Butterflies & Monsters
Published: July 30, 2008 4:00 PM, North Shore Outlook
More and more parents are dealing with a sensitive child who seems to worry all the time. Frustrated parents are concerned when their young child says she does not want to participate in lessons or social events anymore. Is she too tired? Is she overwhelmed? Or has basic fear got the better of her?
Where does all this worry come from? What makes children prone to butterflies in their tummies and how do we prevent them from becoming growling monsters?
Some children are born with a sensitive nervous system. As well, some children have so many social activities and academic lessons to attend that the whole family is living in a stressful time crunch. So we know that stress — both ours and our children’s — contributes to our child’s overall worrying. Anxiety is often a normal reaction to:
- Developmentally appropriate fears, e.g., fear of the dark for a four-year-old.
- Transition and life changes, e.g., starting a new school.
- Stressful experiences or events, e.g., parents getting divorced.
- New or unfamiliar situations, e.g., joining a new dance class.
Get Out the Butterfly Net
The two most important techniques in helping your child cope with his worries are teaching him how to deep breathe and helping him talk about what is on his mind.
Help your child to practice deep breathing on a regular basis. Deep breathing is an art.
If you have ever tried yoga or meditation you know how hard it is to stop thoughts or lists of things to do from coming into your consciousness. That is why we need to teach our children the art of deep breathing, to cue them when to use it, and to encourage them to keep doing it.
The art of deep breathing only really develops over time – because children’s brains are so active, they need to be reminded how and when breathing can help.
Here are some examples. Deep breathing will help a child keep warm after coming out of the swimming pool or lake. At the dentist, deep breathing will relax the shoulders and reduce the pain.
Deep breathing before, during, and after a piano recital will help calm stage fright, and it will help in getting over the feeling of having just botched the piece.
Next, encourage your child to talk to you about what is bothering her. What is always on her mind? Being alone with worries makes anxiety worse for your child. Listen for any patterns or themes in her thinking. Gently challenge her thoughts:
You’re “wearing dark glasses” again and thinking only about the bad parts. Are you forgetting the positives?
Is that true? What proof or evidence do you have?
Are you blaming yourself for things that are not your fault?
Can you really expect yourself to be perfect at everything you do?
When it comes to catching the butterflies, our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours are all tightly linked to one another. Intervening and redirecting your child’s language of fear, irrational thinking, or stressful behaviours will change the intensity of worry over time so that the worries don’t become monsters.
- Encourage your child to act courageously.
- Keep a regular routine and schedule.
- Be patient. It takes time to change old patterns of behaviour.
- Failures mean “modify the plan” and try again.
- Break down feared tasks into manageable chunks.
- Problem solve life stressors.
- Encourage your child to take risks.
- Provide opportunity for physical exercise.
- Push your child before he is ready.
- Encourage avoidance of feared activities.
- Expect your child to make an overnight success.
- Get drawn into compulsive safety behaviours.
Sensitive or anxious children need their parents to help them identify their worries. To stop the butterflies in their tummies from changing into growling monsters, challenge the worries head on and encourage the practice of deep breathing.
Christine Kutzner, M.Ed. is a Registered Clinical Counsellor providing services to children, parents and families in North and West Vancouver. To inquire, contact Christine.
Find this article at:
provides counselling services to children, parents, and
in Vancouver, North Vancouver, and West Vancouver.