What to Do When Your Kid is Anxious
What do most parents do when their kid is fearful or anxious in a given situation? Typically, a parent will help their child escape the feared situation only to see that the more a child is encouraged to avoid the situation, the more fearful or anxious they become. The Mayo Clinic has developed a program that encourages parents to do just the opposite–to help the child gradually face what they fear.
Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health issues in children and teens, yet they are seldom treated. The problem is compounded in that the disorder doesn’t go away but is carried into adulthood, and it can limit their success as an adult.
Let’s say your elementary age son has had a bad experience with a dog, and is now deathly afraid of any dog. On the way to school, your child must pass a house with a big, loud dog that is sometimes in the yard. Each day, your child begs you to drive him to school so as to avoid walking by the dog. And when you can’t drive him, your son becomes increasingly anxious and will probably make himself sick due to his fear. At best, the overprotective parent will make every effort to drive their son to school every day. At worst, the parent ignores the problem, or makes light of it, only adding to their son’s level of fear and anxiety.
Here’s how the Mayo Clinic psychologists would treat you and your son. First, simply tell your son you understand his anxiety, but that you are proud of him for trying to do his best. Then, they would encourage the parent to work out a way for the son to take small steps in facing his fears. It might mean that on a Saturday, you and your son would walk to the house with the dog, and stand there for a short time as the dog barks at you. You also seek a way to have your son make a decision, such as asking to visit a house with a small, friendly dog. It’s important for you to do these things even though it may seem traumatic for your son, but you do them slowly. Gradually you are exposing him to what he fears in a relatively safe way.
Finally, when your son takes some of these steps, you communicate your pride in his efforts. He is only praised when he takes a step forward. Gradually, through a careful exposure to the fear, you son will overcome his fears. To do this, you as a parent have to overcome your own fears which lead you to being overprotective.
Question: What are some of your own fears if you were to take these steps to help your child face his or her fears?