anxiety support

Is it my anxiety or my child’s?

This week’s question is, is it my anxiety or my child’s? That’s a great question. And I’m going to insert that meme here, where the kid says, why not both? The truth is it can be difficult to tease out where the anxiety started. Do we have an anxious parent? Do we have an anxious kid? Is the parent anxious because they’re anxious about their child is the child anxious because they have an anxious parent. It’s very complicated.

So first of all, let’s explain that when we are talking about child and teen anxiety, we are talking about it in the context of a family.

And that’s because the research shows us over and over again that the family system perpetuates anxiety. We do not need to know if it is the parent’s anxiety or the child’s anxiety. We can just say there is anxiety in the family and it needs support. Now the people that are most in charge, most in control of how the family functions are the parents. Which is why we start the intervention with the parents. We work on helping the parents interrupt patterns of anxiety and as we start to unhook from anxiety, then we can work more directly with the child. All right. As far as is it your anxiety? Is that the child’s? I kind of feel like at the beginning, at least it doesn’t matter. So for example, I have many families who come to me and the child has anxiety with one parent more than the other parent and the parent who is not seeing the anxiety will often tell me, I think it’s the other parent.

I think the other parent is so anxious they make the child anxious. And I say, yeah, maybe, maybe that, that could be part of it. It’s still going to need the same kind of attention, which is we have to interrupt the pattern. Is the parent creating the anxiety in the Child, perhaps but it’s very chicken and egg.

You cannot look at something happening with the child and know exactly what’s happening in the family. It’s kind of backwards when we do that. So when we, when we’re working with a child and we say the parent is clearly doing it wrong, we’re ignoring the fact that maybe the parent is doing things in reaction to the child.

All right. We know that. We know from the research that parents of anxious kids get trapped in those anxiety patterns. We also know that some children inherit anxiety from their parents, both genetically; they have brains shaped for anxiety. And also because we teach them how to be anxious. For example, if you’re afraid of spiders, then every time you see a spider, you’re going to jump and act afraid your child learns, oh, I get it.

Spiders are scary. I need to be afraid of spiders that doesn’t make it your fault per se. It’s just the reality that we teach children how to function in the world. On the other hand, if the child is afraid of spiders and freaks out every time they see it. The parent will start being afraid of seeing spiders because they know it will create a reaction in the Child.

Then you’ve got both people kind of freaking out over spiders. And you can’t say, well, it’s the parents’ fault because they shouldn’t be freaking out over spiders. Any more than you can say, it’s the child’s fault because they’re freaking out over spiders. So let’s quit talking about fault and instead start talking about how do we interrupt that pattern? And that is through exposure designing exposures about spiders. And that might be getting some spider toys, some little rubber spiders, some toys spiders, reading books about spiders. Until the pattern is interrupted in a way. If you’re just working with the child with the rubber spiders, toys spiders, all of those things. And the parent is still reacting. Hey, are you okay? There’s a spider. Are you all right? Then you can see that’s not going to go very far with the child. We also have to work with the parent. We need to calm down your reaction to the spider.

We need to help you not freak out when you see a spider, whether that’s because you yourself are uncomfortable with spiders or because having a child who’s afraid of spiders has made you reactive to spiders. Am I making sense here? We do know, too, that the bigger your child’s reaction, the more outsized their child’s reaction, the more likely you are to get activated.

If your child has big behaviors in their anxiety, then you are likely to feel that more and to get more caught in those anxious patterns. By the same token, if you are a sensitive, anxious individual, then your family is also more likely to get stuck in anxious patterns. Which is all to say, it is not helpful to talk about blame and talk about how we got here so much as to talk about how do we get out of here. If you’re feeling guilty because you feel like you have brought anxiety into the family. Please let that go

and instead, focus on how do I figure out how to get out of these anxious patterns we’re stuck in? How do I learn to take care of myself around the anxiety? Because I guarantee that’s going to make things better for your child. The more you can take care of your anxiety about your child’s anxiety, the better. And sometimes when I’m talking to parents that go, I do not have anxiety.

This is all my child. But the fact they’re reaching out to me tells me they do have anxiety. They’re anxious about their child’s functioning and that anxiety while you might not think of it as well. I’m an anxious person. You do have anxiety within the relationship because naturally as a loving, connected, empathetic parent, you’re worried about your kid. And that’s the anxiety that we’re going to pay attention to

as we work on getting the family out of the whole anxiety pattern. I get it, that the focus is on the child because the child is the one everybody’s concerned about. The child is the one who may be seems trapped. The child is the one who’s maybe causing issues for the family at large. But again, we need to start with the parent. Once the parent understands the patterns.

Once the parent understands how they are perpetuating or trapped in the patterns. Once the parent understands that they do have anxiety, even if it’s just about their child’s anxiety, then we’re really going to be able to get to work. .As we work on the parent to extricate themselves, I promise you, the whole family will extricate.

It may not look like you expect it may not look like all of a sudden my child’s anxiety has gone; they’re coping, et cetera. But again, the more you focus on you and understand what’s happening. The more you pull out of it. The more, you’re going to be able to support your child. I hope this all makes sense.

Thanks for tuning in this week. Remember if you have a question you’d like me to address on the show, please go to ChildAnxietySupport .com/question, and you can post it there. Maybe I’ll address it on a future episode. I also wanted to let you know that I have a webinar called “Tell Me It Will Be OK: How To Talk To Your Anxious Child About Their Anxiety”

and you can register for that at ChildAnxietySupport.com /webinar. That’s free for you. I just want you to check it out and let me know if it’s helpful. If you’d like to learn more about me and my program and see if maybe I can help your family, please visit ChildAnxietySupport.Com.

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Gentle Parenting for Anxious Children

Parenting is a journey that comes with its unique set of challenges, especially for those who have decided to embrace the gentle parenting approach. Gentle parenting is about guiding children with kindness, empathy, and respect, rather than punitive measures. This becomes particularly poignant when we, as parents with our own hard backgrounds, are faced with the task of raising anxious children. It’s a path that requires patience, understanding, and a recognition of our own experiences and how they shape our responses to our children’s needs.

Understanding Projection in Parenting

One of the intricate aspects of parenting is the tendency to project our own childhood experiences onto our children. Many of us turn to gentle parenting because it offers a stark contrast to the way we were raised. We want to do better, to be the empathetic and responsive caregivers we craved for ourselves. When we see our children struggling with anxiety, our hearts naturally swell with empathy. Yet, this well-meaning impulse can sometimes cloud our judgment.

