“What if nobody likes me?” “What if everyone laughs at me?” “What if I end up doing bad on the test?” “What if it ends up being too scary?” “What if I get sick?” “What if something happens to you?” Your first parentalinstinct is to jump right in and protect your child from their fears and anxieties that are often expressed in these “What if” questions. You immediately tell your child that everyone will like them, nothing bad will happen to them, and you will always be there to protect them.
The challenge with providing your child with constant reassurance and safety is that nothing changes. They are still scared in new situations. They still have a hard time leaving for school. They are still nervous aboutmaking new friends. They still worry that they will get sick. They still express fears that something terrible will happen to either you or them. Bottom line, your child remains unable to cope and is still stuck with their fears!
Ultimately, as caring parents you want youranxious child to learn to handle new and uncertain situations on their own. Therefore, the best way to help your anxious child grow is by helping them learn to manage and tolerate their worries. Instead of trying to prevent their fears from happening, help them identify their feelings and explore the different thoughts that are going on in their head. This process often ends up helping your child learn how to answer their questions, concerns, and worries on their own, and to tolerate life’s uncertainties.
When your child asks, “What if I miss the goal when I kick the soccer ball and the team hates me?” answer with a statement that allows your child to build confidence in their overall ability to handle tough situations, such as “If that happens, I know you’ll be brave enough to deal with it.” Or, “That would be really hard and you will get through it.” Do not guarantee a specific outcome or dismiss the child’s fears as silly. Often our inclination is to give the reassurance, “Everybody misses the goal sometimes!” or “I promise you nobody will care.” which temporarily quells your child’s fears but does not build long-term resilience.
Italso helpsto have your child break down bigger tasks into smaller ones. For example, if your child is worried that they won’t be able to make friends at school then take smaller steps at first. Encourage them to have a playdate at home. Review different games that they can do with their friends. Modeling skills for your child will help give them the confidence so that they can do it on their own without you.
Most importantly, make sure to recognize your child’s braveness and willingness to tackle their fears. Anxieties can be quite intimidating and overwhelming. After all, who wants anything scary to happen? By praising your child’s steps (even small ones) you are encouraging them that they are strong and able to help themselves. This type of strategy will help your child recognize that not only are they resourceful but they are also able to take on new and exciting challenges on their own.
At Gameplan Therapy, we go above and beyond to make sure you feel supported.