Contrary to popular belief, children are not at all hardy and resilient. They are extremely sensitive and fragile, like small seedling plants. The best way to ensure that they indeed grow up to be resilient adults, is to carefully protect and nurture them when they’re young; physically, but especially emotionally! If we stress children out when they’re little, it can generate a terrible habit of long-term nervousness, leaving many parents wondering, how do you help a child with anxiety?
One amazing technique I have created is to be meticulous to cultivate a relaxed attitude in children that, “Everything is Ok just the way it is… I as a child am doing just fine… There is nothing wrong with me and nothing I need to improve or work on…Things are really no big deal!” What does this mean?
How do you help a child with anxiety: Remember, children need to grow up in a psychologically very sheltered environment.
Abandon the silly idea that it is good for children to experience adversity in childhood, as it gets them used to tolerating the inevitable adversity in adulthood, because the opposite it true! Adverse experiences in childhood only weaken them and make them into fragile, damaged adults, but growing up in a safe, protected environment strengthens them so they will be able to tolerate much more stress later in life.
Children need to feel that the world is a rosy, safe, happy, fun place.
That belief creates the proper environment for their self-esteem, power of decision, self-confidence and positive attitude to develop. But most important of all, a child needs to develop a healthy sense of self: he or she absolutely needs to learn, “I am totally Ok… I am a fine person… everything is just fine with me… I’m doing just great the way I am… There is nothing wrong with me and nothing that needs to be fixed… I have nothing to be ashamed of… Everything in my life is going to be just fine… I have no problems… any difficulty that arises is no big deal and nothing to worry about!” It is so critical that a young child develop these attitudes and thought patterns! Upon them will be built a solid foundation of well-being, self-confidence, self-respect, assertiveness, emotional health, kindness and generosity. Such children will be encouraged, motivated and self-assured.
Whatever attitude or impression of things we give to children, their little minds magnify and take to its logical conclusion.
Let’s say you have a parent who worries a lot, and expresses his or her worry over small things in front of the child, “Oh no! What am I going to do about this? It’s a big problem!” The child will hear that and think, “Oh no, things are terribly wrong right now! My parent, who is to me like a strong and powerful being, a rock upon which I completely depend, is nervous, fearful and not confident that she can control the situation… therefore where does that leave me? I am so weak and powerless compared to her! I ought to be extremely worried now, everything is far from Ok! If my parent can’t control the situation properly, how is she going to take care of me?” These types of thoughts are extremely unhealthy for a child! It pays to avoid them at all costs. Let’s say the child hears the parent say, “Oh no, my checking account is empty, how are we ever going to pay our bills!” The child has no maturity and wisdom to say “It’s no problem, we’ll get paid next week,” in the moment he fears, “Oh no, we’re going broke, this is a terrible problem, we might starve!” His fragile feeling of contentment and security is totally shattered by such offhand comments. Therefore when problems arise, we need to be very meticulous to project an attitude of calm and confidence to our children, “It’s Ok, everything is just fine! Mommy is going to fix it!”
Let’s say a child make a real mistake, he or she breaks something, loses something or doesn’t listen in some way.
Children always do such things out of natural, healthy, playful impulses. If we reprimand, scold, criticize, or rebuke children for those mistakes, “Oh no! Look what you did!” The child will take out attitude and run with it, “Oh no, I did something terrible! I am a horrible person right now! Mommy is so mad at me there must be something terribly wrong with me, I feel so ashamed, I am never going to be able to fix this, I am doomed to feel this ashamed and terrible forever!” Children wither in shame and terror under parental scolding and rebuke. In addition such reprimands teach children to be ashamed and to dishonor their very natural healthy impulses, he or she thinks, “I was just behaving playfully and naturally, and look what a terrible thing I did! I can no longer trust my natural playful impulses, they are bad and dangerous, I need to be constantly worried and critical of all my impulses or else I will suffer more horrible rebukes!” We definitely do not want children thinking this way! Whatever beneficial lesson you are hoping to create by the intervention is heavily outweighed by the damage done to the child emotionally!
