Your child’s worries may seem very real to them. If this wasn’t the case then they wouldn’t be experiencing the fear and related emotions they are feeling.
Sometimes they will get a story in their head and believe it so strongly that nothing else seems possible. This is what happens when we become fearful. Our ability to see any other possibilities disappears completely, because we are so caught in the emotional feeling of the fear we have.
Trying to tell your child that their worries or fears aren’t true won’t help.
Come back into the physical body
One of the things that happens when we become enmeshed in our fear is that we move into out head, and our thoughts rule. We feel as though we are not in our body.
To support your child to move away from the thoughts they think are so real is to get them to come back into their body. Some people will suggest doing this by getting them to breathe. What I find works best is to focus on my feet and hands.
Ask your child to jump on the spot or wiggle their toes and get them to tell you what they notice. You can also have them clap their hands or clasp their hands together, and notice their hands.
Feet and hands are great things to support coming back into our body as they are the things with the most moving parts. It is hard not to come back into the body when your focus moves to fingers and toes.
Exploring the worst that could happen
Your child may have easily gone to imagining the worst thing that could happen. And it may be that you are dead, for example. That might be their worst fear, that you will die and leave them behind.
How can you talk to them about this without (a) making their fear worse and (b) exploring some real options.
One way to support your child is to talk to them about what they would need to be okay. Is it that they want a picture of you to keep by their bedside. Is it that they want you to give them cuddles, which won’t be possible if you’re no longer there. Could you give their teddy lots of hugs to hold onto and give to them, if you weren’t here, for example. Ask them if that would be okay.
Your child will have an imagination that will fill their requirements to fill the void. And, in this example, it is okay to talk to them about missing people that are dead. You can talk about pets that have died, or older family members that are no longer living, and how we still remember them even when they aren’t here to hug anymore.
Times when their worries ARE going to be what is going to happen
There may be times where your child is worrying about something that you and they know is going to happen, for instance that you are sick and need to go to hospital for treatment, or that you are moving from one place to another, or that their friend is leaving because they are moving away.
These ‘real’ situations are things that you can approach in a different way, because they are a known and not something that is imaginary.
The trick here again is to talk to the child about how you can prepare for what is going to happen. How can you prepare for Mummy going into hospital? What can we do to prepare for moving to another place? How can we prepare for your best friend moving away?
Different ways of preparing
Construct some material things you can do. For example packing a bag and getting them to put some things in it for you, like one of their favorite toys, for example, so they feel they are with you.
If you are moving to another place, what can you do to take the memories from there with you? Is it about taking photo’s and creating a book or board for your child. Is it about helping them write letters for their friends. Can you look up information on where you are going and share that with your child, pictures of the area, their new school, the playgrounds or things that are in the new place.
This is about looking for the opportunities for this ‘real’ thing becoming something they can emotionally cope with, rather than something overwhelming.
Why not share your own experience?
Often we think that it’s not valuable for us to talk to our children about our own experience, dealing with a similar thing. And yet, it is very valuable to do this.
The child may feel very isolated when they are in the space of strongly believing their thoughts. It is as if that is the only thing in the world at that time, and so they can’t imagine that others had the same thought or feeling.
Be open to sharing your experience, both as a child, if you can remember it, and as an adult. I’m sure you have examples of where you have thought something was going to happen and being fearful of that. Then noticing that it didn’t happen and you were okay.
Help them to slow things down
Their mind is likely to be processing things at a million miles an hour whilst they try to make sense of how they will survive, whatever it is they are so fearful of.
Supporting them to come back into their physical body is one way of slowing things down.
Other ways are to talk to them about right here, right now. Hold their hand. Make a connection with them and get them to notice that you are holding their hand.
Take them to a place they feel safe, like their bedroom and sit with them on their bed and get them to notice their toys and the things that are familiar to them.
If they are talking fast due to their anxiety, ask them to slow down. Tell them that you need them to slow down so you can understand what they are saying in order to work through it with them.
Notice how you are feeling?
Are you feeling anxious or worried? Notice if you are and follow these same things to calm yourself down. You cannot support your child to lower their anxiety levels if you are extremely anxious yourself.
Being calm yourself will support your child to calm down. The more anxious you are, the more anxious they will be. If you’re calm, they can’t help but be calm too.
Supporting your child is as much about being fully present with them as it is about anything else. If you focus your attention on them 100% and slowly talk things through with them, they will find peace and a calmer less worrisome place to be.