What do you do when a child is still as anxious if not more anxious of something after exposing them to it?

Now, you know, that our focus on Child Anxiety is not avoiding and going towards the things that make our child anxious in order for them to confront and cope with their anxiety. So I’m going to read the rest of the question here so we can dig into this specific example. My son year eight is terrified of being in the classroom as he is scared of the teachers shouting not at him, just in general.

He either can’t get in the room or when he does, he is really worried if other children start chatting, as he knows the teacher will raise their voice. The thing he is scared of keeps happening so he can’t be shown that it’s okay it won’t happen because it does. He has been in the situation over and over again for over a year.

And the worry has gotten bigger, not smaller. How do we deal with this? Now, when she says, uh, age or year eight, I’m not sure if she means that her child is eight years old or in eighth grade. Not that this necessarily matters, but I’m unsure about that. So let’s talk about this one. Now there’s a couple of things here.

And one is, uh, the thing he is scared of keeps happening so he can’t be shown that it’s okay. It won’t happen because it does. Well, that’s true. So telling the child, you don’t need to be scared because it won’t happen is not realistic because sometimes the things we’re scared of do happen. And then it’s about coping with those things.

That’s a shift in the way that we’re looking at it. So it’s not “go ahead and do the scary thing cause that’s unlikely to happen.” And it’s more “go ahead and do this scary thing because I believe you can handle it.” Now I’m curious, what else might be going on here? And what it is about this classroom that particularly scares this child. I am curious about who they are. In particular. I can’t tell if this child has anxiety in other situations is learning to cope with anxiety and other ways I can’t tell if there are sensory issues that are going .On. I am curious about their auditory sensitivity.

Are they especially sensitive to big noises? And is it coming from that place? Or are they very sensitive to, uh, perceived criticism? And is it coming from that place? So I want to have a bigger picture of this child to know what else is going on. I am betting that there are other anxious things happening for this child; other sensitivities and concerns. Which is not to say that there’s not something going on specifically in this classroom, but I am curious what makes this child especially vulnerable.

The other thing I want to know is is this child safe? Is this a good teacher? Is this a good fit? Is this a good school? What has happened in this child’s history that may have made them especially sensitive? However, it’s easy to get trapped in that rabbit hole of there has to be a reason and that identifying the reason we’ll identify the way out. It’s more about creating a whole big picture because sometimes there is no reason.

Sometimes the child is just anxious, is just sensitive. And other times there is a reason. And then we need to address that.

This is really common in school refusal where we’re trying to figure out is the school refusal having to do with social anxiety or separation anxiety? Or is school truly a poor fit for that child? An example I will give is we had a child whose family I was working with who had a lot of big behaviors around school. And as we dug into it we realized that the school, which was very rigid and very high pressure and very structured, was not a good fit for this particular child. Their anxiety came out as anger and behavior issues. And their anxiety was a fact.

It was true and we needed to do address the anxiety. But we couldn’t do that while the child was in a poor fit situation. When we addressed that, when we found ways to make the school a better fit for that child. And sometimes that might mean changing schools

when families are able to do that, sometimes it might be working with the school to create more flexibility for that child. Then we were able to address the anxiety appropriately. But if a child is constantly being triggered, Then that’s, that’s not going to be something we can overcome just by creating more exposures.

So, I don’t know what’s going on with this child

and I would want to know more about that. I would want to know more about their background. I would want to know more about their functioning in other areas of their life. I would want to know what the family has already tried. And I would want to know if it’s really about building in more coping tools. An example might be, a Child who has a teacher who is loud

and that’s the issue, that it’s an auditory sensitivity. We might think about buying those loop earplugs. We might discuss with the school about allowing them to wear headphones, something that would decrease that auditory sensitivity. On the other hand, if it’s more about being afraid of people getting in trouble or their own concerns about getting in trouble, we might create a coping plan for that child and work with them in addressing their negative cognitions that increase their anxiety. We would not want to up the avoidance.

If we determine the child was safe, if we determined that there wasn’t sensory sensitivities, if we determined that the teacher was well-intentioned and this was truly an anxiety of the child, we would work on that child’s coping skills. So the first step is that exposure and making sure that we are supporting the exposure and not getting in the way of it. And then it’s about coping.

So, what does it mean to support exposure rather than getting in way of it? Is sometimes the Parenting Pitfalls or we get, we also have anxiety about our child’s anxiety and we end up creating more anxiety about the circumstances.

An example would be a parent who really kept checking in with the child and kept unintentionally sending the message. “This is too hard for you to handle. Are you going to be okay because I don’t know if you’re going to be okay.” A very sensitive child may interpret that support as a message that they’re not as capable.

So we would also look at that. There’s a whole lot to look at. So it’s not an easy answer. It’s not a one and done easy answer. And this is why it’s really important to tailor these messages to that specific families needs. I try to give really good general support here and also then give you some keys and clues into where you might look further to figure out what it is that your specific child needs in these specific circumstances.

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