Let’s say a child is not doing as well as you would like in school,
and you say to him or her, “Your grades are going down, this is a big problem, we better fix it right away, why can’t you do better in school?” and the like. The child will be filled with terrible anxiety that he is behaving horribly wrong, that he’s not Ok the way he is. He will feel criticized and unappreciated and ashamed. Those powerful negative feelings may motivate him to improve, or they may not, but either way it will come at a terrible emotionally unhealthy cost! Instead we need to stay away from the criticism and the worry and just show him the enjoyment and pleasure of striving to be successful in school.
Let’s say you’re on a fun outing and it begins to rain and you say, “Oh no, it’s raining!
Now what are we going to do!” The child will be filled with much anxiety and worry and his sense of happiness will be dashed. Instead say, “Wow it’s raining, I love playing in the rain! Isn’t that amazing that fresh clean, drinkable water just falls out of the sky?”
How do you help a child with anxiety: The general rule is don't express anxiety or worry to children, don't make negative evaluations of the state of things and above all don't criticize!
Giving children the impression that that things are going to be just fine and problems are really no big deal is extremely healthy for them. It will create self-esteem, self-worth, a positive optimistic attitude and reduces anxiety, depression and stress. Every parent has the ability to give his child the gift of this attitude. if you haven't been doing so until now it's never too late to start!
How do you help a child with anxiety? The Magic of Play Therapy!
Child-Centered Play Therapy the way I do it is very helpful for developing this type of healthy attitude. How does it work? In my playroom I do not criticize, reprimand, scold, control micromanage, evaluate or judge the child. All the toys are there, he makes all of his own decisions and I follow him. I use the amazing Play Therapy technique called tracking, where, similar to a sportscaster describing a game, I reflect back verbally to the child every action made, feeling expressed, decision taken or accomplishment earned, in a very matter-of-fact, non-judgemental non-evaluative way. In other words, in response to everything the child does in the playroom, I reflect back to him the simple and inevitable truth that everything he or she does is indeed just fine the way it is! What he's doing right now is expressing his self, his desires, his feelings, his needs, making decisions and developing self-determination. I honor and respect and accept so much every step of this process that the child learns to honor and accept so much everything about himself. What he receives for me is it clear acceptance of the reality of the truth, therefore the child learns the idea that “Everything I do is just fine, I am doing just great the way I am. I do good things by myself, my feelings, my desires, my decisions, my competence and even my mistakes and unsuccessful actions are all just fine and dandy. I get totally supported in the playroom in my efforts to truly try and be whoever I really want to be and to determine my own destiny.”
Furthermore it is interesting to note that Play Therapy the way I do it is nothing other than myself performing endless acts of kindness is to the child!
beginning with the way I greet him with a warm, happy hello and invite him into the playroom, throughout every single interaction I perform with them during Play Therapy, it is all acts of generosity towards the child so he gets very clearly the idea, “I am a good, viable person who is worthy of being treated with kindness. Look at how wonderfully Joseph treats me, I am just fine the way I am!” One time a four-year-old girl was on the way in the car to our fifth play therapy session with me. She began to misbehave a bit in the back seat and your mother said, “Hey you’d better behave otherwise I'm going to tell Joseph!” The child responded, “Oh Joseph, don't worry about him, he won’t get angry, he likes me!” She was used to get treating so kindly by me and with so much respect that she learned to develop the same positive attitude of respect and acceptance towards herself!
Feel free to peruse the rest of my fascinating blog, view my engaging videos, or download one of my informative free reports at the bottom of this page and get on my email list. If you live in NYC, and are struggling with how do you help a child with anxiety, and feel I may be the right psychotherapist for you for Play Therapy or Parenting Counseling, feel free to send me an email, or call me directly at 646-681-1707 for a complementary 15-minute consultation. I look forward to speaking with you!