I just completed a Uni assignment on anxiety in childhood (hence all the reference links below – haha) and thought I’d share some interesting and potentially helpful stuff, but first a definition…
anxiety n- an uncomfortable feeling of nervousness or worry about something that is happening or might happen in the future. E.g. Children normally feel a lot of anxiety about their first day at school.
Okay so now we have a common definition, here are three things I learnt…
Children are supposed to get anxious, worried and fearful.
All humans have an inbuilt mechanism to keep us alive and safe, it’s called our limbic system and without it, we would die. We need to feel anxious to stay safe, it’s a good thing – it just feels bad.
During normal development children go through stages of emotional growth where they worry more or become more anxious, around 10 years old is one of these.
Children learn exactly how to manage anxiety by watching their parents.
“Monkey see, monkey do!”
If you model: talking about your worries with another adult you trust; expressing your feelings about your worries; problem solving; doing what you can to minimise your worries; and letting go, guess what your child learns?
(There are other tools or life habits that help too, including: deep breathing, regular exercise, eating healthy food, drinking enough water, getting plenty of sleep, meditating, laughing, being in nature and having a purpose bigger than yourself.)
Anxiety disorders include generalised anxiety disorder, panic attacks, phobias, social anxiety and the list goes on. Normal childhood anxiety could develop into a disorder (this happens around 11 years onward), depending on parental influences.
There are four parental influences that could lead to anxiety disorders developing in children, these are; genetics, modelling (what parents do and say while children are watching or listening, this is point 2 above), verbalisation (what parents say directly to their children) and parental behaviour (what parents do when managing their children).
Studies show that anxiety is linked to our genes, however studies also show that just because you have a gene with a potential to worry doesn’t mean you will develop an anxiety disorder. Epigenetics (the study of whether gene characteristics actually get expressed) shows that our thoughts and our environment have a massive influence on what characteristics gets expressed. In other words, scientists are saying as far as anxiety is concerned – we can’t blame our genes.
Verbalisation– This is the way we talk to our child about their worries.
The best approach is to tell your child things like: “worrying is normal; I would like to hear what you are worried about; I believe you have the answers to your own worries; I believe you can solve any problem and overcome any challenge; I know that it is hard for you to act when you are scared but I also know you can do it; it is okay (and normal and healthy) to cry when you are worried; I will support you to come up with solutions if you need help; I will support you to act on the solutions (slowly step by step works best); I am here for you, no matter what; doing the things you are afraid to do will actually make your worries go away; if it doesn’t work this time, we will keep trying until it does.”
Parental behaviour– This is the way we manage our child.
If we let our child avoid the things they are fearful of (going on a school camp, doing a test, talking to a grown up, etc) then we are teaching them to give up (and go and hide) when they feel scared.
If we protect our child from the things they are worried about (we solve their problems for them, we do the things they are scared to do for them) we are teaching them that we don’t think they can do it on their own. In other words, that we don’t believe in them.
If we overcontrol and overprotect our child by: limiting how high they can climb on the playground; not letting them go to their friend’s house to play; not letting them ride their bike in the street; not letting them swim in the deep end (when they can swim), we are teaching them they are not capable of being on their own and that we don’t trust they can be responsible for themselves (obviously these examples depend on the age of your child).
So, what now?
If you are an anxious parent it will be very hard for you to change your own behaviour (modelling), the way you talk to your child (verbalisation) and the way you manage your child (parental behaviour).
But, don’t give up! You can do it!
The world needs your beautiful child to be their amazing, courageous, capable, confident and responsible self so they can do whatever they are here to do! The best secret that scientists are yet to conduct studies on (that I can find) is the power of faith.
Have faith in your child, they are way more incredible than either of us can possibly imagine!
PS Free parent talk tomorrow night (Tues) in Coffs if you can make it – come along and ask me some tricky questions!
Workshops this coming weekend (6-9 yrs) and next (9-12 yrs)! I’ve got lots of great stuff to share that will absolutely change your life – if not you can get your money back!