AN HOUR WITH DIANE LEVY

Diane levy Thurs­day

Parenting - - Contents -

How to help anx­ious kids

1.Diane Levy on what to do, and what not to do, when your child is wor­ried.

Ac­cept logic isn’t the an­swer When our chil­dren are feel­ing wor­ried about some­thing, we of­ten move straight into fix-it mode. Phrases such as, “Don’t worry, it will never hap­pen,” or, “Go to sleep, we’ll work it out in the morn­ing,” may sound very fa­mil­iar.

“Our log­i­cal, prac­ti­cal Kiwi way is to prob­lem solve,” says Diane. “We do it with all the best will in the world, but it of­ten doesn’t work to lessen our chil­dren’s anx­i­ety. The prob­lem is while we mean to re­as­sure them, what we are do­ing is over­rid­ing their feel­ings.” This doesn’t work with anx­ious chil­dren be­cause their nat­u­ral fight-flight re­sponse has gone into over­drive. The log­i­cal side of their brain has been put on hold while the emo­tional part takes over. Un­til we have dealt with the feel­ings, logic won’t help.

2.Avoid un­help­ful la­bels

An­other way we can un­wit­tingly min­imise our chil­dren’s feel­ings is by giv­ing them un­help­ful la­bels. Say­ing, “You are such a lit­tle wor­ry­wart,” or ask­ing, “How did I get such a drama queen?” isn’t help­ful.

3.Don’t jump to so­lu­tions Quick fix so­lu­tions, like telling chil­dren to just walk away from the kids who are wor­ry­ing them, or try­ing to tell them you have checked un­der the bed and there are def­i­nitely no mon­sters there, prob­a­bly won’t work un­til you have taken the time to lis­ten, and show your child you un­der­stand.

4.Take the time to find out how they are feel­ing

Try to avoid ask­ing ‘why’ ques­tions. The, “Why are you wor­ried?” ques­tion calls for com­pli­cated think­ing and of­ten our chil­dren can’t ac­cess that. In­stead, put into words what they are feel­ing and use your tone of voice to match the strength of their feel­ings. “That’s re­ally wor­ry­ing you, isn’t it?” While it may be tempt­ing to use your very best coun­selling voice to calm them down, this can of­ten give your child the impression that you don’t un­der­stand how bad it is for them. Diane re­flects, “We need to match their in­ten­sity so they know mum and dad get it.”

5.It’s all about em­pa­thy

Some­times our chil­dren don’t know what they are scared of, but they are grap­pling with a gen­eral sense of dread. “Imag­ine you are scared of some­thing, but you don’t quite know what you are scared of. That’s a hor­ri­ble feel­ing,“says Diane. “At this point, what they re­ally need is our em­pa­thy.” Putting our­selves in their shoes and un­der­stand­ing what they are feel­ing means that our re­sponse is likely to be more in line with what they are go­ing through, and need­ing from us.

Try putting their feel­ings into words – “That’s a big worry for you, isn’t it? Your sore tummy is telling us that you are very wor­ried and up­set.”

As you talk to them, si­mul­ta­ne­ously wrap them in a big cud­dle. If they need to suck their thumb and hold their teddy or blan­ket while you’re talk­ing, that’s fine. The smell, touch, feel as­so­ci­a­tions are calm­ing in them­selves. Once they are calm, they can start to think.

“At this point, it’s a good idea to pause,” says Diane. “Some­times, be­ing very present is enough. They may walk away and find some­thing to do, or set­tle down to sleep.”

6.Af­ter this, we can move onto the en­quiry stage

Once their feel­ings are set­tled, we are in a po­si­tion to start con­sid­er­ing some ac­tions. Try the fol­low­ing con­ver­sa­tion starters.

• What are you wor­ried might hap­pen? • Can we look at some things to try? • Here are some ideas I have – what do you think of them? (This is a col­lab­o­ra­tive ap­proach, rather than telling them what they need to do). Give them con­fi­dence in their abil­i­ties and the re­as­sur­ance that you are with them in thought – “Why don’t you try that to­mor­row and I will ask how it went.”(be sure to re­mem­ber to fol­low up).

Even if these ideas don’t lead to a long-term so­lu­tion, they are all ways to get in­for­ma­tion on what to do next.

7.Some­thing to try – a brav­ery box

This can be very help­ful for lit­tle chil­dren who re­spond well to a bit of mag­i­cal think­ing. Put to­gether a lit­tle box that holds a soft toy for com­fort, a torch for check­ing dark cor­ners (stock up on plenty of bat­ter­ies – you’ll prob­a­bly need them!), and ei­ther a weapon or a wand – depend­ing on their per­son­al­ity style. Check­ing the con­tents of the brav­ery box each night can work well as a calm­ing rit­ual that helps al­lay their fears.

Our chil­dren live busy and, at times, com­pli­cated lives. In the busy­ness of fam­ily life it’s easy for feel­ings to get bumped to the bot­tom of our pri­or­i­ties as we deal with crowded sched­ules and lists of things that need to be done. But it’s re­ally im­por­tant that we take time to lis­ten to our chil­dren and know what is go­ing on with them. Find a time that works for ev­ery­one – it may be when they come home from school, or it may be at bed­time.

“Some days it’s hard to fit that in with all the tasks that need to be done, but it re­ally is nec­es­sary,” says Diane. “If we deal with their lit­tle anx­i­eties as they face them, we won’t have a child – or an adult – who needs to deal with gen­er­alised dread. In­stead, they learn that mum and dad are there when they need them and so the world is a safer place.”

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