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Born Anxious? Who Cares….

Anxiety is a big problem for children & young people. In an ideal world, they’d learn to manage it themselves, but it doesn’t always happen; Being young in the 21st century certainly ain’t helping! 
So it might surprise if I said; 
1) Anxiety is very often a good thing 
2) Children are born anxious
3) Anxiety will NEVER go away…

This isn’t to undermine the importance of anxiety and the harm it can cause, but it can help us to make better sense of anxiety, and put it in perspective…

Born Anxious… 
Newborns don’t ‘know’ anything, they just feel, so when sense-correctly or not-that they’re alone or abandoned, they don’t choose to cry, it happens automatically… aka ‘separation’ anxiety. It’s a very blunt instrument that helps a child stay alive, but it works. Crying is a pretty effective way of making sure you get help. 
But if a child doesn’t choose to be anxious, where does anxiety come from? 

Wired For Anxiety
Deep in the ‘survival brain’; the part of the brain is ‘hard-wired’; is an ‘Anxiety Circuit‘. The ‘survival brain’ doesn’t change, ever, meaning anxiety never goes away. WHY?

Because, beyond the many problems that anxiety can cause, anxiety means we also stay alert; vigilant, and primed for threat, both towards ourselves, and towards our ‘tribe’.
What most of us don’t know is that anxiety has everything to do with care. If we weren’t anxious about our kids, we wouldn’t care whether they were safe & loved, or where they were;  Our own separation anxiety makes sure we don’t lose them.
In short, children’s anxiety doesn’t go away because grown-ups need it too.   

Who cares??!
Images likes the one below do the rounds to promote the innate caring nature of boys-as it should, because both girls & boys have been gender-conditioned for far too long.
However, there’s potentially something much deeper going on for these children… It’s all to do with a fascinating science that explains these ‘care behaviours’, even in very young children. But what’s this got to do with anxiety?
Actually, everything!
A fascinating field of research called ‘Affective Neuroscience’ (ref; Jaak Panksepp) has discovered that, alongside the ‘anxiety circuit’, is a hard-wired ‘nurture circuit’. And when we give care & nurture, AND when we receive it, we feel safe. We have no need for anxiety when we feel safe, so the ‘nurture circuit’ cannot both be active at the same time as the ‘anxiety circuit’. By being caring & nurturing, we switch the Anxiety circuit off!

So when children express care; whether that be towards people, animals, toys, plants, maybe even invisible friends; this is exactly what they are doing; moderating their own anxiety.
In babyhood, we often refer to this as ‘self soothing’; comfort blankets, favourite teddies, thumb-sucking; but as children grow older, these care-behaviours become evermore sophisticated; tucking their teddies into bed and other types of role-play can ease the separation anxiety that bedtime might otherwise bring….Being ‘motherly’ when you’re ill; even kids are hard-wired to ‘keep the tribe alive’. There are countless ways of activating the ‘Nurture circuit’ to keep anxiety at bay.
These behaviours might change with age but the human desire to give & receive nurture never goes away.

Of course, problematic anxiety needs specific support, but for most kids, watch out for them seeking comfort, or seeking to comfort or care for something-or someone-else.
We can learn a lot about the children & young people we live or work with, simply by observing; not only what makes them anxious; but what also triggers their ‘care’ behaviours, and when. Children can teach us a lot about what they need, when we are wise enough to receive their lessons…