Most children are afraid of the dark at times. Some kids go through fears of the monsters under the bed or creatures in the bedroom cupboard. These fears usually last a few months but soon go away. But at times kids have fears that become excessive and stop them from joining in and having fun in life. At this point it has gone beyond shyness, nervousness and is actually anxiety. As parents you can see this and want to help them but are not sure how to do just that.
Jack is a good example of a child struggling with anxiety. He becomes shy, nervous and anxious when he has to play with other kids. Jack went to a friends birthday party but there were other kids he didn’t know. Jack spent most of the time not moving from his mothers side. There was the usual party games, Jack was longing to join in but not going to because he was too shy. Then the birthday mother started handing out lollies, Jack's mum knew he wanted some but that he wouldn’t get up, so he would miss out. So his mum, feeling sorry for him, went up and asked for some for Jack. Jack loved the lollies and his mum felt better for helping him.
How mum actually helped is what I call a ‘vicious cycle’. Mum knew that Jack would miss out, be upset, she had been through this so many times before! As a mother it is difficult to watch when your child suffers from anxiety and you just want to help. Now let’s just think about this from your child’s point of view, they were gripped by fear, wanted the lollies, but were too frightened to get them, mum gets them the lollies and thus gets them what they want. Your child actually becomes more reliant on you next time it is a similar situation. He has learnt that he can’t do it by himself he actually needs your help. Thus his confidence is further eroded and his anxiety keeps going.
What do? Difficult and painful as it is, it is vital that you do not rescue your child and give them what they want by doing it for them. They have to experience the consequences of missing out on the party game, or the lollies because they made a mistake. (To them they feel as though the other children are scary and dangerous) Your child will learn that it wasn’t actually dangerous, and that they can cope if you don’t intervene. Not sure if your rescuing too much or too little? Then simply ask yourself “Did I really need to step in? What would have been the worst thing to happen if I hadn’t?”
Don’t despair, this is only one strategy, there certainly are many strategies that parents can learn to help their kids master their anxious feelings and their life becomes vastly different. In fact, life for the whole family becomes vastly different. Looking for more information? Visit a psychologist today or read an excellent step by step book written for parents “Helping your Anxious Child” by Macquarie University.