Hello BES families!
Anxiety is commonly experienced among school-aged children, which if left untreated can become debilitating for children and their families. Yet what most people don’t realize is that anxiety does not necessarily constitute a lifelong condition, In fact, it is highly treatable and can be fairly straightforward to remediate and/or prevent.
I recently attended a Lynn Lyons presentation on “Anxiety Prevention.” For me, it served as a shot in the arm for effective understanding and strategies. I thought you might appreciate some of her messages...
Defining the condition...
Anxiety figures out how to be overwhelming. It forces us to pay attention.
“I never get to do what I want” ...“I always have bad luck”
Over-focus on “worst-case” scenarios
Permanent: “Things won’t change!”
Thinking about every possible thing that could go wrong and planning for it.
Gives the message that “you can’t handle it.”
It wants certainty and comfort. It seeks to eliminate doubt.
Anxiety is bossy
Anxiety says, “Welcome to my world. When you disobey me, I make up rules - this is how it will be. If you don’t follow my rules, there will be a price to pay!”
WHAT TO DO:
Teach kids about their amygdala (i.e. the part of our brain that prepares our body for danger). Sometimes it fires even when we don’t need it to (like a toaster oven that triggers a smoke detector - not a true emergency!)
Focus on how worry operates and what it’s up to.
Cue “worry managing strategies.”
Be general - “that sounds like worry to me.”
Prompt independence, internal reassurance and problem solving.
When worry thoughts show up, teach kids that they don’t have to fire off their amygdala. At first, it’s hard to stop it from activating. Some worry thoughts will sneak through.
Spread the message: “Of course you’ll feel anxious. Expect it to show up.”
Personify worry. Externalize worry. Talk back to worry. Separate worry from defining your child.
Focus on and talk about how to fix a specific problem.
Reassure about that SPECIFIC problem.
Give data, stats, rational information.
Go over plans and specifics repeatedly.
DO NOT ASK, “WHAT’S THE WORST THING THAT COULD HAPPEN?”
KEEP IN MIND:
Content doesn’t matter - it’s the process. The content will change. If you talk to your child about his/her specific worries), you are “doing the disorder” - which is not our goal and not good for kids. In other words, we must be sure that our accommodations do not support avoidance.
If we only focus on calming down and getting rid of worry, anxiety lives. This is why overfocus on breathing and relaxing can be ineffective. It’s not about eliminating. it’s about stepping in. The disorder wants avoidance! We must guard against playing that game.
We have to teach an OFFENSIVE rather than a DEFENSIVE position.
We must encourage our children to step toward rather than avoid.
Yes, you will have thoughts, feelings and sensations.
But, you (with my support) can and will respond and react to them differently.
Being unsure and uncomfortable on purpose: “If I’m stepping into something new, of course I’ll feel uncomfortable.”
Retrain the amygdala. Put it into a scary situation and stay long enough to habituate.
Go near what we are afraid of. Shift the intent toward going in. It doesn’t matter if we’re faking at first. Do it on purpose. Add an element of offense.
Call it something: “I’m tired of you bossing me around, Worry!”
Encourage kids to take the driver’s seat.
Confidence comes from doing. Not by praising.
Make it fun, make it playful. If we are fear-based, we are bringing our energy to the situation. Talking about what they are worried about is “doing the disorder.” “Worry, you are driving me crazy.” “I’m tired of you bossing him around!” Direct the energy where it needs to be. Externalizing anxiety preserves a child’s dignity.
Anxiety is not a mystery. It’s not complicated.
Anxious children suffer from amnesia...learn from new experiences and create pattern of remembering (“reminding bridges”)
Talk about the process of not knowing and then knowing as a normal part of the human experience.
Anxious kids must work at it. Parents must be involved.
Normalize and activitate:
This is what I’m experiencing
I don’t like it, but I can handle it
I can figure out what to do next
And I’m going to DO something brave
FINAL CHALLENGE - Build Stamina
Think about 3 things we are doing for our kids and let them do it for themselves.
Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions, concerns, perspectives or feedback!
Julie Bassi, Ph.D.
firstname.lastname@example.org or 225-3049 x515