In my last blog post I wrote about an interaction between a mother and an anxious child and discussed what I might have said differently. I’d like to continue to discuss that conversation. At the end of the conversation, the mother told her child that nothing would happen to him if he went on the feared swings and that his brother was already doing it. I think that there were two important things to learn from this example about helping anxious children.
Don’t Be Scared to Let Anxious Children Take Risks
The first is that the mother reassured her son that nothing would happen when instead she could have worked with the child on being okay with the feared results. The truth is that the anxious child could fall off the swing and get hurt. But just as it is for our entire lives, we simply have to take risks, and open ourselves to the potential of harm. The best possible thing for an anxious child to learn is that they can handle getting hurt and being scared. I know that as parents, our first instinct is to eliminate suffering and protect our children. This is one of our most sacred duties but it can be taken too far. If children, and especially anxious children, don’t experience (safe) pain and discomfort they can’t develop the confidence that they need to overcome them in the future. The opportunity for the conversation that I overheard that afternoon was for the mother to say
“Yes, you might get hurt and that’s okay. Do you remember that time when you fell off you bike and scraped your knee? You were so brave and even though it hurt a lot, we put a bandage on and you were able get back on your bike.”
Making reference to an anxious child’s past successes is one of the greatest gifts we can give them in their struggle to overcome their fears.
All Anxious Children Are Unique
Lastly, an important opportunity in helping anxious children is to not compare them to children who don’t experience the same fear. It is never meant in a mean way but it can be very deflating for a child when they are told that a different child does not have the same fears that they have. Instead of comparing the child to his brother who did not share the child’s same anxiety about the swings, the most helpful thing would be to reference the child’s own strengths and resolves.
– Dr. Jeffrey Kranzler, Proliance Center