“Anxiety, the illness of our time, comes primarily from our inability to live in the present moment.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
I talk about worries A LOT. Children worry, parents worry, mom’s worry about their children’s worries and dad’s worry about how much their partners worry about their children’s worries!?!? Dizzy yet…
You will remember from my last blog that I like to talk about worry especially when it gets stuck, when we feel ourselves spinning, ruminating, or over-thinking. Often we live life at such a frantic pace that we are not aware of our own thinking patterns or worries. As adults, the frantic pace and demands on our time often leave us feeling like there are no quiet moments for reflection, or to notice our thinking patterns and habits.
Children on the other hand, are keenly aware of their thoughts, and especially their worries.
“Do you have any worries that get stuck in your thinking?”
Children can answer this questions without thought, self-judgement or analysis. Some of my favourite worries – just from this week;
“crocodiles, being in trouble, hurting dad’s feelings, making mistakes, that I won’t get better, disappointing my family”
This is what weighs on the hearts & minds of our children! The good news? Children are SO willing to talk about worry, to be curious with me and to try new things to make the worries get smaller or even go away!
Once we learn about our worries, and the feelings that go with them – we talk about how our body gives us clues that the worry is growing:
Here are some common ways people feel anxiety in the body:
“our heart pounds loudly & fast, hands get sweaty, we breath differently, our fingers/legs/feet shake, our eyes wink a lot, our tummy gets wiggly & floaty”
Our body gives us clues – so cool, right? As an adult reading this, take a moment to think about your body clues & messages when you start to feel tense, worried or anxious.
I work with children to notice their own body clues – not to judge them – to notice them and once we notice them, we catch them. This is where parents come in, and it’s so exciting to watch a child share this discovery with their parents, and ask them to help notice them & catch them together.
Here’s an example:
If your child is ‘stuck’ and visibly struggling, make eye contact, use proximity and describe what you see: “you are rubbing your hands together over & over” or “you are stomping your feet/banging your head/throwing your toys” or “your voice is really loud”
When a child, and his or her emotions have been noticed, this creates space to help them make the connection between their ‘body messages’ (which are the behaviours we see) and their feelings. Our noticing (naming out loud) validates & acknowledges both our child and their feelings.
I know what you’re thinking:
“How do you expect me to ‘notice body messages’ when it’s 2am or toys are being thrown or siblings are yelling and dinner is burning?” Am I close?
If you can find a tiny moment, and the strength at the wee hours of the morning, to acknowledge his feelings (even if/when they don’t make sense to you) – you will watch him melt/soften, if even just a little.
( you CAN do this, often best when it follows one big DEEP breath)
“I see that you are scared. I’m right here.” or “Your voice is really loud, I’m right here, what’s up?” or “Your eyes are winking really fast and you’re squeezing your hands, what are you feeling?” or “You are behind the chair. You are hiding & quiet, what worry is stuck?”
We sometimes rush children to ‘be ok’ – by telling them it’s ok, or calm down, stop crying, relax, don’t be so dramatic, it’s not that bad
Once you’ve acknowledged HIS feelings, he’ll soften a little bit more & then you can support him and problem solve together:
“You are safe, mommy & daddy are right here – what’s up?”
“You are safe in your bed, you are in your room and we are right here.” or “I love you, I can see you are scared, how can I help?” or “Those feelings really got big, that was really hard, what can we do now?”
He may share his worries as this point – or start to panic (quick breathing/loud voice) – and try to convince you that there are still reasons to be scared/worried/nervous/embarrassed/angry. Listen & acknowledge (again! and maybe again & again)
We work toward collaborative problem solving:
“You want me to stay with you but I really need to get my sleep, what should we do?” or “You are feeling scared & your voice is getting so loud, I’m worried because that loud voice is waking up daddy & your brother – how can we figure this out more quietly?” or “I hear that you want to stay, you are having fun & it is hard to leave, I wonder how we can get ready to go home?”
I love this process.
I especially love this process, with your children, in my office. It’s much harder for me at home, with my two children. As parent’s we lead with our hearts & our own emotions and big feelings, it’s much harder to adopt a curious approach to your child’s worries when… it’s 2am or toys are being thrown or siblings are yelling and dinner is burning – I know.
Please don’t give up – please try again, even if you’ve tried before – and please reach out for support if you’re feeling alone, overwhelmed or worried about your child’s worries.
(A great resource, which sits on my desk & gets read OFTEN is Ross W Greene’s The Explosive Child – even if that’s not how you would describe your child, sometimes big emotions need to explode and children need to let their feelings out. This book is filled with great examples and strategies, especially for collaborative problem solving with children of all ages.)