So, first, let’s take a look at the objectives of this webinar:
- We look at why children need to learn about managing anxiety
- Secondly, we look at a range of practical skills to help children control and manage anxiety.
- We also gain an understanding of why worry and anxiety can be good things, not to be avoided.
Ok, so let’s look at point No. 1, and I’d like to spend a little time on this one. Why do children need to learn about managing anxiety – and that’s the thing, it’s all about managing. I suppose, as parents, we try our living best to look after, mind, and take care of our children. We rush in to fix their problems, sort their issues and ease their anxieties. This comes from a place of love.
However, we need to teach them how to sort their own issues. Even as babies, we supply them with transitional objects, such as a teddy or “blankie”, which they can become very attached to as a source of comfort. They drag it with them everywhere. The eternal battle is trying to wrestle this filthy but comforting item from the hands of your toddler to put it in the washing machine!!! Then, as their world expands, their range of interests do too, and teddy becomes less important. Interestingly, this need for a specific object or pattern can reappear at a later age, if sadness or loneliness, or uncertainty crop up.
Now, some of you may have noticed this – a re emergence of an old comfort blanket or toy. It is perfectly natural to revert back to a familiar place of comfort. It’s like, you know when you hear a song on the radio, say from the ‘80s – just humour me – and it transports you back to a time in your life full of great memories and old friends. It is equally the same for a child – teddy evokes memories of feeling safe and secure. However, the biggest disservice we can do for our children is to rush in with our version of “the comfort blanket” – i.e. fixing their problem for them.
Let me tell you about D.W. Winnicott. He was a pediatrician and psychoanalyst who did groundbreaking work with children. One of the most valuable lesson I have learned to date in my life is that of “the good enough parent”. So, say you are in the park with your small child – they run off playing and you are sitting on the park bench. They trip and fall. What do you do? Well, instinct tells us to get up and rush over and pick them up and hug them and reassure them. Right? Well, Winnicott believes we should stay where we are on the bench, and let the child pick themselves up. They look around and see you there, and they come to you, where you then give them hugs and comfort. They know you are there for them, but you allowed and encouraged them to pick themselves up. They then go to their secure base – that’s you, Mam or Dad.
The gift you are giving them here is the ability to manage their own situation, literally pick themselves up. The trick is to teach them how to manage their own anxiety – a skill that will stay with them for life.
Our second point is to look at some practical skills which they can use right away, to help them control and manage their anxiety. The idea behind these resources is to provide ways your child can take control of the situation – simple tasks that allow pause for thought -to slow down their thinking. You know it is when we are anxious – our thoughts are going at 100 miles an hour, creating that feeling of not being in control. So, these resources are designed to slow everything down and take the scary element away.
Our final objective is to understand why worry and anxiety are not to be avoided. Simply put, they keep us safe. They keep us aware. Every single one of us has some degree of anxiety in our lives – the thing is to manage it and keep it under control. You know how it is – deadlines in work or finances or illness in the family, and of course with Covid, there are a string of new stresses and anxieties in our lives. Worry and anxiety keep us alert – be it from crossing the road safely to preparing for an exam. They will never be fully eliminated, but we can learn how to keep them under control.
by Michelle O Brien
BSc(Hons)Psych; H.Dip. Coun; MIACP