Teach Children to Name Fears That Won’t Go Away

When I hear from adults who live with anxiety (which is 40 million of us in America), many say that the only thing that helps is not trying to completely get rid of anxiety, but learning to accept that it will hang everywhere. maybe forever. They begin to see it as just a thing, neither good nor bad. In a recent episode of The Merry World of Depression podcast , one guest said she dealt with her anxiety by calling him “Steve,” and then imagining Steve as that stupid friend who appears from time to time. So when her anxiety is gone, she can say, “Oh, Steve. Cut it out. “

And yet, when children have harmful fears, say dogs, germs or talk to new people, adults often tell them “Stop it, don’t be afraid”, which not only makes them more anxious, but also feel like they are frustrating others with their anxiety. … Like adults, they need to learn to live with their worries rather than fearing their fears. It will also help them to give their worries a nickname.

It is actually a tool used by therapists, including Bridget Flynn Walker, a clinical psychologist specializing in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to treat children with anxiety disorders. “When a child is worried, he or she may feel like his or her brain is caught up in anxiety for a while, like a horse galloping with its rider when they shouldn’t,” says Walker, who writes. about the strategy in her new book, Anxiety Relief for Children . “The nickname promotes some objectivity in a moment that can seem very intimidating. It’s like saying to yourself, “I know what you’re doing, brain.”

Here’s how to help your child identify fears that won’t go away:

Understand the anxious brain. Your child most likely knows intellectually that his anxiety is excessive or even completely irrational, but as long as his amygdala is activated – the part of the brain that causes us to panic – this intellectual understanding dissolves. Therefore, instead of trying to dissuade the child from worrying, it is more effective to propose a method for overcoming fear. This is where the nickname comes in.

Ask your child to come up with a nickname. Walker writes that the nickname should be “light-hearted, not intimidating or negative.” A child who is afraid of germs might call this fear a “germworm,” she explains.

Practice using it. According to Walker, the goal is for the child to simply welcome fear when it arises. “You don’t want her to think about things like ‘ Go away, germworm! “ Or I hate you, germ worm!” or suck, germ a worm! she writes. “The idea is to stay objective without adding more negative thoughts.” You want the greeting to be a natural response, and that takes some practice. Role out different scenarios by pretending to be restless. Walker plays this game with her patients. ”She would say something like,“ John, if you touch this shopping cart, you’ll get germs ! ” And then John will answer: “Hello Germ Worm!” Later, your child may silently welcome their concern in her head.

Promote as needed. If you see your child starting to worry, Walker writes that you can ask in a calm voice, “Is this a germ worm?” Your child may get angry and say “No!” – at this moment, do not try to convince her otherwise. You hammered this idea into her head, and with the rest she will figure it out herself.

Understand that this is a long term tool. Some children may worry that the nickname for fear will make them think more about fear. Walker writes that he can, at least at first. Cognitive behavioral therapy, considered the most useful form of therapy for treating anxiety in children , requires children to get close to fear. And this is difficult. But as they become more comfortable with it, as they learn to accept it as one thing in their big big life, the less he will have power over them.


Leave a Reply