As parents we may ask, “When is anxiety out of the norm?” Some anxiety is normal, such as being a bit nervous about writing the test or feeling butterflies in your stomach the first day at a new school. However, when anxiety interferes with normal interactions, then it may be seen as a concern. Not being able to separate from mom to attend school, not being able to go outside because of a fear of bugs, not being able to go to the mall because of the germs that might be there. These fears interfere with normal life events.
We want to be able to support and care for our children and help them be emotionally healthy. We can do this by not avoiding their fears, which can manifest their fears even more. Taking things slow and exposing them a little at a time can assist them to feel safer with their thoughts. Sometimes they need to “talk back” to their irrational thoughts in their head. “Don’t just listen to your negative thoughts, talk back to them and tell them what is real!”
Counselling can help. Cognitive behavioural therapy helps them to disengage from the distorted thought patterns and replace them with realistic thoughts. Sometimes exposure to their fear is used in small increments to help them see success that will assist them in going to the next level of their fear. It builds up their ability to see their anxiety in a different way and to realize they are not prisoners of their thoughts. What I tell the children I work with, “Don’t believe everything you think!”.
Next week: Helping your child through separation and divorce