Natasha Daniels is a child therapist and has worked with young children and their families for over 15 years. Her book, How to Parent Your Anxious Toddler, covers everything parents of an anxious toddler need to know, to help them tackle everyday difficulties and build up their child’s resilience, independence, and coping mechanisms. In this post she shares some advice on helping your child to fight anxious feelings.
Teach your Child How to Fight Anxiety….and be a Super Hero!
Teaching your child how to fight anxiety can start at a very young age. I have worked with children as young as two and three that were able to learn skills on how to face their fears. So, roll up your sleeves and start arming your child with skills to overcome their anxiety. It is never too early to turn your little one into a superhero!
EPISODE 1: DEVELOP YOUR LITTLE SUPERHERO
Set the Battle Ground
Have your child name their worries. Sometimes this will just be Mr. Worry, but you can pick something more specific based on your child’s fears (Mr. Bossy, Mr. Bugs, Mr. Scared, Mr. Sick etc.). Tell them that Mr. Scared likes to boss kids around and make them fearful. Have them create a worthy superhero to fight off Mr. Scared. I like to use the child’s name with Super in front of it (Super John, Super Amber, etc.). Have them draw a picture of Mr. Scared and of their superhero. Prompt them to make the superhero look like them in some way.
Dress the Superhero
Children love dress up and there is something transforming when one is dressed as a superhero. Have your child pick out a superhero costume that they can wear when they are a fighting Mr. Scared. A cape and a mask are always good places to start. If they have a particular superhero that they love – have them dress up as that instead.
Give them the back story
Set the stage for your child by giving them their superhero story. Incorporate your child’s fears into the story. Their story might go something like:
There once was a mean, bossy guy named Mr. Scared. Mr. Scared liked to go around bullying kids and making them feel scared. Every time Mr. Scared was able to make a kid feel scared, he would grow bigger. Super John wasn’t going to let Mr. Scared grow any bigger! When Mr. Scared started telling him to be scared of the dark, Super John didn’t listen to him! He knew he could turn on the lights.
Put on Your Game Face
In my house we have a “Brave Face” pose. Whenever anyone is scared to do something – we say, “Brave face!” and we all put our heads up high and proud. Sometimes duck lips are included. Sometimes it is a full superhero pose – arms on hips, chest pushed out. It is a nice way to empower each other and it encourages us to fight through our fears. At the very least, it lightens the mood and makes us all laugh.
EPISODE 2: SEND YOUR SUPERHERO OUT TO BATTLE
Verbally encourage your superhero
Having your child dressed and feeling empowered is only half the battle. Now they will need actual experiences to challenge and fight Mr. Scared. You want to encourage your child’s independence by giving them the least amount of assistance they need during these challenges. First start by giving them verbal support. You can say things like, “Don’t let Mr. Scared win this battle! Where is Super John? Do you need to get your cape on? Show me the Brave face!!”
Give suggestions to your superhero
Give your superhero some suggestions. You can say, “I know it seems dark upstairs, but there is a light switch right there you can turn on.” Or another suggestion might be something like, “We can sing together as you go upstairs so you know I am still right here.”
Offer limited support to your superhero
When your superhero is lacking
some any superpowers – it may be time to call in for back up. The main goal is for your child to feel success, so if you have come to the conclusion that Mr. Scared is definitely going to win the battle, get your kiddo’s back! Offer the least amount of intervention as possible. This might be turning the light on for them or walking half way up the stairs with them. Always premise your assistance with something like, “Okay Super John I will make you a deal. I will turn on the light for you if you do the rest” or “I will go up the first flight of stairs, if you go up the rest.” Getting your child to agree on a plan makes it more likely that they will stick with it…sometimes. If that doesn’t work – pleading helps – “Don’t let Mr. Scared win! I know you can beat him!”
Okay, if all else fails, bribe your superhero!
I know that if someone told me to jump off a high dive there would very little that anyone could say to get me to do it. However, if the price was right – I might be encouraged to face my fears and try to do it. When all else fails offer a “challenge prize.” I will often have families set up a “challenge treasure box” that is filled with dollar store toys and prizes. When your child is faced with a particularly hard challenge, you can offer a challenge prize if they try to do it. You want your child to push themselves just slightly out of their comfort zone. If they are able to do this, but don’t fully complete the challenge you can say, “You were amazing! I know that was scary for you, but you went ahead anyway and tried to do it! You get a challenge prize for being so brave!”
Children don’t turn into superheroes overnight, but if you don’t give your child the skills to fight their fears, they have lost the battle before it has even begun.
This post was originally published on Natasha’s blog: http://www.anxioustoddlers.com/