This week, we receive Delphine from the blog Cure anxiety and anxiety attacks. Delphine suffered from anxiety disorders from adolescence until she was 23 and is now cured. She launched her blog to help all people suffering from anxiety and anxiety attacks to cope naturally and sustainably. She offers us keys to manage the anxieties of her children and prevent them from taking hold.
Every child experiences fears and anxieties from time to time. This is completely normal and necessary for its development. These anxieties can be minimal or greater. In either case, it is important to know how manage the anxieties of your children well to prevent them from getting worse. Let’s see how.
Definitions of fear and anxiety
Fear is an emotion and like any emotion it is useful for our survival. It allows us to avoid danger and stay alive.
Fear is a normal reaction to real danger, but anxiety and anxieties are exaggerated reactions to an imagined danger. It is normal for children to feel certain fears from time to time (fear of the dark, of the unknown, fear of separation, etc.). These fears usually go away as you get older. However, if the anxiety persists, and is preventing your child from living their life normally, then now is the time to act.
Several factors can explain why one child is more anxious than another: having an anxious, overprotective or too demanding parent, having undergone significant life changes or trauma, having a poor diet or suffering from a lack of sleep.
How to spot anxiety in a child?
A child with anxiety may show the following signs:
- Change of behaviour suddenly, relationship difficulties
- Tendency to want to avoid certain situations, isolation
- Physical sensations: stomach ache, headache, rapid breathing, tachycardia (heart beating fast)
- Problems sleep
- Need to be reassured
How to deal with the anxieties of your children?
Simply explain anxiety and its sensations
It’s important to play down and explain to her child what anxiety and the bodily sensations it triggers in us.
So you can tell him that fear like any emotion triggers a series of physical reactions, or sensations, in our body : heart beating fast, breathing fast, stomach aches, sweating, wanting to go to the bathroom, tremors… These sensations can be quite impressive, but they are not dangerous. We feel them as our body prepares for fight or flee from danger directing blood to the muscles, and warming the body. In fact, it’s a bit like warming up before playing sports J
If our brain triggers all these reactions it is because it believes that we are in danger. But when you are anxious, the danger is not real but imagined. Anxiety is actually our brain playing tricks on us and imagine catastrophic scenarios that will probably never happen.
You can then demystify your child’s fears and anxieties by looking them straight in the face (for example looking at pictures of wolves, wolves and cubs if your child is afraid of them). Then discuss together the likelihood of their worst anxiety happening. Often it is very weak. This exercise changes the child’s point of view. The next time he’s scared, don’t hesitate to remind him of the pictures you watched together.
Pay attention to do not lie to him however, it is not worth saying that a needle stick or a visit to the dentist does not hurt, but we can simply explain to them that yes, it hurts a little, but it does not last not long and we survive it.
The attitudes not to adopt to properly manage the anxieties of your children
Try as much as possible not to justify your child’s irrational fears, to nurture them or to use them for a purpose : “If you are mean, the monster under the bed will eat you”.
Be empathetic, don’t laugh and do not underestimate your child’s anxieties: “You don’t have to be afraid of that, it’s really stupid”.
When your child is distressed, avoid leaving the situation that immediately distresses him. Indeed, doing this will make the fear credible in the eyes of the child (and his brain), and the fear will be even more present next time. This is called the avoidances and this is what turns a fear into a phobia over time.
If a situation gets really complicated for your child, you can try progressive exposure, which consists of first imagining yourself in the situation, then exposing yourself to it more and more. By doing this, the brain is taught again that there is no danger and no reason to be anxious.
Manage your own anxieties to lead by example
I am not teaching you anything if I tell you that our children learn more by observing us than by listening to us.
It is therefore essential to first learn to manage your own anxiety, in order to then be able to better help his children.
Don’t hide your own fears (your child will feel them anyway), but just explain to them : “Yes you see I don’t like to fly. I feel fear and anxiety. So I have a few tips to overcome this: I breathe deeply, and I talk to my anxiety. In any case, I never let my fear stop me from doing what I want. “
Give a name to his anxieties to reduce their power
Give a name to your anxiety, visualize it and talk to it, this is a very simple way to break away from it and even manage to laugh about it.
