How to help your anxious child learn to fly high.

If you have a child who suffers with anxiety here is a blog that may help him/her come out the other side, in their power and flying high.

Like a lot of parents, one of my beautiful daughter’s is hit with bouts of anxiety from time to time. Naturally enough, she is the most sensitive of the three girls and being her mother’s daughter, I put my hands up and take full responsibility for those genes.

According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, anxiety effects one in eight children across the US and I expect the stats are similar this side of the pond. In my experience I see it as a growing problem due to the age of communication in which we live. That said, the more we talk about it, the more resourceful we can be in preventing it from getting out of control, especially with our kids.

So how do we help our kids come through anxiety?

Personally, I don’t believe in saying ‘coping’ with anxiety, because I know that the human brain has the ability to manage the reptilian brain. We just need to understand what is going on and how to create the thinking that takes our kids out of anxiety and into their power.

The thing is, anxiety is part of our lives and always will be. Professor Steve Peters calls it the Chimp Paradox. His book by the same title is one I highly recommend to all of my clients who are looking to see anxiety differently. He explains that the fear center in our brains has a purpose, which is to keep us safe, but sometimes we allow it to take over, and control our whole system, and ultimately control our lives.

Having suffered silently with panic attacks and anxiety right through my twenties and thirties I know a thing or two about it. I didn’t know it was called anxiety then, nor did I know that my rushes of panic and moments of drowning in despair had a name either, thankfully mental health has come a long way in terms of awareness. Having been a silent sufferer, I also know how to come out the other side and take control so as unnecessary stress and anxiety doesn’t take domain. I won’t go on and on about how I made peace with anxiety now, instead I would like to focus on how to help parents help their kids by sharing a recent chat I had with one of my daughters about her chimp and how to manage him.

This blog is like all of my blogs where I combine our infinite power with neurochemistry in a way that’s relatable, easy to understand and explains how to develop new habits, subconscious thoughts, and brain structure. So, grab a cuppa, sit back, and enjoy the read. As always, all feedback is most welcome.

Given the long summer break and September being around the corner, back to school time has arrived. Last week I became aware that one of my girls was feeling the pang of unwelcome emotion building up in her system. The signs were random but present – throw away comments, topics of conversation and anticipations of what is going to happen on return to school piped up out of nowhere.

Last Sunday morning I arrived into the kitchen dragging myself over to the caffeine, assuming I was first up. As I filled the coffee machine, I heard noises behind me. My daughter sat up on the couch taking her headphones off, greeting me with a cheery good morning smile.

We shared belly laughs over the reason she was lying on the couch for the last two hours. She had woken by a slight buzzing sound. She opened her sleepy eyes to see a ‘huge’ spider beside her bed. After falling back asleep for a few moments, instinct told her to open her eyes again and Mr Spider was above her head, so she hopped out of bed and found refuge on the couch.

I took the quiet time shared between us to have a chat with her about the A word – and how to stay in her power.

Here’s how I explained what to do.

I shared with her that I was glad Mr Spider had made his appearance because it gave me a chance to have a chat about something that had been on my mind of late.

We sat together at the kitchen island. She munched her toast while I sipped my coffee.

I asked her if she knew what anxiety was. She shrugged and then frowned and said, ‘Yeah, kinda, well…they talked to us about it in school, but I have no idea what it is really.’

I gave the simplest explanation I could and said,

‘Well, anxiety happens when we are worrying over something that either might happen in the future or worrying over something that has already happened.’

I went on to explain a couple of examples relative to her world and she listened. Some examples related to decisions and choices that other people might make, primarily ones that would disappoint her. For example, if someone decides that they don’t want to be her friend on return to school or tolerating a classmate that constantly annoys her, or perhaps her teacher will put her sitting in an unfavourable seat – all of the things I hear her worry about.

I then asked her if she thinks there was anything that she could do about controlling what other people decide to do.

Her eyes searched her mind for the correct answer.

I took the blunt approach and called it like it is. I took one of the examples and said that we have absolutely no control over what other people decide and worrying about it will only bring us into a state of further helplessness, still winding up in the same predicament, just with more anxiety.

There happened to be a cardboard aeroplane sitting on the kitchen island. If you have frequented McDonalds over the Summer, they are the ones given out with the Happy Meals. I put the aeroplane in front of us and said:

‘Imagine this aeroplane is you. Here are your engines and here is your fuel tank.’ I pointed to the where the engines and tanks are located in the aeroplane. ‘In this fuel tank is your power. When you switch on the engines, your fuel flows through you and you begin to move forward. The aeroplane gains momentum along the runway and gathers speed.’ I demonstrated our aeroplane gathering speed along the kitchen island and she watched. ‘Eventually the plane gathers enough momentum and takes off.’ Our aeroplane now flying six, eight, ten inches above the surface.

‘Now,’ I went on, ‘continue to imagine that you are the aeroplane, with all of this power, a massive amount of power. Power that can take you anywhere you want to go. You can travel the world with this power. Go off on adventures. Meet incredible people. Have the most amazing experiences. The power to do so is all there.’

I paused. She stared at the aeroplane in a hypnotic gaze.

