Does this sound familiar?
Your child is asking you the same question over and over again and bringing up one worst case scenario after the other. They want you right next to them. All. The. Time. Plus, the family’s being held hostage because they won’t go places.
As a conscientious, well-informed parent, you’ve probably spent hours helping them see that their worries are unlikely to happen; explaining to them how the brain makes scary stuff appear real; helping them find more calm by breathing; or teaching them how to reframe situations to see the options they have.
But you’re finding that what you’re saying is falling on deaf ears.
Or your child’s worries go quiet for a little while and then up they pop again.
If this is happening for you, I know how frustrating it is – and not only frustrating.
It’s painful to see your child fixating on worst case scenarios all the time. It may also trigger your own anxiety about your parenting or your child’s mental health.
The good news is that there are effective ways of helping your child feel less anxious.
The first step is to gain a deeper understanding of how we tend to deal with difficult feelings such as anxiety – and how this differs from what these feelings truly need.
How do we handle feelings?
When we were children, most of us got upset, scared or worried every now and again. When this happened, adults with good intentions tried to cheer us up and stop us crying or fretting. “You’ll be fine!” they said. So we came to the conclusion that the best thing to do with difficult feelings was to ignore them.
What we’re often not aware of is that as adults, we’re still operating from this conclusion. When difficult feelings arise, we want to get rid of them as fast as possible, whether in ourselves or our children.
We may distract ourselves with a glass of wine, some chocolate or Facebook/Netflix; We use breathing, positive thinking or affirmations to change our state. Or we simply bury the feelings and put on a smile.
And when our children are sad or worried, we have a similar approach. Distract them. Cheer them up. Breathe and focus on the positive.
We definitely have a few more tools at our disposal than our parents did, but fundamentally we’re still using the same strategy of trying to help our children not to feel their feelings.
The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t take account of the life-cycle of feelings.
The life-cycle of feelings
I am grateful to my teacher Lion Goodman for helping me deepen my understanding of what feelings truly need, whether in children or adults:
Feelings want to be witnessed and listened to, so that they can complete their cycle. It’s when we resist feeling feelings that the trouble begins.
We’re usually happy to experience pleasure, happiness and all the feelings at the positive end of the spectrum. But, as we’ve seen, when it comes to unpleasant feelings like anxiety, the opposite occurs: we resist. This means these difficult feelings don’t get the attention they require. So they can’t move through and complete their cycle: they’re blocked. We experience this as feeling stuck.
One of the ways stuck feelings show up in our lives is through anxious thoughts that won’t go away.
This is what Lion says about feelings: “Being willing to feel what you are feeling is actually an act of love (self-love, in this case). And all feelings – even the “bad, uncomfortable, awful” ones – lead us back to love. When we can fully experience our experience, the pathway clears and something new can occur. When the path is full of past beliefs, feelings, and experiences, it’s hard to move anything forward.”
Here’s what I recommend:
Don’t try to talk your child out of their anxiety at all.
Instead make space for their anxious feelings, so your child can fully experience them.
Accompany your child right through the heart of their worry.
Here are three ways you can do this:
- Ask your child how their worry feels in their body. Be curious about what the bodily sensation feels like, how big it is, how heavy, whether it’s moving or still. There are no right or wrong answers. It’s an opportunity to give their worry some attention.
- Invite your child to talk about their worries. Whatever they express, even if it seems silly to you, take it utterly seriously. Be interested in how your child see things, through the lens of their worry – and show this point of view real respect.
- Empathise with your child about how hard it must be to have these worries whirring around. Empathy is about being with them, in their shoes, feeling how it must feel for them. “I hear how worrying it all is and I’m here with you.”
I encourage you to try one, two or all of these approaches the next time your child expresses one of their worries. You’ll see the intensity diminish, as you start helping your child’s feelings to complete their cycle.
Your child will be so grateful that you’re stopped trying to talk them out of their point of view. At the same time you’ll be educating them in the art of listening to their own feelings which is, as Lion points out above, an act of self-love.
There is much more I could say about how to create spaciousness in family life so that everyone can relax and let go of their worries. Helping families do this is my business and my passion. Perhaps one reason for this is because I truly understand, from the inside, the incredible sense of joy and relief you get, once anxiety starts to diminish. I just love helping parents like you experience the wonder of calm, spaciousness and fun at home!
I hope the article was helpful.
If you’d like some help knowing how these steps would look with your child, let’s talk. I’d love to help you understand your child’s anxiety more deeply and discuss a happier way forward. The first step would be for you to book one of the handful of complimentary sessions I open up each month.
If something in you goes “ding” at the thought of this, please click on this link to find out more about this no cost session, and to book your slot. I look forward to talking with you.
There is nothing to lose and – and it could be the first step to a worry-free home and a truly relaxed and happy family. CLICK HERE TO BOOK.
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