To visualize it, why not use a Cartoon character ? A funny and kind character if possible. This trick also works for adults J Me my little character is Homer Simpson, every time I feel anxious I imagine him repeating my distressing thoughts with his special voice, and believe me it works very well to play down and take a step back. 🙂
Slow, deep breathing exercises to calm down
Our emotional brain, which creates fear, is made up of two antagonistic parts: the sympathetic system, the accelerator pedal, which puts us into action by releasing adrenaline in the body, and the parasympathetic system, the brake pedal. , which brings us back to calm.
We cannot act on the sensations triggered by anxiety and fear, except on one: breathing. Breathing calmly and deeply activates the brake pedal, the parasympathetic system, which at the same time reduces all other sensations.
Breathing slowly also allows us to return to the present moment and to stop the disaster scenarios of our brain.
There are many types slow, deep breathing exercises :
- Technique 4-7-8: breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, then breathe out through your mouth for 8 seconds.
- Cardiac coherence : inhale for 5 seconds, exhale for 5 seconds, for 5 minutes total.
- Square breathing: inhale for 4 seconds, hold the breath for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds and hold the exhale for 4 seconds.
I invite you to test them with your child and then choose the one that works best and train regularly. Regularity is the key to a lasting effect.
Meditation, even for children
Meditation is a great tool for learn to manage your fears and anxieties in the medium / long term. It has been proven that meditating changes the plasticity of the brain. It is possible to learn to meditate very young. I recommend the excellent book Calme et attentive comme un grenouille by Elise Snel.
What to do in case of spasmophilia, panic attack or anxiety attack?
Recognize an attack of spasmophilia, panic or anxiety
To put it simply, an attack of spasmophilia, panic or anxiety is the same thing. The emotional brain believes there is a danger, activates the fight-flight response, and massively releases adrenaline into the body.
here are the common symptoms seen during an anxiety attack (all of these symptoms are created by the adrenaline rush):
- Tremor, tingling
- Intense fear, feeling of dying: this symptom is quite characteristic
- Fast heartbeat, rapid breathing, or gasping for breath
- Feeling like losing control, going crazy
- Sudden urge to go to the bathroom, stomach ache
- Sweating, hot flashes, chills
All of these symptoms are very impressive, but absolutely not dangerous.
Stop an anxiety attack quickly
The only effective way (believe me, I’ve tested plenty) to stop an anxiety attack, it’s paradoxical intention. Forget advice like “Breathe slowly into a bag and think about something else”, it does not work.
The paradoxical intention is a concept invented by Viktor Frankl in the context of logotherapy. The principle is simple but paradoxical: it is impossible to be afraid of what you want.
In the context of panic attacks, the application is also simple: the only way to stop an anxiety attack is to wish for an even stronger anxiety attack, and no more scary thoughts and feelings. I know it sounds crazy and infeasible, but trust me it works.
An Irish author took up this concept in his book DARE: the new method to stop anxiety and anxiety attacks (not translated into French), by inventing the 21-second countdown, which consists of wishing with all your might that the worst happen, while slowly counting down from 21 to 0 seconds.
When to seek professional help
If your children’s fears get worse, and you don’t know what to do, don’t hesitate to call in a professional. No, let’s stop with this cliché, psychologists are not (only) for crazy people. There is no shame in speaking with a professional once in a while.
The most important thing is to choose your specialist carefully. I encourage you to call on those around you to find the right one, thanks word of mouth. If the first session does not go well, or if you or your child has a bad feeling, feel free to change.
No need for follow-up over several years, a few sessions may be enough. The main thing is that your child feels comfortable enough to talk.
In case of more severe anxieties, the cognitive and behavioral therapy (TCC) is the most suitable, it combines speaking time, fear exposure exercises with the practitioner (ideally), and application exercises to be done alone. It is a therapy whose effects have been proven in the context of anxiety and phobias.
I hope all of these tips will help you deal with your children’s anxieties, and maybe even your own. In any case, do not hesitate to share with us your other techniques to manage the great fears and anxieties of your children. I look forward to hearing from you !