You think you are doing the ‘right’ thing by trying to protect your child from their fears. You think you know what they are going to be worried or anxious about and so you do your best to circumvent that happening. Does it work? Most often I am going to suggest not.
Especially if you have a child that always seems anxious. I’m going to suggest that your anxiety levels are likely to have spiked the more you try and decrease your child’s anxiety levels. Which is not supportive of either you or them.
You can’t really protect them from their fears
The truth is, you can’t protect your child from their fears. They are THEIR fears, not yours. You can never know what is really going on in their mind, unless they are able to tell you, and I am guessing that doesn’t happen often when they are extremely anxious.
Anxiety sends us into a spiral of inwardly focusing on what’s going on in our head, what we’re thinking and it doesn’t seem possible to see past that. The fear seems real and it’s not possible for it to be otherwise, no matter what anyone else says.
Have they taken on your fear?
It’s a different story if you have been fearful and expressed this a lot around your child, because your child may have then ‘taken on’ that fear. It’s not theirs, and yet they believe the story they are hearing.
They think that they need to also be fearful of whatever it is. Someone I recently worked with talked about her Mom having a fear of dogs because she had once been bitten by one. The story then was that all dogs bit, so you need to be fearful of them. As a child this woman took this fear on as her own, because she’d heard the story of her Mom being bitten by a dog, so many times.
This fear carried through to her adult life. Not helpful for her, as it wasn’t her truth. She didn’t know that every dog would bite her, and in fact she had the exact opposite experience with dogs, as she met them out on her walks. Yet her fear was still evident in the background.
What’s causing their fear?
Your child has a fear because they are imagining, in their mind, something that is going to happen in the future. They might feel this fear because they are unsure of what is going to happen. Or, they make up a story about the worst possible thing that could happen, and they believe this is true.
That’s their story. It might not even be true, and yet whilst they believe it, it’s true for them.
Whilst it is understandable that you might not want to see your child suffering in any way, it’s their story in their head.
One way to support your child at times like this
Fill in the blanks.
Your child might be fearful of something that they believe might happen. So how about talking through the supposed situation with them and fill in the blanks. Often when children get into this space their view of reality or their perspective shifts, to one that is very narrow.
That’s where there is value in you broadening their perspective. Something you say will grab their attention and likely bring them out of there tunnel vision perspective. You are not aiming to shift anything, only supporting them to see a slightly different perspective.
What to do if they’re worried about something not happening
And if your child is in the space of being worried about something that might not happen, when they want it to, how can you talk to them about the details and likelihood of what they want happening.
You might want to walk them through how things would play out if it was going to happen. Then talk to them about how you can maximize the possibility of that thing happening.
Don’t short circuit their fear
There are ways to support a child’s emotional journey without trying to short circuit what they are feeling. On the contrary the best way to support your child is to allow them to be emotional. Talk to them about expressing their feelings. And if they are already doing that, then learn to be comfortable with that and not want to shut them down.
Your child, in expressing how they are feeling and is simply reacting to the thinking that is going on in their head. Nothing more.
Fear is a natural response to being afraid of something that might happen. Something that they THINK they are not prepared for. Helping them to see how to be prepared and what that might look like might support them to be less fearful. A much better option than wanting to protect them from being fearful altogether.