Projection can lead us to over-identify with our child’s experiences of anxiety. In doing so, we may inadvertently hinder their ability to develop resilience. It is crucial to remember that while empathy is a beautiful gift, it must be balanced with the recognition that our children are individuals separate from ourselves. They have their own paths to navigate, and sometimes, what they need most from us is the space to learn and grow through their own experiences.

Embracing Exposure with Love and Support

It may seem counterintuitive, but part of helping an anxious child is to encourage them towards exposure to the things they fear. This can be one of the toughest aspects for a gentle parent to reconcile with their nurturing instincts. Exposure can feel like we are pushing our children into discomfort, which can trigger memories of our emotional neglect. It can be distressing when our child questions our love and support in the face of their anxiety, asking, “Don’t you love me?” or “Why aren’t you helping?”

However, it’s important to recognize that this exposure is not the same as abandonment. As gentle parents, we’ve laid a foundation of support and empathy that we, ourselves, may not have had. Our children have a resource in us that we may not have had in our own parents. They are not alone in their journey. As they face their anxieties, they do so with a parent who is emotionally present and equipped to support them through the process, creating a fundamentally different experience than the one we may have known.

Recognizing Individuality in the Parent-Child Relationship

Embracing the fact that your child is not you, and you are not your child, is a powerful step in gentle parenting. This recognition allows us to see our children as the unique individuals they are, with their own strengths and vulnerabilities. It allows us to parent from a place of understanding and support, without the constraints of our own past experiences.

Remember, you are breaking the cycle. Your child has the benefit of a parent who is doing things differently. Through your presence, empathy, and responsiveness, you are providing your child with the resources to face their challenges in ways you might not have been able to. This is the essence of gentle parenting—offering our children the tools and emotional support they need to grow into resilient, well-adjusted individuals.

As we navigate the complexities of parenting anxious children, we must hold onto the knowledge that our journey is distinct from theirs. We guide, we support, but we also let them find their own way, knowing that they are fortified by the love and empathy we shower upon them. Gentle parenting isn’t about shielding our children from every discomfort; it’s about preparing them to face the world with courage and the knowledge that they are never alone.

In closing, gentle parents, take heart. Your hard background has equipped you with an enormous capacity for empathy and growth. Your decision to parent gently is a testament to your strength and commitment to doing better for your child. Trust in the foundation you have built, and watch as your child uses the tools you have given them to navigate their anxieties. Together, you are on a path of healing and growth, one step at a time.

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Understanding and Alleviating Anxiety in Children and Teens: Gentle Parenting Strategies

Gentle parenting, with its superpower of communication, offers an empathetic, supportive, and effective way to help our young ones navigate their fears and anxieties. Today, we’re going to explore three specific techniques that embody this compassionate philosophy.

The Power of Conversation: A Double-Edged Sword

Let’s start with the core strength of gentle parenting – talking. It’s a powerful tool that enables us to connect with our children, understand their world, and help them process their emotions. However, when it comes to anxiety, we can sometimes inadvertently heighten their fears by focusing too much on the subject.

Imagine you’re in a situation that triggers your anxiety. Constantly discussing your fears can reinforce those emotions, keeping you fixated on them instead of allowing you to move forward. The same happens with our children. While it’s essential to acknowledge their feelings, we must avoid over-processing.

The key is balance. We should provide a space for our kids to express their fears without making their anxiety the center of attention all the time. By doing so, we allow them to understand that while their fears are valid, they don’t have to dominate their experiences.

Encouragement Over Fixation: Fostering Resilience

Now, let’s talk about how we can better support our children as they face their anxieties. Instead of fixating on the fear, let’s shift our focus to empowerment and resilience. Tell your child, “I know you’re afraid, but I also know you can handle it. I’ll be there with you every step of the way.”

This statement does two things: it acknowledges the fear, so your child feels heard, and it instills confidence, reminding them of their inner strength. It’s a subtle but powerful change in approach that can make a significant difference in how they manage anxiety.

By affirming their capability to overcome challenges, we’re not dismissing their feelings. Instead, we’re guiding them towards a mindset where they see themselves as capable and resilient, which is crucial in developing long-term coping skills.

Building Coping Skills: A Guided, Yet Subtle Approach

Finally, let’s consider how we can help our children build their coping skills without making them overly conscious of their anxiety. It’s essential to teach them techniques like deep breathing, visualization, or grounding exercises, but we must introduce these tools in a way that feels natural and non-intrusive.

For instance, practice deep breathing exercises together during calm moments, not just when they’re anxious. This way, it becomes a part of their routine, and they’re more likely to remember to use it when they need it – without you having to remind them in the midst of their anxiety.

Incorporate these techniques into daily life as much as possible. The goal is for these skills to become second nature to them, so when they do face a situation that causes anxiety, they have a toolkit of strategies already in place, ready to use without it feeling like a big deal.

In conclusion, gentle parenting offers a compassionate framework for helping children and teens manage their anxiety. By conversing thoughtfully, fostering resilience, and subtly integrating coping skills into everyday life, we can empower our young ones to face their fears with confidence. Remember, it’s about guiding them to understand that while anxiety is a part of life, it doesn’t have to define their experiences. As parents, our unwavering support and belief in their abilities can make all the difference.

Thank you for joining us on this journey towards understanding and nurturing our children’s emotional well-being. Keep embracing the power of gentle parenting, and let’s continue to create a supportive environment where our kids can thrive, even in the face of anxiety.

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Are there techniques for teaching emotional regulation to anxious children?

 Hey everybody. This week’s question for the Child Anxiety FAQ is, “are there techniques for teaching emotional regulation to anxious children?” And of course there are techniques teaching emotional regulation for all kinds of kids, including anxious kids. It’s going to be a little bit different for anxious children, because we tend to focus on their anxiety.

We tend to focus on when they are not regulated and that makes sense because that’s what we’re trying to fix. So let’s take a step back and look at our anxious child and let’s think about when they are emotionally regulated. Let’s look for those times in the day where both of you are feeling a bit calmer, where they’re experiencing some contentment or pleasure or joy. And let’s start with that. Because when we ask children to do something like calm down, they’re not going to be able to do that if they don’t even know what calm is. So let’s find the places in their day where they are calm. For lots of anxious kids this means finding specific things that make their bodies feel better. So that could be swinging; that’s super regulating. It can be going for a walk. It can be building with their Legos.

It can be listening to music. It can be reading. What is it that your child likes to do?

Are they very active? Are they getting enough activity in their life? Are they kids who like to slow down and focus and curl up on the couch? Are they getting enough time with that?

