way that leads to inconsistent decisions.
While the legal issues here are considerably complex, new evidence emerges when we focus the effect upon children. By 1998, there was not a single study that had examined this.
However, in a 2003 study published in the Journal of Family Psychology, researchers looked at the affect of relocation, as reported by college students who had experienced a divorce.
The data in this study are quite compelling, and worthy for parents to consider.
Researchers found eleven variables that demonstrated significant effects for college students. For children whose parent’s relocated more than an hour away, they were disadvantaged on the following variables:
• Less financial support for college expenses.
• More worry about college expenses.
• Decrease personal and emotional adjustment.
• Decrease general life satisfaction.
• Larger degree of hostility.
• Greater internal turmoil and distress.
• More impairment in rapport with parents.
• Less respect for parents as role models.
• Parental relationship between each other significantly impaired.
• Global health reduced (primarily for girls)
These results point to a common sense conclusion supported by most parents who remain together: “the kids need both parents.” There was no data to support this general conclusion until recently. However, these results are quite compelling.
In my program, Terrific Parenting Through Divorce, I discuss the importance of careful thought to children and effects of divorce, as well as the kinds of critical decisions parents can make to buffer their children from the impact of divorce. You may want to check out my manual for children and divorce.