Did you focus on the sun or the cloud?
If you are a local you may know the lovely Dr Nicola Holmes a GP working with youth aged 12 – 25 at Headspace. Nicola is on a mission to PREVENT anxiety in this age group by educating parents with younger children. Smart hey? I have been to three of her talks so far and I’m joining her tonight for another (where I am an add-on speaker at the end)!
From my perspective the best way to address anxiety in our kids is to address our OWN fears first!
Are you constantly fearful that your child will…
Get hurt, fail, be embarrassed, be judged, lose, not have any friends, get a bad reputation, have the same problems you had when you were a kid/teenager, etc. etc?
Not wanting your child to suffer is normal but worrying about them constantly actually makes them worried and anxious too!
Whatever you focus on grows and whatever you believe eventually comes true for you.
If you focus on all the horrible stuff happening to your child and you believe things like, ‘the world is full of dangerous people’ and ‘bad things always happen to our family’ and ‘my child always ends up hurting themselves’ then guess what will happen?
You guessed it!
We have a part of our brain called the Reticular Activating System (RAS), which is located at the base of our brains and one of its jobs is to be the ‘gatekeeper’ for our conscious mind.
Our senses perceive billions of pieces of information every second but our conscious mind can only process and receive about 100 pieces of information a second. Our RAS chooses the information that is most compatible with what we habitually focus on or believe and then allows this information to go straight into our conscious mind which is when we become aware of it.
Let’s see how this works in real life…
Let’s say your son went to a friend’s place for a play. Even though you trust your friend you are still fearful and worried about your son getting hurt.
When you go to pick up your son your senses see and hear that your child has a massive smile, that both kids are laughing, that your son is holding your friend’s hand, that your son is dirty, that both kids have strawberry stains on their shirts, that they are asking when your son can comeback, that your son has a band-aid on his knee, that his jumper is in your friends hand, and billions of other things too!
Out of that list, what bits of information does your RAS gatekeeper definitely allow into your conscious mind?
You guessed it – the band-aid!!
Then in response you automatically ask, “What happened to your knee?”
In reality your son doesn’t always hurt himself, it is just that this is what you believe so that is what you see and what comes true for you.
It’s also what you are teaching your son to see by continually drawing his conscious attention to it. You are training him to focus on the things you focus on and be fearful of the things you are fearful of!
What would your RAS draw your attention to if you believed, “My son is safe and always has fun on play dates?”
You’d see the smile, the hand, the strawberry and hear him asking to go back again!
You can change what you notice when you consciously choose to focus on what you can see and hear as an observation exercise and not an automatic response. This is what being ‘mindful’ and ‘in the now’ is all about. Instead of letting our RAS do the usual filtering based on what we habitually focus on or believe, we can consciously open the gate from our side and say to our RAS, “Let’s see and hear what’s going on without that belief filtering please!”
Another solution is to change our beliefs so our RAS points out all the amazing and loving stuff we believe about our kids and life like, “My child is safe and always has fun on play dates!”
Changing our beliefs is a whole other post…
Happy focusing on the sun!