Just for the next week, I would encourage you to look and see when is my child finding calm. Is it in the car ride with you on the way home from school? Is it when they’re curled up in bed and telling you about their day at the end of the day. Is it when they’re eating lunch and chatting with you. Start talking to them about their feelings in those good moments. Also observe yourself.

When are you getting moments of calm and clarity and contentment? Because this will also help you figure out what do you need more of? When we’re looking at anxiety, of course, we have a laser focus on those anxious moments, those problem moments. But when we only focus on those, we start to think in that way. We start calling attention to those only, and we’re not going to ignore them.

I’m not saying it’s all in your head because it’s not. I’m saying that we need to shift some focus.

If your child is calmer when they get activity, how can you get them more activity? If they’re calmer when they get more quiet time. How can you help them get more quiet time? As they tune into those, you can start using that as their coping tools for anxiety. Before their anxiety is out of control when you’re approaching something that creates anxiety, how can you bring more of that calm coping in?

It’s not just take a deep breath. It might be, “I know you’re worried about the spelling test. Why don’t you go take a break and go play with your Legos for a little bit, because I know that helps you calm your mind down.” Or “why don’t you go out and pitch to the pitch back…”. I tell you those pitch backs, you know, those square nets that you can put in a backyard and the kids can throw or kick a ball into it and bounces back. For some kids that is incredibly regulating.

You get to throw really hard. You get the satisfaction of catching and it’s rhythmic. So maybe you say. “Why don’t you go and play with your pitch back for a little bit, and then come back in when you’re feeling better.”

you might teach them to make themselves a cup of tea when they need to have some quiet, calm downtime. Or kids might need to chew gum as a calm down tool.

I’m thinking about some kids that I’ve worked with, who are maybe stressed about homework or times tables. Chewing gum while they’re doing it can actually stave off some of the anxiety because it lets them work out some of that nervous energy.

Now here’s why it’s important to look beyond the anxiety for other things that help our child regulate it’s because our child is more than their anxiety.

Their anxiety is just a part of them that they need to learn how to manage. If we look at the rest of their functional life to find places that we can build on and grow with and bring that to the anxiety, that is often more helpful than thinking of the anxiety as a discrete event in their life that we are trying to eliminate.

Does that makes sense? I hope that makes sense.

The other thing to know is that emotional regulation is a skill and it takes practice. This is not going to work right away. And for children who are accustomed to going into their emotional dysregulation and exploding, and that’s the way that they manage it, we are going to have to work a little harder to help them turn that around. We can let them know that this is part of growing.

That there’s nothing wrong with them. That they are a person who is learning how to be a person, just like we are all learning how to be people. Very often anxious kids think of themselves as people who cannot handle things. They think of themselves as people who disappoint the adults around them, they think of themselves as out of control. Shifting that image of themselves is going to take time. We can’t give up on them.

We just need to keep leaning in to helping them learn how to regulate. And also help them learn how to stay safe and keep other people safe when they are dysregulated. So that might mean if you have a child who really is going to melt down, how can we help them be safe when they do that? There was one family that I worked with that I encourage them to build an outdoor space that their child was free to flip out on.

That family built something that they called an anxious garden and when their child is feeling dysregulated and needed to yell and scream, They were allowed to go out there, hit that tree with sticks, stomp around, even throw rocks at the fence. The family told the neighbors, “Hey, if you see our kid out there flipping out, it’s okay.”

That’s an agreed upon way for them to manage their big feelings and the child felt safe to do that and was able then to feel less attached to that behavior.

This is fine to navigate and negotiate with our kids because we are all learning how to handle big emotions. It may be messy until you come up with solutions that work for you and likely as your child grows and develops, you will need to revisit those solutions because they’ll stop working and your child will need new things. There’s something else I wanted to say about the dysregulated anxious child is it can be helpful to keep a journal of how things are going, because it’s easy to miss progress when you’re in it. I can remember working with another family who their child used to punch holes in walls.

And for a long time, we were working on that and their child very successfully stopped punching holes in walls. It was fantastic. But one day during a meltdown, after many, many months of not hurting things they punched another hole in the wall and the family understandably was really worried. Is this a slippery slope?

Is this our downfall? And because we had been keeping track, they were able to look and say, Nope, this is a one-off and our child is usually doing a great job. And we are continuing to grow, and this is not a sign of anything, except that we had an especially bad day. If you’ve got questions about this, please let me know.

And if you have questions, you’d like me to address on the podcast. Please reach out to me.

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What if I don’t mind being stuck in the parenting pitfalls?

I really like this question because it’s complicated. The person who asked this did not ask it quite so simply. What she asked was this: “I have been listening to your podcast and took your parenting pitfalls quiz, and I scored high. I know that my child has anxiety but I don’t have an issue with helping him. You say on your podcast that you should follow your instincts. I was an anxious little girl and my mother never helped me and I don’t want to do that to my son. If I don’t have a problem with helping and it seems to help Why is this an issue?”

This is a very good question because I do think we need to follow our instincts, but I also think it’s important to stop and interrogate those instincts. What I mean is to make sure that we’re not projecting onto our kids. That is so tough. That’s what I mean about this being deep work. 

.One of the things I learned early on in my career working with kids is that it is important to have a developmental context in parenting decisions. We need to understand what is typical so that our expectations will be realistic. And when I say expectations, I mean like understanding that a two-year-old can’t be left alone in a bath, but also understanding that an eight-year-old needs to be able to separate from their parents. An 8-year old who is struggling to separate from a parent is not bad, they are not behind, they don’t have bad parents — but they do need help. Because it is a reasonable expectation developmentally for a neurotypical child to be able to separate from their parents. And it’s also a reasonable expectation for many neurodiverse kids, too. It can be more complicated for those neurodiverse children — we need to step back and see what else might be going on — but if we start with the belief that our children can separate but may need help, that opens us up to figuring out the help.

This is different from saying, “They SHOULD do it and we need to MAKE them.” Ok, I want to be clear about that. We’re saying, “This is appropriate for them developmentally and we need to figure out how to help them grow into it.”

That also means that we’re thinking of it as a process with steps and a trajectory and many little goals along the way.

When there is reluctance either on a parents’ part or a child’s part, I think it helps to slow it down. Let’s figure out what’s getting in the way and figure out how to address those obstacles, whatever they are.

Going back to the question where the parent isn’t wanting to step out of the parenting pitfalls, I’m seeing the parents’ obstacles but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some for their child, too. Remember parenting is a relationship and it’s shaped by the participants in the relationship. Which means that even if the mom is saying it’s me, it’s all me, I like helping, I want to help, I’m not going to assume it is in fact all hers.

