As was to be expected, many children are finding themselves strung up with anxieties about all sorts. On the face of it, many don’t make much sense, and telling them there’s nothing to worry about is about all we can do. Except is often doesn’t work…
Time and energy spent on reassurance easily end up wasted, simply because the child’s anxiety has reduced access to their ‘thinking brains’.
What looks like ‘not listening’ may actually mean ‘unable to process’…
I was recently asked for input from a grown-up who was at a loss for how to help one such child, and suggested a favourite technique of mine. It worked a treat, and so it has to be worth sharing!
It’s a simple re-frame, but can be very empowering, because it alleviates much of the perceived powerless that underpin so many worries.
Unfortunately, whatever our age, many of us have anxieties and thoughts we’d rather not have, constantly.
This child’s ‘inner-voice’ was bombarding him “What if'”s… “This might go wrong”… “This bad thing could happen”, and silencing that voice is no easy task.
It’s quite a refined skill to recognise that thoughts; ‘what if’; may be very different from reality; ‘what is’ .
How are children to know that the inner-voice is usually just talking nonsense or telling lies?!
Plus, worry-gremlins are usually very noisy, so it’s difficult to hear, or even notice anything, apart from the constant chatter of anxiety.
But there are other, more helpful voices within ‘the self’, even if it takes very conscious effort to listen to them.
Worry-gremlins are usually very noisy, so it’s difficult – for adults, let alone children – so noticing that there’s more than this voice within ‘the self’, and listening to the helpful things it might have to say can take very conscious effort.
So here’s how the technique works…
You start by helping the child get really clear on what the ‘worry-voice’ is saying.
Then ask them to simply talk back to it in a calm and reassuring way.
They’re talking to themselves, so it’s important they don’t admonish the worry voice with ‘don’t be stupid’ , ‘you’re being a baby‘ etc., and be kind to it instead.
Children might feel uncomfortable to begin with, so you might need to facilitate, model this yourself, or be creative with how you approach this technique, but this is what it can look like;
WORRY VOICE; “I’m worried about being away from my mum while I’m at school. Something bad might happen… What if X, Y, Z!!!”
(This seems to rank #1 worry for children ATM)
VOICE OF REASON; “Thanks for looking out for me, and my mum, but you don’t need to worry. Just you wait, she’ll be waiting for me at 3.30.
Until then, I’ve got my day to get on with, so please let me enjoy it, uninterrupted. Go have a sleep instead.”
Much like Chimp Paradox Theory, it can help if each ‘voice’ has an identity of its own, but the trick is to get them working together; to create an inner dialogue; and not in opposition with one another, where it’s all about who’s voice is loudest (because worry and anxiety usually win)…
One of the real wonders of this technique is that young people can gain much more self-assurance from discovering they have that power within themselves to solve the problem, rather than an adult just offering it to them… (although you could create a wonderful group activity from this, as well!)
So as beautiful as it is, I’m not really sharing it in the spirit of two separate beings, but the co-existence of the ‘inner-bear’ and ‘inner-rabbit’, because we can help the anxious children we support (and maybe ourselves?!) to nurture their inner-bear 🐻 How can you?
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