It’s better for children to share their concerns with a trusted adult than to daydream about increasingly scary scenarios
I recently had a child with anxiety in my office. She worried that her mother would forget to pick her up at school or that her brother might get kidnapped or about the dog running away. Plagued by endless fears, this little girl found it very difficult to be at school and away from home, lest something awful happen in her absence.
Her mother was concerned, but also running low on patience. After trying again and again to banish her daughter’s irrational fears with reasonable explanations, she turned to me for help.
Here is some of the advice I gave her that might work for you too.
- Allow your daughter to vent – within reason – so her imagination doesn’t have a chance to run wild with worries. It’s better for children to share their concerns with a trusted adult than to daydream about increasingly scary scenarios.
- Expose her to facts: Read her books about the things she’s afraid of that show her they’re not so scary. Show her videos on the Internet that do the same. Talk about being safe in your own home.
- Model calmness. Children take their cues from the adults around them. They watch to observe how we take news about a traffic delay on our way to the airport, or a storm in a nearby town. Does your daughter see you react with panic when unexpected problems come your way? The more she watches her parents handling challenges calmly and confidently, the less likely she’ll be to move into catastrophic thinking about potential disasters.
- Limit your daughter’s exposure to television, movies and news programmes that may fuel her anxiety. We often forget how vulnerable children are to images and storylines that we think are no big deal (or even find entertaining). Particularly sensitive children – and adults – have trouble erasing violent scenes from their minds; it’s better to avoid exposing your daughter to the nightly news, with stories about kidnappings, fires, etc., than to try to explain why these things aren’t likely to happen to her.
- Introduce “Little Fear Guy”. Start by telling your daughter that we all have a voice inside of us that is designed to keep us safe. Invite her to imagine this part of her as a little fellow who lives on her shoulder – that’s Little Fear Guy. If this little man thinks it is even remotely possible that her survival is threatened, he sounds the Fight or Flight alarm and makes her feel fear so she can take action to stay safe. The problem is, that LFG takes his job so seriously thathe sometimes sounds the alarm and generates bad feelings when we aren’t actually in any danger at all.
So, ask your daughter what her LFG is telling her that could cause a fire, thunderstorm and tornado to happen all at once, and where he gets his information.
This is a method I teach many parents and children, and most of the youngsters I have worked with respond very favourably to using LFG to create some distance from their worrisome thoughts. Sometimes their reactions are actually amusing. One little boy recently told me that his LFG shouted lots of scary things in his ear because he drinks too much Red Bull!
By modelling calmness, letting your daughter express her worries, and teaching her to put fearful thoughts at arm’s length, you should be able to help her relax. But, if her anxieties continue, or if they worsen, I would advise you to seek professional help by checking in with your school counsellor or an experienced therapist who can offer support and guidance in helping her learn to manage her fearfulness.
For more support with helping an anxious child, check out my master class on Helping Anxious Children Thrive.