Let me tell you more about reluctant parents in the anxious relationship.

I see lots of reluctant parents. And I think sometimes my job is less about trying to shove people through a program and more about being a step along the way as people figure it out. The fact that this person is listening to my podcast tells me that she is thinking about this. She is thinking about child anxiety and how to help her child. Per her own words, she’s not ready to change yet but she might be getting there. 

Reluctance can happen for lots of reasons, often more than one. But some of the most common I see are:

First: Parents who were themselves anxious as kids and who didn’t feel well supported as kids and so are hypersensitive to their own children’s distress. 

Now I’ve said before that my population of parents tend to be gentle parents, respectful parents, conscious parents — you know, people who are trying to really be there for their kids. And many of us come to this style of parenting because we want to do things differently than our own parents did. We forget that our children are already growing up in a more supportive context and so their distress does not look like our distress. The mom who wrote me for the podcast says her mom didn’t help her. But she does help her son, which means she can lovingly pull back on the help especially if she explains to her son what’s happening. That’s part of the program. You are informing your kids. That doesn’t look the same as a parent just NOT helping. Ok.

The second most common reason is an intense kid. This is a child whose anxiety is big, whose behavior may be even bigger. A child who gets very upset sometimes very disruptive and the parents are trying to figure out how to manage that behavior and often they do this by accommodating the anxiety. That takes care but is not insurmountable, not at all. Having a structured, clear plan and extra support makes a huge difference. But man, I get it. I get why parents are reluctant when they know that pulling back on the pitfalls is going to mean meltdowns

And the third most common reason parents are reluctant is a bit of both. They’re sensitive and intense, their child is sensitive and intense. The anxiety is strong for both the parent and the child. And that is THE most common reason people reach out to me. That’s the parent most likely to contact me about the program is having a bit of both. And yes, it’s difficult and it might take time before that parent is really motivated to change and boy do I get it. 

If they are not ready to do the whole program, they can still benefit by joining it and starting the exploration. I actually have a course in child Anxiety Support that’s all about change and it honors this. It honors that we need to come to change on our own time and in our own way. Understanding that can help us as we move forward. We can learn about anxiety, we can spend our time in the CBT Family part of the course, just kind of browsing the activities there and seeing if any of them interest us or might interest our child. We can read through Strong Kids Strong Families and directly confront that resistance. Talk it out with me, argue with me, play around with how approaching it could look. There’s lots of time to stop and observe what’s happening with new understanding. 

The thing about parenting an anxious child is that it takes a paradigm shift to start addressing the anxiety. Sometimes you can’t do things differently until you have that shift and sometimes you need to have that shift before you can do things differently. It’s not better to do it one way or the other, you just start wherever you can. 

Basically what I’m saying is that growth is not and should not necessarily be a straight line. And here I want to speak directly to that mom who wrote me. And I want to say to her, I’m so glad that you’re listening and that you reached out. I know you care deeply about your son and you’re working hard to provide for him in a way that you were not provided for. That’s impressive. If you ever want some support as you figure out next steps, let me know. 

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What does successful child anxiety treatment look like?

The question, “What does successful child anxiety treatment look like?” is one that that I made up based on different versions I’ve heard from people who are coming to me to ask about my program or to ask why treatment they’ve sought before didn’t work. 

First I want to talk a bit about expectations because I think this gets in the way of successful treatment.

Many parents who talk to me tell me that their child went through counseling and they’re still anxious and so they say counseling didn’t work. 

But anxiety isn’t something you just cure like a rash. Treatment isn’t like a course of antibiotics. It’s never going to clear up like that. That’s because anxious brains are shaped to be anxious and anxiety isn’t necessarily going to go away. For one, it’s part of us and it’s an important part of us. 

Anxiety does a lot of good things. It makes us look both ways before we cross the street. It makes us make sure our nice work outfit is clean the night before a big interview. We need anxiety; some of us are just more sensitive to it than others and That’s fine as long as we’re still running the show.

The problems start when our anxiety gets out of control. That can look like seeing danger everywhere even where there is no danger. That can look like having such strong somatic symptoms such as stomachaches or headaches that we feel incapacitated. Sometimes that can be feeling frozen because our standards for performance are too high. Sometimes unmanaged anxiety can result in depression as we become increasingly discouraged or get down on ourselves for not being able to move forward. 

So what does managed anxiety look like. It looks like seeing danger and being able to say to ourselves, “Oh that feels dangerous but it’s not dangerous.” That can look like having somatic symptoms and recognizing them as anxiety and knowing how to calm those symptoms down. That can look like recognizing our perfectionism as anxiety and knowing how to realistically lower our standards. And it can also look like being kind to ourselves when we’re feeling sad or incapable or discouraged so that we can muddle through anyway.

Successful treatment is going to give us three things:

  • It’s going to give us an understanding of our anxious experience, understanding how it feels in our body — where it shows up — and how it tries to trick us. So we’ll understand how it can warp our point of view and how we see things.
  • It’s going to give us coping tools that work for us, so we’ll need to try different things at different times to help us with the inevitable dread of anxiety, of the fear of stress response, and for coming down after we’ve faced it when we might feel more fragile.
  • And it’s going to give us a sense of ourselves as successful, as people who can face our anxiety and get through it rather than avoid it.

What that treatment is not necessarily going to do is not make us anxious. I mean, it can. Especially for specific phobias or fears. You can overcome a fear of dogs or bridges or public speaking. Absolutely yes, you can do this. But if we have specific phobias or fears, we may just be a bit more prone to other worries, too, and again, that’s part of our make up.

Child anxiety is trickier to treat than adult anxiety for a couple of reasons. The first is that there is the developmental component. We need to shape our education and intervention to the child’s age and, importantly, we will need to revisit the learning as they grow older. Kids need to learn things over and over and over again because they are changing and their understanding of the world changes, too. Knowing how to manage sad feelings when you’re three or five is very different than knowing how to manage the sad feeling that come with a first break up or a major disappointment like not getting into our number one school. Right? So emotional regulation, identifying emotions — that’s ongoing for all of us. We learn over and over again. 

And the second reason that anxiety is harder to treat in kids is attached to that, which is that someone needs to teach that to the child again and again. And the ideal people to do that, is their parents. The way that we teach our children how to manage their anxiety is both direct — in talking to them, sharing the information and observation, learning about the technicalities of anxiety and anxious cognitions so that we can pass that on. But also indirect by setting an example for them by using those tools, recognizing our own cognitive distortions and facing our own anxiety particularly our worries about their worry.

And of course we teach them not to avoid by not helping them avoid, which is the crux of the Child Anxiety Support program.

