One of the most challenging – and sometimes frustrating – problems we face as mums and dads is our kids being conscious or worried about stuff they shouldn’t be.
We want their childhoods to be carefree and yet many of them are either troubled by anxieties, despite them often being completely unfounded, or are strung up about what other people think.
Mine didn’t want to go to school because he has a mosquito bite on his leg. He thought he’d get laughed at or his friends wouldn’t want to play with him. Where the hell do our kids get these ideas from??
Helping can be an uphill really struggle, and a huge source of frustration because no amount of ‘Don’t worry about it’ or ‘ignore what other people think’ etc., seems to sink in.
Unfortunately, silencing the worry monster is no easy task, even if, through our adult eyes, our kids are ‘worrying about nothing’.
But ask yourself, how many times when someone has said ‘Don’t worry about it’ have you actually stopped worrying?
Many anxieties that bubble to the surface have no obvious cause, so our children may just have a big feeling to carry with no idea why it’s there.
And this makes sense because, neurologically, anxiety lives closer to the subconscious reactive brain than to the ‘thinking’ brain area.
So, to make sense of that feeling and have better control of it, they might anchor it to something that does make sense.
“I am scared of spiders, or being laughed at, or my mum dying” is a bit more manageable than “I am scared and I don’t know why”.
And it’s not so surprising that around this time of year, when big changes are an inevitable part of life, our kids can be bothered by all kinds of weird and not-so-wonderful troubles.
I’d love to have a formula to help make them all go away but, I think I’d bee sitting of a yacht somewhere if I did, but there are a few alternatives to the standard ‘Don’t worry’ response, which can help;
Let them know you’re listening; Repeat back what they’ve told you, so they feel heard. “You feel X, Y, Z that X, Y, Z…”. This simple trick can be a game-changer before you even get to problem-solving
Validate; “That sounds scary/troubling/worrying…” For your kid to know that you ‘get it’ can be an enormous relief for them. Always let them know you’re pleased they’ve shared it to help keep the lines of communication open
Get curious; Avoid being too direct in your response, as it can make an anxious child retreat… But curiosity will move you forward, while inviting the child to think more about the problem.
“I wonder where that thought has come from…”, “I’m interested to know more about that…”
Problem-solve WITH them, not for FOR them; Don’t just give them the answer, even if it’s the right one. There’s far more power in them identifying, and therefore owning, the solution themselves.
Use your curiosity to guide them there… “I wonder what might happen if…”
Keep checking in; It’s easy to think that we’ll re-open the wound or bring the problem back to the surface by asking about it, but you won’t.
Even if your child doesn’t mention it again, don’t assume that the worry’s gone away. Even if it has, you want to communicate that you’re still available, and most importantly, you’re not afraid of the problem.
Even if you can’t shoot the worry down, “There’s nothing you and me can’t handle together” can be enormously reassuring, not just for our kids, but us too. Saying it out loud makes you believe it.
For more ACTIONABLE TOOLS AND TIPS THAT WORK delivered straight to your inbox, sign up to our mailing list!