I have had an exciting and busy Spring! Not only have I been organizing closets and keeping up with filing away papers (an on-going chore in my household), but I have been busy speaking to groups of parents and professionals!
I was fortunate to speak at the Gleneagles Community Centre, at the University of Victoria for the Child and Youth Care Conference and to the BC Gifted Children Association, South Fraser Local Chapter. I am meeting many parents who are needing to discuss the intricacies required to deal with the needs of a highly sensitive child. A common theme for such parents is how much their children are worrying and how “too much worry” is messing up their child’s life. So I thought I would write about some basic strategies for dealing with worry and lay the foundation for more in-depth material on managing anxiety that will follow in subsequent Newsletters.
If you know of other parents who would benefit from parenting tips on dealing with a child who worries too much, invite them to sign up for the newsletter.
Worrying is Stressful!
The bottom line in helping our children become successful is by removing the unnecessary stress! It’s simple, but not easily done. Today’s parents are highly motivated to make sure their child fits in, is smart, is the best in hockey, ballet or cello. We have been told that exposing our children to a variety of activities at a young age ensures they will be successful. On top of this societal view that parents have bought into, is the stress in getting to the lessons “on time!” We throw the kids some food as we are driving into the “warzone” traffic hour (3:15pm -4pm) just to BE somewhere. On the way, we remind our kids of the homework they need to do and we start thinking about “What in heck are we going to have for dinner!” Whew! The schedules we put on our kids and on us is stressful in itself. It’s time to STOP and take a hard look at what we are modeling to our children and really ask ourselves, “What are we expecting from our children?” To be better than us? More “with it” than we were? Wealthier than their grandparents or parents combined? So parents, what is your driving force and what can be eliminated or tapered down, so that our children’s brains have a chance to slow down, re coup and enjoy life? I know teenagers who are working harder than ever to be “accomplished”, hold down a job, study and socialize, some even find time to fit family functions into their schedule. I also know other teens who tell me that they are “burned out” on life. Already I ask? Yup, they’ve had it with all this pressure and don’t see the point “My Dad doesn’t have fun anymore, so what did all this hard work get him?” We are our children’s teachers.
Dealing directly with the WORRY
Children, and especially highly sensitive ones, often need a place of refuge and calmness to re-group. When their day is full, their brains are over loaded and this can result in meltdowns, problems with sleeping and lack of interest in fun activities. They may refuse to go to bed when you know they are SPENT! How many nights in a week is this happening with your child? Proper sleep makes most of us better human beings.
Remember, anxiety is worry about the future. Parents need to take charge of their child’s exposure to information that effects their world view and can spur on even more worry. Highly sensitive people often worry about the state of the world, and feel overwhelmed or powerless at how to effect change. Help your child see the good in the world and what small acts they can do that will make a difference. It can be as simple as let’s tell Grandma and Grandpa to spread the word for peace…
Parents need to say NO to over exposing their sensitive children to:
- TV or radio news, or articles in the paper related to despair
- Violent video games
Be Aware of:
- when your adult desires and your child’s needs are conflicted.
- how you compare your child or teen to their siblings and/or peer group
- when you feel you need to “make” your child take risks, to at least “try” something new. For example, making your child take swimming lessons or sending them to overnight camp because they’re “old enough to go.” (Often children don’t know how to tell their parents they are afraid.)
Strategies to support you child:
- Practice deep breathing exercises. Deep breathing is so important for Worriers. It is a handy tool to use before an exam, performing on stage, or when going to a party where they don’t know many people. I like to incorporate a positive saying with my kids, to help them focus on something pleasant and not on the fearful event.
- Play “what if” games. “What if you came home one day and I wasn’t here, what would you do? What if you were at the skateboard park with Tom, and he wanted to leave, but you knew I was coming in ½ hr to get you, what would you do? These are meant to help your Worrier problem solve and work with you for a sense of security, not to build in more fear that the world is unsafe, so be careful and use life examples you feel are likely to occur that warrant a discussion.
- Provide physical comfort hugs, sitting close while reading or watching a movie (Yes, teens like this too, we all need to feel love, not just hear it).
- Find avenues to release your tension-sports, reading, artwork, music, rest
- Take successful past experiences your child overcame and highlight the risk they took and apply this principle to any current situation. “What have you tried in the past that helped a bit?”
- Be clear in your instructions or in your intentions. Don’t assume that your child/teen knows what you mean. Always check back to see if they understand. This eliminates guessing and their fear that you EXPECT them to be a certain way, but they really don’t know what that looks like.
- Have your child write down all their worries before bed, and then put them away for the night, telling your child that if you need to remember your worries tomorrow, they will be in a container. Create a container that will house these worries.
The list below is from a workshop I attended by Daniel Hughes in 2007 on attachment style parenting. I’ve included it because it’s simple and it makes sense!
This summer, I will be attending a week long workshop with David Burns, M.D. who wrote Feeling Good, the New Mood Therapy back in 1980! He has worked successfully with people who have depression or anxiety. I am excited to be a part of this workshop and will have lots more ideas to share with you in the future.
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.
Copyright Christine Kutzner, 2008. All rights reserved.
provides counselling services to children, parents, and
in Vancouver, North Vancouver, and West Vancouver.