Successful treatment doesn’t mean our kids won’t struggle or that we won’t struggle with them. Successful treatment is going to mean that you both know more or less how to do it. 

My goals for people who go through my program is that they are realistic with themselves and their kids about what anti anxiety work looks like. That they learn what’s unique about their child so they understand that child’s particular challenges and can shape their support to fit that child. And that they understand what the goals are. They know how to walk themselves through the problem solving of child anxiety and are able to pass those skills — identifying the avoidance, making the plan, celebrating progress — to their child so that when that child is grown up and wanting to avoid, that child is able to take themselves in hand and push through and cope.

That’s successful anxiety treatment.

There are still going to be sleepless nights and new challenges. There will be setbacks and frustrations. That’s ok. Life is like that. It’s a journey, right? 

I mean, think of it this way. Think of something you know how to do that’s not easy. Maybe it’s satisfying, maybe you enjoy it, but it’s not easy. Whether that’s running or knitting or gardening. Even if you’re great at those things, sometimes it’s hard. It’s just built into the doing of the thing that sometimes it’s hard. Anxiety life is like that, too. Sometimes it’s just hard but that doesn’t mean you’ve failed. You have to rely on those tools you’ve learned.

So I guess I’d say the only time counseling or a program like mine doesn’t work is if it failed to teach you and to teach your child how to cope. And I’d say that if that’s the case, it’s time tot ry another therapist or another program. Because there are lots of resources out there and it’s important that you find the one that makes sense to you. That makes this information and those tools accessible to you. 

What does successful child anxiety treatment look like? Read More »

Are there any downsides to practicing gentle parenting with an anxious child?

This question is a simplified version of one I get in various forms. Usually the person reaching out identifies as a gentle parent and they’re struggling because someone else in their life and in their child’s life — whether that’s a co-parent, a grandparent, or another caregiver — is critical of gentle parenting.

Gentle parenting has become a popular term to describe parenting practices that back in my day fell under the attachment parenting label. You may also hear this described as respectful parenting or conscious parenting. And sure there might be subtle differences in the way people apply theses labels, but generally we’re talking about parents who are working hard to be tuned in to and connected to their children. How this looks might be a focus on discussion, respect for a child’s feelings and point of view, and more collaboration, less punishment.

Outsiders tend to dismiss gentle parenting as helicopter parenting, or over parenting. They may call it “spoiling”. Gentle parents are often blamed for their kids’ behavior or struggles. People may say, you’re too easy on them. They’re manipulating you. Gentle parenting might get confused with permissive parenting where there are no rules or guidance.There are definitely rules and guidance in gentle parenting although this may not look the same as in more traditional parenting.

For the gentle parent who has a more challenging kid, it’s even more complicated. Those challenges may be what brought them to gentle parenting. Parent may have realized that this is a child who needs a different approach.

Or the gentle parent may have come to this style of parenting because of their own childhood — either wanting to parent in similar ways to their own gentle parents or because they are critical of the way they were raised and want to do things differently.

I’ll share that most of the people who reach out to me are the latter, people who are trying to parenting differently, and who sometimes find themselves up against their own strong feelings about a situation they went through as a kid and trying to figure out what is right for their own child. So they do worry about over parenting but they worry a lot more about under parenting.

I hope this has set the general stage for our discussion about how this impacts child anxiety.

Now I identified as an attachment parent in my own parenting career and I spent a lot of time on email groups devoted to this kind of parenting. That’s what we had instead of FB groups. We had listervs and in many of these groups there was a kind of litmus test for whether or not you qualified as a true attachment parent, which I will tell you now is ridiculous. Any list that says you’re out and you’re in is ridiculous. In any case, that kind of binary, that kind of either you’re right or you’re wrong thinking, can create a lot of anxiety in parents. But especially in parents who are trying to learn a new way of parenting. 

Gentle parenting younger kids is fairly straight forward — no crying it out, no physical discipline, lots of discussion — but it can definitely be tricky to figure out how to gently parent bigger kids. The reason why there are fewer parenting books as kids get older is that their development becomes much more individualized. Toddlers tend to all be more or less in the same ballpark. Teenagers, on the other hand, are all on totally different playing fields. 

But even those kids all in the same developmental zone are unique people and you are a unique person. Anyone who tells you there’s one right way to raise all kids doesn’t know what they’re talking about. While there are some clear research like physical discipline has a lot of negative outcomes for kids and for the relationship, there is lots of nuance about other things like time out or sleep choices or schooling. 

So I have to tell you my parenting philosophy as an educator and as a counselor, which is that you and your child are meant to build and teach and grow each other. You’re the parent so you’re going to be making the bulk of the decisions, obviously, like where to live and how to spend the money and how to make the money and all those big picture things. But those big picture things are influenced by the child you get. 

I remember I had very strong ideas about how to parent for independence that were shaped by my time as a preschool teacher, which I did before I had kids. Then I had my son and a lot of my great ideas didn’t fit him. While I was definitely the decider, my son shaped me to be the parent he needed. Tuning into his needs with a background on general child development, helped me with my decision making. Not that it was always easy. And then his sister came along and she was a totally different person with different needs, and she shaped me again. The tools and techniques that I nailed with my son didn’t always work for her. 

I’m telling you this to remind you that ultimately you are the expert on your child. No parenting educator — me or anyone else — knows more about your child than you do. What I know about, and what other educators know about, is children in general. I have expertise in general child development and on child anxiety and general parenting and what I have to say may be useful to you but it’s only useful when it’s filtered through your expertise and experience.

Back to gentle parenting. Many self-identified gentle parents are worried about getting it right. Between the groups and the books and the podcasts like this and the instagram and the TikTok, it can feel like there are a lot of rules you have to keep track of. I’m telling you right now, that any anxiety you have about getting it right is likely getting in your way.

Your relationship with your child is the most essential piece. That doesn’t mean you always have to like each other — sometimes kids don’t like parents, and sometimes parents aren’t liking their kids. That’s ok. If there is central love and respect, you can lean on that as you do the hard work of growing together. In fact, my belief based on years of experience, is that when you aren’t liking each other or when you’re not liking parenting, this is a wonderful indicator for you that things need to change. Instead of fighting that feeling, I think parents and kids are best served when they acknowledge it and recognize it as a tool. Gentle parents tend to feel guilty instead of remember that they did the hard work of gentle parenting so that they can trust the relationship, trust the messages within the relationship — including the ones that say, Hey this isn’t working for us anymore — and change things up. 

