Handout for Disempowering Anxiety

Posted: October 5, 2019

Disempowering Anxiety:
Empowering Adult-Child Relationships

Tina Feigal, M.S.Ed.
www.parentingmojo.com

651-453-0123

Definition of anxiety in children:

Fear where there’s no real threat.

One problem is that we’ve named anxiety, which makes it seem powerful, and somehow unchangeable.  We can change neural pathways. 

For evolving humans, it’s very difficult to tell when there’s a real threat and when there’s not.

It’s remarkably easy for children to land in “victimhood” when anxiety seems to run the show.

The desire to control adults becomes the default response.   

Contributing factors:


  • “Just wired that way”
  • Autism
  • ADHD
  • ODD
  • Giftedness
  • Attachment Disorder
  • Anxiety in children
  • School stress
  • Bullying
  • Family discord
  • Family separation
  • New situations
  • Illness
  • Anxiety in children
  • Sensory Processing Disorder
    -Visual
    -Auditory
    -Tactile
    -Olfactory
    -Taste
  • Learning disability
  • Parental anxiety (also “fear where there’s no real threat”)
  • Perfectionism
  • Time pressure

What can we do to help?

  • Understand that the child is having a physiological response, not being “impossible,” “picky,” or “looking for attention.”  

Decide it can be different. 


What Adults Can Do
Get into the child’s experience
The only effective solutions come from understanding what he’s experiencing.  More on this later …

Manage your own anxiety

  • Allow room for children in your life
  • Get regular exercise
  • Sleep whenever you can
  • Say “no” to commitments
  • Plan ahead

Ask: “Will this really matter in the long run?”

Silence the “parents-should” and “children-should” voices inside. 

Attunement: join the child in the present moment.

Stay with the emotion the child is having. 

Don’t try to talk her out of her feelings by reassuring her. 

Listen deeply.

Ask what that felt like.  If the child says, “I don’t know,” say, “If I guess, will you tell me if I’m right or wrong?

Be willing to be wrong.  Then just listen to the child’s true feeling.

“You’re really worried.”

“You really want me to take you to the store right now.”

“You feel very upset that you have to wait.”

Stay in the conversation with no judgment, no fixing, no fear.

Since the child will expect a “fix” or advice, he’ll ask for that in some way.  Just say, “I don’t know what will happen, but I trust you will know what to do. I’m here if you need me.”

Give your emotional energy to what you want, and withhold your emotional energy from what you don’t want. 

Brain Matching and The Institute of Heartmath

Adults have so much power to strengthen neural pathways for positive emotional responses.

We can change the child’s body. 

Have family meetings every week.

Let the child know there will be a change in the old patterns. 

Allow plenty of TIME.

Say, “Take your time,” to the child. 

Realize the anxious child is saying, “See me.”

Use the phrase
“I trust you to …”

Rather than focus on what shouldn’t occur, give the child grown-up tasks.  Having appropriate power decreases the need for seeking inappropriate power. 

Inappropriate power:

  • Opposition
  • Defiance (delaying, refusing)

Appropriate power:

  • Being trusted to do grown-up tasks with little or no supervision

Ways to give appropriate power:

  • Ask the child’s advice and follow it. Give feedback.
  • Engage the child in the care of someone younger.
  • Encourage self-advocacy at school, after breaking it down and rehearsing it.

    Instead of approving of the child’s experience, plant the reference point in the child.

“You must have felt so happy and relieved when you handed the assignment in on time.” 

“I can just imagine that it feels so good to be able to find your clothes after you do your own laundry.”

“Seems like you’re not getting along with your brother.  What do you want to do about it?”

Ask a question rather than issue an opinion or a directive.  Use “How … ?”

Our own “how” question:

How does this reduce anxiety in children?

  • Self-efficacy.
  • Non-victimhood.

Build self-efficacy by including children in your thoughts and letting them solve problems. 
They become thinkers, rather than order-takers. 

  • Old way vs. new way
    “You want to do what? You can’t go outside!  You’re homework’s not done!” 
    “You want to go outside right now.  How will that work with getting the homework done before 8?”
  • Mindfulness in parenting
    John Kabat Zinn, creator of “Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction”
    “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”
  • What adults can do

Limit technology use.

Hold regular family or class meetings.

Let the kids plan the space, the music, the snack, and the candlelight.

Let the kids’ sports and grades be their sports and grades.

Certainly support them, but over-involvement only hurts by taking away their appropriate power.  

A gifted 19 y.o. who had anxiety in high school said, “Asking me how I felt never worked as I grew older.”

“Learning about my brain’s process helped a lot.  I could stand outside, look at what was happening, and not be ‘in’ the anxiety so much.”

“Knowing that my brain was mis-firing with anxiety chemicals gave me power over it.”

  • Strategies reviewed

You can’t stop all the anxiety from affecting your family, but you can learn to disempower it by:

  • Understanding the contributing factors
  • Getting into the child’s experience
  • Strategies reviewed
  • Managing your own anxiety
  • Being in the present moment with the child
  • Attuning to her current state
  • Empowering her with your trust
  • Encouraging grown-up tasks
  • Building self-efficacy
  • Strategies reviewed
  • Holding family meetings
  • Fostering appropriate power
  • Planting the reference point in the child
  • Including the child in your thoughts, asking ‘how.’
  • What adults can do

The pressure is off parents today.  All you need to do it listen to children.  The flash cards and Baby Einstein videos are not needed. Attunement to the child is the biggest predictor of healthy attachment and adult mental health in the child.

                                               -paraphrase from David Brooks, NY Times Journalist and author of The Social Animal

                                               

Resources

Anxiety in Teens
http://anxietyinteens.org

John Kabat Zinn
http://www.umassmed.edu/Content.aspx?id=43102

EEG Biofeedback


Tina Feigal, MS Ed, Parent Coach and Trainer
www.parentingmojo.com
St. Paul, MN 


                                                                            Copyright © 2019 Center for the Challenging Child/Anu Family Services

 

 

Send this blog post to someone:

SUBMIT