Tuesday, 25 February 2014

STRESSED OUT KIDS - How do you help a child to become LESS ANXIOUS?


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 Is your situation similar to this? 
Your child has always been 'a bit anxious', but never this bad. She has tummy aches, won't go to school, has crying fits, gets angry when you try to calm her down, can't seem to function without constant reminders and encouragement, no amount of cuddles seems to make it better. Now you're being asked to consider putting your beloved child on anti-depressants. You can see in your mind, your child's life stretching out before you, and you feel very, very afraid for them.

But you can manage this.
There are ways you can improve this situation, without resorting to drugs.

Be the decision maker
You are in charge, not the child. Children will try to wrest control from you, it’s a natural thing to rebel, but what they are looking for isn’t the control. What they need is assurance that you are in control, you are capable of looking after them, and that your decisions are well considered and FINAL. Allowing a child to be in control goes against every instinct for survival they have. They expect you to be the one who knows what you are doing. If you do not step up as leader, they become highly agitated because they figure they must lead. This provokes fear for them. In our house we often say, “No, that’s our decision. It’s our job to make the best choices for you. It’s not your job to decide. You may ask, you may give us ideas of what you’d like, but its Dad and I who make the decisions.” If anxiety could be measured on a visible scale, we would see the levels dropping before our eyes, as our child says to herself, “Oh well. I’ll just have to do what they say.’ It may seem harsh. It may seem over-controlling and autocratic. But these are the solid foundations for a feeling of security in a child’s mind. ‘I don’t have to take control, because my parents will.’ Every aspect of our daughter’s life is known, discussed, decided upon and implemented so that she doesn’t have to worry about it.

Be firm
Don’t promise something you can’t deliver. If you’ve said their bad behaviour this morning means no friends allowed over after school, then you must stick to it, even if it’s a pain for you. Consequences – a huge lesson for children if they are going to understand and value the impact their actions have upon their own lives. Empty threats are worthless. They make you look weak and they cause feelings of anxiety in your child. Just because your child challenges you, doesn’t mean you are doing the wrong thing. In fact, if your child challenges you it is a sign that you are on the right track! Don’t give in. Don’t feel guilty. Be firm. It’s the right thing to do and will have positive consequences. Reiterate your decision and policy with a calm voice. “You know the rule about that.” Don’t be swayed by tears or high emotion. The child’s behaviour is their own responsibility. They make the decision to push things. They make the decision to manipulate. Reinforce the importance of making good choices and make sure you provide the opportunity for good results to follow when they make a good choice and natural consequences to follow if they make a bad choice. They will have unrealistic expectations of others in the real world if they think they can manipulate every situation to get what they want. It’s just not real. You are the mirror of the real world. People just won’t stand for it, neither should you. If the rules have been explained (Not necessarily understood, by the way) and are firmly followed by everyone (each parent must support the other in this. No favourites) then implementing them will be relatively easy. Less stress. Less anxiety for the child.

Be predictable
The old adage, ‘Mean what you say and say what you mean’ is king. Try to always react the same way, reinforce the same rules firmly, no matter the situation. Even if you are in public. “You know that if you ….. then you will not have….. .” DON’T give lots of chances. One chance only, to pull them up and remind them of the rules. Then after that, it’s their decision to proceed with the bad behaviour or not. Giving them lots of chances causes anxiety. It shows you are not in control, that you don’t know what you’re doing, that you can’t be relied upon to be consistent, that their world is an unpredictable and scary place in which they float aimlessly. Is that how you want your child to feel? You are the parent. It’s your job to lead, it’s the child’s job to follow. Parenting is not a democracy. By being predictable in your reactions and following through you are in effect, saying to your child, ‘I know what I’m doing, I make good decisions on your behalf and I don’t care if it inconveniences me personally. You are important to me. I will look after you.’

Be organised
You must familiarise yourself with everything the child needs in their daily routine and have systems in place which enable those things to be completed each day. For instance, in our house we have a morning list of things needed to be done before we walk to school. This list (displayed on the fridge) includes our child getting dressed, brushing her hair, having breakfast, putting her lunchbox on the kitchen bench and cleaning out the containers from the previous day, brushing teeth, feeding the chickens, getting her bag packed etc. The list eliminates the nagging factor, which reduces stress for everyone! It gives the child personal responsibilities and personal control, which leads to a sense of satisfaction: ‘Hey, I got myself ready without any help.’ And it means we can have, in general, a happy morning routine, which means she begins her school day happy and confident in herself. The same goes for the afternoon, when she comes home from school. The list includes: change out of school clothes, unpack school bag, give school notes to Mum or Dad etc. Personal responsibility and personal organisation are vital habits for life. The payoff is they reduce confusion and provide a simple avenue to self-confidence. Your child feels secure if nothing is left to chance. If you reduce the uncertainty, you reduce the anxiety.