\There is a natural ebb and flow — a weaning dance that begins the minute you first hold your child and goes on even after they move out. Sometimes the ebb is evident through the conflict or unhappiness in the relationship and we need to adjust things to get back into flow. So if you’re struggling, I’d like you to reframe this as, “I’m a good parent with a good kid so this frustration or conflict or stuck feeling is a sign that we’re ready for something new.”

For gentle parents, anxiety treatment can be tough because it means your child is going to be upset and you’re going to be the one either upsetting them or not preventing their upset. Gentle parents tend to be much more vulnerable to the Parenting Pitfalls and they tend to need more support as they learn to get unstuck. 

This is not caused by gentle parenting; it’s caused by parents who are still growing in confidence as parents.

We all have insecure times, times when we think, “This poor kid, I have no idea what I’m doing” but the gentle parent tends to be much harder on themselves. 

Now the one thing that I HAVE noticed about gentle parents is that we tend to talk too much. We tend to reassure too often — that’s a big parenting pitfall for gentle parents. And we often avoid dealing with anxiety, hoping we can wait until we get buy in from our children and that’s not realistic. Anxious kids don’t usually say, “Hey I need you to push me out of my comfort zone” so we’re going to have to push even when they’ve dug in their heels. There’s a clear way to do this but there’s no getting around that it’s not going to feel great. 

And we tend to over explain. I tell gentle parents that most of us parenting via discussion and that’s great but we sometimes need to skip the conversation and focus on action.

When I taught preschool there was one lovely little boy named Daniel. As an aside, Daniel is in his late 30s now, which obviously makes me feel really old. Anyway. Back to Daniel. Daniel often got into 3-year old kinds of trouble, you know, upending routines or whatever. And I’d take him aside and we would have a quiet private time to discuss and process this. We realized I was creating a problem when he did something — spilled his juice on purpose or knocked over someone’s block tower — and the other teacher stepped in and he looked up with his bright and shiny smile and said, “Do I get to talk to Dawn now?” And we realized we were doing a great job of teaching him that the way to get some special time with me was to do something not great for the classroom.

That’s what lots of gentle parents are doing. They are taking their child’s worries so seriously, processing them so much, that they mistakenly elevate those worries. WE often want to “get to the bottom of things.” We want to know the why of things. Why are you scared of butterflies? What’s scaring you at bedtime? Lots of times our kids don’t know and frankly they don’t have to know and neither do we. We can just trust them that they find butterflies and bedtime scary and we can create a plan to help them with this without digging in and shining a big light on it. Sometimes they so don’t know that trying to have a big talk about it will actually CREATE the reason. 

Our child runs screaming from butterflies and yes, we explain to them why butterflies are safe. Maybe we do a whole thing about butterflies, ordering monarch catapilars to grow in our houses, heading to the library for butterfly books, and that’s great. A non anxious child will take this and run with it. An anxious child might but they might also get stuck. Again, experiments and books and things are great — those are exposures. Exposures are good for anxiety. But anxious kids can be blackholes where they need more and more and more. An explanation every time. Processing every butterfly sighting. This is different than a child who is genuinely interested. The child with genuine interest will go towards the butterfly opportunities. The anxious child will continue to insist on your help.

Remember that the reason why the parenting pitfalls are so sticky is that they can work for non anxious kids and so we keep using them for our anxious kids not realizing that we’re all stuck. More discussion, more preparation, more hand holding at parks where there are butterflies. That’s when it becomes a pitfall.

What we need to do is explain once, process once, then remain supportive but from a comfortable distance where we have curiosity but are reminding them and pushing them to rely of their own strengths and resources, and not avoiding.

What does this look like? 

You do the things with your anxious child — explain, share resources, look at books, etc. The next time at the field when our child runs screaming to us about butterflies. We help calm them — hugs perhaps, but we keep our focus off of them. We display a confidence that all is well. That might mean continuing a conversation with our friend who’s with us, or just remaining friendly neutral. It’s not ignoring them; it’s shifting our attention to something other than the butterflies. We might put the processing back on them.

“Remember that book we got out at the library? What do you think that butterfly is doing?” 

We can validate without getting stuck.

“Yup, I remember that fluttery butterflies can make you feel nervous. I also know you can handle this.”

The goal here is not perfection; it’s helping them grow into being able to handle it. It’s the anxiety version of letting go of the bike when they’re learning to ride but sticking close by.

It’s not continuing to hold on. It’s not panicking as they ride (even if we feel a little panicky inside). It’s rolling with it. It’s knowing that if they fall, the’ll be ok even if they’re less sure about that.

To finish up, the thing I want you to know is that by choosing gentle parenting you have created a bank of good parenting. You have made a sound deposit in your child’s well being and in the relationship. You have been trustworthy, respectful, validating. Yo can trust that. You can trust that foundation. You can lean on it. You can create flexibility and movement in the relationship by asking more of them. They will grow through this, even if it feels hard sometimes. And you will grow, too. Both of you will grow in distress tolerance, in being able to stretch to meet the next challenge.



Are there any downsides to practicing gentle parenting with an anxious child? Read More »

What do I need to teach my child about anxiety?

Last week’s podcast episode, that’s number 60, how do I find time to work on my child’s anxiety, I talked about anti-anxiety skills and techniques and how it’s important that we learn them so we can teach them to our child and a listener wrote me after to ask more about this. They wanted to know what I meant by skills and techniques.

Ok, so tackling child anxiety has two basic pieces. The first piece is about confronting the anxiety itself. And that’s the Parenting Pitfall piece. That’s where we need to learn how to parent our specific child to help us stop avoiding the things that make them anxious. I’ve talked a lot about that.

The second piece is learning the cognitive behavioral tools so your child understands and learns how to manage their anxiety.

Anxious people, anxious kids are gonna be anxious. If we are sensitive, a bit more negative — you know, like we can spot potential problems before they even show up. This would be someone who always has a Plan B because they’re worried Plan A might work, or someone who tells you all of the reasons why things are likely to go badly. Anyway, if we have a brain that’s prone to anxiety then anxiety is going to be part of how we operate. Instead of trying to eliminate anxiety, we need to understand it — understand how it works, how it shows up for us — and we need to know what to do when we’re feeling it.

Both of these things — not avoiding anxiety, also called exposure and managing anxiety — are necessary. Learning one without the other is incomplete but that doesn’t mean you have to be learning both simultaneously. It’s more like you start chipping away at it wherever it feels most accessible. Which is what I was talking about last week.

We need to learn them first and figure out how to make sense of them so that we can interpret them for our children. And they also need to become sort of embedded in our thinking and in the way our family operates. We often segregate big discussions but I want you to understand that anxiety is a way we operate and so we can’t segregate anxiety work to a once a week thing. Anxiety is not a Topic with a capital t; it’s a way of functioning and that’s how anti-anxiety needs to be, too.

