You have your sweet, intelligent, imaginative and creative child. A child who has clearly been blessed with endless potential and depth, a child that can blow your mind away with the most interesting questions you’ve ever been asked (which you only wished you could answer). The problem, or better said, the challenge, is that your child also has anxiety. You see, it’s part of this package deal. But there is good news; anxiety responds well to treatment. Soon we will add on to your child’s description words like: optimistic, strong, brave and courageous.
The key is for us to understand how the anxious mind works and to work with it. The anxious mind tends to think along the lines of: “As long as I don’t know 100% that my fears won’t materialize, then they probably will.” As a parent, you’ve tried to logically explain to your child that the chances of their fears materializing are close to nil. However, it rarely seemed to help. This is because your child doesn’t have a problem with logical thinking; your child is struggling with fear, a false alarm going off inside of them telling them that the worst is going to happen. All the prizes, begging and screaming will likely move him to nowhere. Your child is probably frustrated as well. As an extremely capable child, he doesn’t understand why he is getting stuck in certain areas. Furthermore, he tries to be logical with himself, but it just doesn’t work!
Here’s something to try: When everything is calm, sit down with your child and try to have a discussion regarding what is going on in those difficult moments. Reassure him that lots of kids experience anxiety and that there are tools to help kids work through it. Discuss how anxiety is getting in your child’s way and it doesn’t have to be this way. Explain how, together as a team, you will all begin standing up to the big bully known as “anxiety.” Also, share that there are professionals who have successfully helped many kids cope with their anxiety. From my experience, kids who are experiencing anxiety are relieved to have the option of coming for help. They don’t like to struggle and they see that they have not been successful overcoming the anxiety on their own. It is crucial that your child work with a Cognitive Behavioral therapist with an expertise in treating anxiety.
Another option is to make up an amusing name for the bully that is anxiety, or just call him “the bully.” Draw a picture of what he looks like. Have your child practice telling him that he’s taken away too much from his life and he won’t give him anymore. Tell your child that the bully is a liar. Make a list of all the things the bully is telling your child to be afraid of, and in small steps, practice facing some of those fears. Show your child that while they feel really anxious inside, the anxiety goes away on its own. However, it is important that the child is a willing participant and not forced into doing something that is beyond what they can manage at the time. A skilled therapist can map out a plan and in a playful way engage the child in gradually facing his fears.
Children with anxiety have a tendency to believe that “the worst is going to happen, and they won’t be able to cope.” Discuss with your child situations from the past where she learned to cope with a difficult situation. Maybe it was a best friend moving away and she thought she would never get over it, or maybe it was receiving a poor grade and she saw that life went on. We want to show our children that they are stronger than they think.
Often a child’s worst fear is of an intruder coming into their home or of being kidnapped. This will often lead to avoidance behavior like going upstairs by themselves or walking outside by themselves. It is okay to briefly point out to your child how you believe they are safe, but since these things, on rare occasions, unfortunately happen, ask your child what he/she can do in those situations. Not surprisingly, your child will likely come up with several ideas. This will help them feel less vulnerable and empower them to begin facing their fear.
Explain to your child that a brave person is not someone who has no fear; rather, it is someone who has the fear and does it anyway. Compliment your child on every attempt to challenge his fear. Let your child bask in the light of courage.
Rachel Factor LCSW is a CBT therapist specializing in treatment of OCD and other anxiety disorders for children, adolescents and adults. She can be reached in Israel at 052-713-4130 and in the USA at 845-510-4169. She has offices in Jerusalem and Ramat Beit Shemesh. She also helps people internationally through the use of Skype or phone sessions. Email her at Rachel@OCDsolutions.com, or visit her website: www.OCDsolutions.com.