And one other thing - for goodness' sake, get your child to bed at the same time each night! Don't let him or her decide 'when they feel tired.' Children require 10 hours of sleep a night. Teenagers even more sometimes. If the expectation is the same, every night, your child learns to calm themselves, even when they can't fall asleep instantly. Our daughter lies there singing to herself many a night. She is not allowed to get up. In this way we've taught her that sleep is important and so is patience with falling asleep.

Be responsible
Parenting is hard work! If you didn’t know that before you started on this journey, you sure know it now. It requires unending patience and self control. It also requires you to be the responsible adult. Sure, there are things you need to do for yourself. You need your own space and your own time, your own friends etc. Balancing your child’s needs with your own can be tricky. But remember, your child doesn’t have a choice in being your child. It was your decision to go down this road. Sitting on the lounge watching TV while your child roams the streets is not parenting, its neglect. Our daughter is primary school aged. She must be within our sight or hearing at all times when not at school. If it means I provide afternoon tea for five kids in my backyard, all on the trampoline, then so be it. At least I know where she is and what’s she’s doing. She may ask to ride her bike around the neighbourhood and get upset when I say no. Too bad. That’s my rule. I’ll walk with her. I won’t let her out of my sight.

Be knowledgeable
Arm yourself with information. Read parenting books, read online forums and blogs, good quality reading materials, chat with your parenting friends, get support. The more you know, the easier if will be to feel confident with what you are doing. Do not assume that you know everything and have nothing else to learn. There’s always someone out there with a cool idea that works which you can try in your house to reduce stress and anxiety. A word of warning though – if a site or book recommends the child makes decisions about the important stuff, it is leading you in the wrong direction. As I said before, parenting is not a democracy. You take into consideration the wishes and wants of your child and you make decisions with those in mind, but they are not the driving force behind your decisions. You know better. You have experience as an adult. A child only thinks they know what they want, they don’t necessarily understand what they need, or what’s good for them. Finding out more about anxiety and how to tackle it is proactive and has more chance of success than just coping with the situation.

Be a delegator
Children are constantly growing, learning, adapting at an astonishing rate. Have the expectation that your child will have personal responsibilities, chores to do. Don’t let them sit around playing computer games. Don’t shelter them. It doesn’t help their feelings of anxiety one bit. To feel self-confident, a child needs to know that you believe in them, in their abilities. Its particularly true of boys, who have the inbuilt desire to be strong. Without your belief and expectation they feel weak and useless. In our house we have a mental list we go over sometimes of all the things our daughter can now do, which she couldn’t before. This list is so powerful! Every time we talk about it her little face lights up. She wants to learn. She wants to please. She wants to be more self-sufficient. Tracking her progress with her sends her a powerful message of love and support. It gives her a sense of control over her own life and makes her feel a valued member of this family, not just a passive member. At each stage of her growth she is given new duties which may be as simple as buttering her own toast in the morning, or brushing her own hair. Feeding the chickens shows her that they are dependent upon her to live. If she doesn’t feed them, they stop laying and then they start to die. One morning she became resentful when reminded to do it, at 11.30am. I calmly told her that perhaps we should make her wait until 11.30am tomorrow for her breakfast and see if she liked that treatment. The light bulb moment flashed onto her face, then without a word she went and did her chore.

Be confident
Fake it, til you make it. Literally! You are the leader here. You must believe and have strong conviction that your motivation is true and that your decisions are good ones. Your child is looking for any chink in the armour they can find. They will probably try to play one adult off the other and come between you, drive a wedge into a weak spot. Your relationship as partners must come first, not the child. You must provide a solid basis for that child to rest upon. If there are cracks and uneven terrain, your child will suffer the consequences.

Be flexible
Ok, rules are the basis for good, predictable routines and help a child to feel safe. Positive outcomes are only possible if the rules are followed. But there will be times when flexibility is required. If the day is not going to plan because of some random event, you must show your child how to adapt. Adaptability is one of the key features in successful people. Things don’t always go to plan. Have the flexibility and confidence to make good decisions on the run. And stick to them. Remember, it’s not your child’s responsibility to rear themselves, it’s yours.

In conclusion, anxiety is normal. But when the levels increase to an unmanageable state something has to change. You can’t expect things to be different if you do nothing differently. Predictable routines, firmly enforced rules, a sympathetic ear, flexibility when required and confident decision making. These are the ways in which you can help your child to find a happier, less anxious existence.

This new book may help open up conversations about anxiety, not only in your child, but perhaps in yourself:
more info about this book

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