Think about other values that are automatically practiced in your family like living out kindness by saying please and thank you or living out responsibility by prioritizing homework or whatever. These value practices might be so automatic that you don’t notice them unless you visit someone else and you realize, oh so not every family greets each other when they get home. Or not every family has a chore list. A value of anti-anxiety needs to be practiced. It needs to become a way of functioning. First we learn it, we learn how to enact it in our family, and then we practice it.

Let’s discuss more what those skills, those cognitive behavioral tools, look like.

I’m going to use the section headings from my CBT Family course in the membership to illustrate this. It’s important to know that in real life these skills aren’t so neatly classified. They overlap each other and they build on each other. But this will give you a general ideas.

Section 1 Understanding Anxiety

We need to know how anxiety shows up for us. How does it show up in our bodies, how does it work. We need to be able to spot and label it. Remember anxiety is not danger but it can feel and look like danger. Understanding the difference is a big part of learning to overcome it. 

Section 2 Feelings Literacy 

I meet lost of people — kids and adults — who struggle with knowing how they feel. But recognizing, labeling and learning to handle our emotions is an essential part of resilient functioning. This is also important as part of that first bit of understanding anxiety. Because anxiety can sometimes feel like anger — anxiety can make us irritable and it can also make us meltdown and it can also feel like sadness — we may feel anxious that no one likes us or that we are failing, which can make us sad.

Section 3 Self Esteem/Self Concept 

Self esteem is what we think other people think of us and self concept is what we think of ourselves. Lots of anxious kids struggle with self esteem as just part of that anxious functioning. They may worry excessively about what other people think or their negative emotional bias may make them assume they know that other people don’t think well of them. And with self concept, the anxious child needs to start believing in their ability to face and deal with their anxiety. This can be a chicken and egg thing. They may need to feel strong to face anxiety but they may need to face anxiety to feel strong.
Section 4 Calm Down Tools 

Lots of families start here. Most families I talk to have done some calm down practice, especially deep breathing. But starting here is putting the cart before the horse. These are important skills for sure but they are absolutely not the be all end all of anxiety. Just calming down is not enough to bring to the anxious table.

Section 5 Understanding Thinking 

This section is meta cognition, which is thinking about thinking and this is some big philosophical work. Little kids aren’t going to be able to do this, they’re just not going to have the developmental capacity. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get ahead of that. This is hard work even for adults and it can bring up a lot of different feelings, which takes us back to emotional literacy. See what I mean about how this builds on itself? Don’t let that discourage you though because Understanding thinking is a lot of fun, too. Or at least it can be and it’s definitely something we relearn in new contexts.

A basic example of this is learning that story The Blind Men and the Elephant. There are picture book versions of this so I’m hoping it’s familiar but the gist is several blind men come across an elephant and they all experience the elephant differently. One gets a hold of the trunk and thinks an elephant is like a snake, one gets a hold of the ear and thinks the elephant is like a fan. One gets a hold of the leg and thinks an elephant is like a column. Anyway, That’s thinking about thinking, understanding that our perspective defines our reality and not always accurately.

Section 6 Shifting Attention 

This is about learning how to distract ourselves when anxiety threatens to take over. These are mindfulness tools, giving ourselves space to appreciate anxiety from a distance. This has overlap with calm down tools, it has overlap with meta cognition. And of course feeling literacy and understanding anxiety. These are powerful skills and again, take practice.

Section 7 Exposure Tasks

Eventually as we get better at staying out of the parenting pitfalls, our children will be able to take over designing exposure tasks or recognizing opportunities to confront their anxiety. This is also a skill and it’s based on all of the other skills. At the beginning exposure tasks may be fairly formal — if you join and take the Strong Kids Strong Families course you’ll see how confronting pitfalls is at first organized and formal — but as we get better at spotting them and confronting them, it can become second nature. That’s what those tasks are about.

You of course can find ways to teach these skills to yourself. You can buy some of the anxiety workbooks and looks hem over — they’re generally organized like this but might use different names or break things up a different way. These are also the kinds of things you’re likely to learn in therapy. 

And there is CBT Family inside my membership.

I hope this has given you some ideas about building those anti anxiety values and practices into your family. I welcome any specific questions you. Might have. 



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How do I find time to work on my child’s anxiety?

This is a question that every busy parent has to ask themselves and thinking back to my most intense parenting years, I hear your screams, friends. Oh boy do I appreciate how many plates you’re already spinning and how fast they have to spin especially when you’re parenting an anxious child.

Let’s be frank, you’re not going to be able to find time because most of you are already over scheduled, over booked and over whelmed. It’s the nature of the parenting beast. So the answer to this question is more complicated than just revisiting your schedule.

When we think about working on our child’s anxiety, it’s easy to think about it as a separate curriculum. A thing you make time for, an event you schedule. But the most effective work is one that you integrate into your day to day life. Yes, most of us will eventually need to have a plan — a concrete step by step of figuring out what to do next — but that’s a lot easier when you have things already in place.

Think of it like cooking. Cooking is easier by a lot when you do the preparation.

     

      • You go to your recipe box or click to your favorite cooking site

      • You choose what you want to make

      • You make a list of the ingredients

      • You go to the store and get them

      • You prepare everything — chop the onions, wash the greens, debone the chicken — and get out all of the equipment

    Oh yes, we forgot about the equipment because you also need to have the appropriate pan and knives, etc.

    Then you cook. And when you’re first learning to cook, you make mistakes. You don’t know what medium heat means on your stovetop of you are still working on your knife skills.

    Once you’ve been cooking for awhile you can wing it. You know how to make last minute substitutes or how to throw together a dinner based only what’s in your pantry. You may not need recipes or you may have figured out how to adjust the recipes you have to suit your family’s tastes and budgets. You know which meals you can make quickly and which are the ones to save for special events.

    You get better at it by learning and by practicing.

    Most of us don’t have time to take cooking lessons — formal once a week events that we block out on our calendar — instead we kind of learn as we go. And we have to learn if we want to be able to expand our palates beyond whatever uber eats or Lean Cusine has for us. Not that there’s anything wrong with take out because sometimes that’s all we have time or space for but if we want to save money or eat in ways that serve us body and soul more or just more to our preference.

    Managing child anxiety is like that, too. Right now you might be spending more energy on NOT managing the anxiety — or more specifically managing it in ways that don’t serve you or your child or your family as well — and you’re going to have to make a shift in how you think about it.