‘Now, think of what we talked about a moment ago, when you were worried that someone else might decide to do something that would make you sad and disappointed. If someone decides not to be your friend or you end up sitting somewhere you don’t want to sit in class. First of all, that hasn’t happened yet and if it does, who’s power are you focusing on?’

‘Someone else’s power.’ She answered.

‘And where is your power?’ I asked.

‘In my tank’.

I straightened my spine in the animation of any proud mama and said, ‘Exactly, and you are letting yourself sit there, telling yourself that there is nothing you can do.’

I chanced taking it one step further….

‘Can you think of another word for your power?’ I asked.

She responded with a smile and her soft tone, knowing she was correct,

‘My mind.’ Her eyes went back to the aeroplane while she processed the analogy.

‘So mum, let me get this right,’ She flicked her hair from her forehead and sat up straight with a focused gaze out the window. ‘If I am worried that this might happen or that might happen, I need to remember that my mindset around it will determine how I feel.’ She squinted slightly, continuing to make sense of it all. ‘And I can choose my mindset by remembering that I have the power to choose how I think about it there and then.’

Well Hallelujah, that’s my girl. She said MINDSET! And she said CHOOSE! And she was spot on too.

I went on to explain that we only have the power of each moment and the power in our own fuel tank. We can’t control what others are going to do or say or feel. All that is outside of us. That’s within the capacity of their fuel tanks.

But just like the powerful aeroplane, once we remember that we have a superpower-house within us and even if things happen that we don’t want to happen, we get to tap into that powerhouse and reset our thinking. Just like on Google Maps, when you hit ‘re-centre’, you get a more accurate and realistic view of the landscape and where you really are. From there you find your way, instead of feeling lost and stressed with no control.

The alternative is to focus on someone else’s actions and stay put on the ground, going no-where and dismissing the power within you.

We had that conversation last Sunday morning and my daughter has not said an anxious word since. She is back to her bubbly, witty self and showing all of the signs of looking forward to going back to school.

The reptilian brain (the fight or flight centre) will always act first and speak loudest. It’s the fear centre of the brain and affects us all. The difference with kids is that their pre-frontal cortex is not developed enough to give them the coping skills to deal with these fears and anxieties.

But you can.

Kids are like sponges, they take everything in. They learn through story and are more resilient now than they will ever be. Nurture that resilience. Teach them that no matter what, they are powerful beyond measure. It is not just pop psychology, positive thinking, or an illusion that they can be anything they want to be. In fact, the opposite is true. The illusion is that they can’t reach whatever level of potential they set themselves, be it potential for happiness, fulfillment, or success. What’s more if your child knows how to be in their power by developing a self-empowering mindset, positive thinking will be consequential.

Just like my aeroplane metaphor, they need to be reminded that they have a powerful tank within and with the right mindset and encouragement from you their parents (also teachers and mentors) they will learn to believe in themselves. Your voice becomes their internal belief system. When we nurture their confidence and show them how to take control of their thoughts, they will listen and learn to do the same. By focusing their attention on their internal power time and time again, it will soon become an autopilot habit and they will do so without thinking. Consequentially, their choices and decisions will be ones that will empower them and reinforce growth and confidence. Asking themselves questions like, ‘What can I do in this situation?’ knowing there is a solution. Or more specifically, they can develop the following self-talk:

‘I can choose to stand up to the bully – even though fear might tell me with everything it has to freeze. I can choose to tell someone I trust, a parent, teacher, or mentor.

‘If my teacher seats me in a place where I am not comfortable, I can ask him/her to move me to another seat.’

‘And if I’m not picked for the team, okay, I will be sad for a while, but I can remind myself that it’s not the apocalypse and nor is it the definition of me.’

The point is that a child can learn to develop healthy self-talk and communication to others that enforces who they are becoming. For example, my child is kind, caring and compassionate. She is also intelligent and has a lightening wit. In moments of what could become disempowering (where she forgets that she has her fuel tank), she can remind herself who she is, what she has to offer herself and the world around her. The effect of doing so in those moments reinforces her power and takes her out of the fear. When done repeatedly it builds confidence and a stronger sense of self each time. Just like the aeroplane on the runway, she too will gain momentum in moving forward, her thoughts fueling her power.

Here’s the science:

From a neurological perspective, each time she does I know that chemistry will do its thing, serotonin and dopamine will flow down through her central nervous system as opposed to unnecessary measures of cortisol. She will feel happy, her confidence will build and even a sense of connection and belonging will flow, worlds away from being lost and stuck with sweaty palms, racing heart and thoughts thundering through her mind, feeling like her world is caving in around her.

On a practical note, here are some other factors that lend to your child experiencing the happiest most confident version of themselves at the start of this new curriculum year:
  1. Getting enough sleep.
  2. A balanced diet.
  3. Discipline and supervision around screen time.
  4. Having a regular routine.
  5. Balance between activities and rest time.

If you have a child who is experiencing anxiety, I hope this article and my aeroplane analogy has helped you and your child to stay focused in their ever present, natural, infinite power, one thought at a time. I can’t help to think that in thirty or so years’ time, they are most likely going to be the parent, so let’s rear an unstoppable generation who know who they really are, living what they have learned and showing their kids (your grand-kids) how to do the same.

Thank you for reading and remember to stay focused on your best self, centered in your own infinite power and potential. It really is, all in the mind.

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