    Now, you can take cooking lessons for anxiety. You can join a program like mine or grab a book or workbook and you can do the things. You can devote an hour each week or even more time and work your way through it. And that’s great. That’s a great way to do it. 

    But most of us are going to do it in more messy ways, which is why I designed my program the way I did. Most of us are going to dip in and out. We’re going to join the program or grab the book and we’re going to dive in and then we’re going to set it aside. We’re going to forget about it a little bit. We’re going to feel overwhelmed and guilty about not tuning in more and that will make it even harder to return to it.

    Let me assure you that it’s ok to be messy and in fact I think it HAS to be messy to be effective.

    Learning to manage your child’s anxiety is a lifelong learning. It’s full of paradigm shifts and self growth and you’ll need to become an expert on a lot of different topics like anxiety in general, and your child’s unique development, and specific tools and techniques that you can pull out at different times and in different contexts. 

    I designed my program thinking of this messiness as a feature not a bug. There is the asynchronous step by step course, Strong Kids Strong Families, and it’s asynchronous so you can get it whenever and wherever you need it. But there are other opportunities for learning, too. There is CBT Family, which are the skills and techniques to bring cognitive behavioral tools to your family. Those are things you can dip in and out of. You can bring those in as slowly as you like wherever you might be in the Strong Kids Strong Families process. And then there are some people who basically use the membership in order to contact me and ask me questions and directions about their particular child. They may not use any of the courses at all at first, they’re just messaging me and that’s fine. I will direct them to where I think they might need help.

    In short, I designed this as a membership and not a static course were you pay once and forget about it because I wanted members to start thinking of it as a companion. And as a commitment that is flexible to meet their needs.

    You do not need to have set aside time but you do need to be willing to come by and check things out or check in with me. Then as you grow in your understanding of how anxiety works, it becomes easier to see ways to adjust things.

    It’s a little like one of those meal kits, where you get to ease your way in. A lot of it is done for you, you can give feedback or ask how to make it more personalized and eventually you take the confidence you’ve gained through the meal kit and into your own menu.

    I think this metaphor works. 

    Anyway, if you’re struggling to figure out how to find time to manage your child’s anxiety, I encourage you to consider just starting with learning more about anxiety. This podcast is a good place to start — dive into some of the archives. The more you learn, the more you will know your way to go. So just keep learning. 

     

     

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    How can I tell the difference between an accommodation and a support for my child’s anxiety?

    Before I answer this week’s question, I want to define accommodation and support. I think it’s confusing because when we talk about children who have 504 plans or an IEP for school, accommodations are a good thing. And when we’re looking at the research on child anxiety or OCD, accommodations are a negative thing. This is why I use the term Pitfalls as in parenting pitfalls instead of accommodations when I talk about them on my podcast and in my program. 

    For the purposes of this particular episode, I’m going to use accommodation because that’s what the person who asked the question used and again, because that’s what the literature uses. All right? So just to be crystal clear, we are NOT talking about the accommodations your child might have in their 504 or IEP program. 

    I am going to use the definition offered in the 2014 study Parental Accommodation of Child Anxiety and Related Symptoms from the Journal of Anxiety Disorders, which is “changes in parents’ behavior in attempts to prevent or reduce child distress.” That sums it up. It’s parent behavior (as an aside, siblings and grandparents and other caregivers might get pulled in) but it’s parent behavior and it’s meant to prevent or reduce distress for the anxious child.

    I want you to really focus in on the “prevent or reduce” part of the definition. Accommodations are all about AVOIDANCE. They’re about avoiding the feelings that come with being anxious, that feeling of distress.

    Common accommodations include:

    –reassuring children repeatedly, trying to help them feel better about their worries

    –intervening on a child’s behalf with others such as ordering at a restaurant, speaking for them when they are questioned

    –Minimizing separation such as staying with them at night (and I’ve addressed co-sleeping several times on this podcast if you want to talk more about that, I encourage you to look at previous episodes), picking them up from school when they’re upset, or even showering with the door open because they get upset if they can’t see you

    You can see that these are about helping a child NOT feel worried. And it’s natural that we would want to do this. You know why a baby’s cries are so upsetting right? Because we are meant to respond and stop it. Same with whining. We have a primal urge to prevent tears and upset in our kids. Very often we are responding before we’ve even thought about it. Our child is upset, and we immediately do what we can to minimize the upset.

    Accommodations can work for non-anxious children. A child says, “what if my teacher gets mad” and we say, “Oh they’re not gonna be mad” and a non-anxious child says, Great! And moves on. An anxious child needs more reassurance. They get hooked on it because they are unable to tolerate the distress of their anxiety.

    We all experience an anxiety but a child with an anxiety issue, feels it more often, feels it more deeply, and finds it more distressing. Which is to say, they have good reason to want to avoid their anxiety. They are not weaker than other kids, they are not unreasonable — they are truly feeling that anxiety more intensely. It’s a bigger deal for them. And avoidance is understandable. That said, it does not help.

    Accommodations allow them to avoid and avoidance does not help.

    Now. Supports. Supports help them tolerate. They encourage their ability to stick with the thing that scares or worries them. They help them acclimate to their feelings of distress so they are able to increase their distress tolerance.

    All right? So that’s the major difference and it’s easy to remember: Accommodations allow avoidance, Supports Help them Stick with it. See? Alliteration for the win!

    Ok, so we’re all on the same page here and we understand what we’re talking about but now things are going to get tricky because a support can become an accommodation or rather we may need to accommodate a bit as we move to support. 

    What I mean is, on our way to decrease accommodations and increase supports, we may need to move down the accommodation scale. 

    Let me give you an example. Let’s say we have a child who is afraid of dogs and so they won’t go in the backyard because the next door neighbors have a beagles who barks its head off whenever someone goes outside. A support to help them face their fears might be that a parent goes out with them. That helps them face the barking dog.

    After awhile, the presence of a parent ceases to be a support and becomes an accommodation because as they acclimate to the barking dog, they need to face their anxiety about doing it alone. 

    When we’re planning to reduce accommodations and increase supports, we use a scale that helps us map levels of anxiety and we work to move the child from the bottom of the scale, where there is the lease anxiety, towards the top where there is more anxiety.

    We do this in a systematic way, step by step so that we’re not overwhelming the child but also not overwhelming ourselves. This is especially important if we have kids who demonstrate their anxiety with meltdowns or other big behaviors. 

    If you are curious if your supports look more like accommodations, I encourage you to take my Parenting Pitfalls quiz, which is based on the Family Accommodations Scale assessment. Have questions? Let me know!

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