Episode summary:

Susan shares support for helping anxious children when parents don’t have concrete answers to address their kids’ fears.

Susan Stiffelman is a licensed Marriage, Family and Child Therapist, an educational therapist and a highly lauded speaker. She is the author Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected and Parenting With Presence: Practices for Raising Conscious, Confident, Caring Kids (an Eckhart Tolle Edition).Susan offers online events for parents around the world on topics like Raising Tweens and Teens, Parenting in the Digital Age, and Raising Siblings and also hosts a monthly support group with Wendy Behary on Co-Parenting with a Narcissist.​​​​​​​ www.susanstiffelman.com

Things you’ll learn from this episode:

• How to BE the answer to our kids’ fears
• How to address underlying anxiety rather than specific fears
• Tools for helping kids find their calm

Get every episode delivered automatically!

More support for parents of anxious children:

Helping Anxious Children Thrive Master Class
Susan and Maggie offer time-tested strategies for helping children feel safe sharing their worries while learning how to avoid being ruled by them

More support for parents of highly sensitive children:

Highly Sensitive Parents/Children Master Class
Susan Stiffelman hosts a special master class with Dr. Elaine Aron and Alane Freund, LMFT about embracing the challenges and gifts of High Sensitivity

Stay up to date!

Would you like to receive free parenting articles, practical tips, upcoming events, and new podcast episodes directly to your inbox?
Sign up below to receive updates about my work!

Read the entire episode!

Speaker 1:

Hello and welcome to the Parenting Without Power Struggles. I’m your host, Susan Stiffelman. I’m a marriage and family therapist and the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles and Parenting with Presence. I’m so glad that you’re here. How are you doing? These are such challenging times. I’ve been saying that I have completely run out of adjectives. Do we say that these are difficult times, overwhelming times, unprecedented times, whatever you use to describe the phase of life that we’re all going through? One thing is for sure it’s different and not what we expected to be doing at this point in our lives at this point as the school year winds down, this is not what we thought it would look like. So I wanted to continue to use these episodes as opportunities to offer support to you. I’m going to answer a question that came from a parent who has been a regular listener, but first of course I want to make sure you know that there are other resources available to you as well because we are all about propping people up right now and recognizing that human beings really do need each other.

 

Speaker 1:

We really do better when we can rely on and connect with one another in whatever ways are available. So the first thing that I hope you’ll join me for is a free weekly virtual support group called Better Together Mondays and it’s a wonderful way for us to get together online. I’ve been joined by great co-hosts including Dr Michelle Borba, Dr Tina Bryson, Janet Lansbury, and Dr. Laura Markham. It’s a great opportunity to put everything aside for a few minutes and be with other parents from all over the world. I hope you’ll check that out. That’s on my homepage susanstiffelman.com and then of course there is our monthly Parenting Without Power Struggles membership program, and once again, we’re offering a dollar for your first month. So if you could use more hand holding or coaching, more personal help, you have questions or you just want to again connect with other parents.

 

Speaker 1:

This is a lovely way to feel less alone and more supported and that’s also susanstiffelman.com under help for parents. So let’s get started. A parent wrote me with this question. My daughter is 10 and is what I would call a sensitive child. She was already having trouble with anxiety, but now with Corona virus and school closings and no idea whether she’ll go back to school in the fall. She worries all the time. How can I reassure her when I don’t have any answers? This is an important question and it’s a very common one. Whether you know it or not. Anxiety is rampant among children and teens. Just yesterday I was actually a panelist on a film screening of a movie called angst. It’s a great movie. It really reveals the interior experiences and workings of our children and teenagers minds as they struggle with anxiety and the film of course was made before Corona virus.

Speaker 1:

It helps you see that anxiety is much more common than most of us realize even in our own homes. And it offers some wonderful suggestions for addressing it. The first of which, of course is to get things out in the open. So it was a great opportunity. I was joined by Wendy Behary and we were the quote professionals who answered questions after the film. Here’s what I understand and believe about anxiety in whether in children or adults that the first thing that’s important is that we get things out in the open. We are such a self-conscious culture. We’re so concerned about what people might think, how we appear to others. This is the whole crux of social media and Instagram. Here’s my happy life. Here’s how much my children love me. Here’s all of us building a tower together or baking cookies together. And we know that behind closed doors, things are not always as they seem.

Speaker 1:

So getting things out in the open for our kids, making it possible, making it safe for them to come to us and tell us they’re concerned is really, really important. And one of the ways that we do that is that we prove to them in the small little ways that they may test us by giving us a bit of information about what’s going on, what they’re struggling with. We prove to them that we won’t rush in with suggestions or advice, that we will simply slow things down and and first and foremost say thank you for letting me know. So to the parent who wrote this question with the child who is really worried, the parent closes her question by saying, how can I reassure her when I don’t have any answers? What children need in this time is not for you to provide answers. It might seem that way.

Speaker 1:

They might be asking every day what’s going on? When can I play? When can I have a friend over? When am I going to go back to school? When can we see grandma? I realized that your kids are asking you lots of questions and that it might seem like what they’re looking for are specific answers to those questions. But as the wonderful psychologist, Dr. Gordon Neufeld says, what they really need is for you to be the answer. So what does it mean to be the answer for our kids? It means that we let them know that they can lean on us, they can rely on us, they can depend on us, that we’re the confident captain of the ship who can keep them safe even if the seas are stormy. So to the parent with that anxious ten-year-old, here are a few things I would suggest.

Speaker 1:

First, when your daughter confides in you about her worries, say thank you for letting me know sweetheart, I’m so glad that you came to me because you want to make sure that they keep coming to you, that they don’t Harbor these fears in the interior dark recesses of their mind. You want them out rather than internalized and then you might say something like, I’m glad you came to me. Thank you for letting me know that you’re worried. This is a tough time for sure. And lots of things are up in the air. It’s hard not knowing when you’re going to be able to go back to school or when things will feel like they used to. Uncertainty is uncomfortable, but I’ve got this. We’re going to be okay.

Speaker 1:

Now, some of you may have noticed that I didn’t answer her specific question about school. In fact, I didn’t even try to, I, I actually acknowledged that I don’t have an answer and that’s okay because I’ve worked with children for a long, long time and I know that many times the frustration or the concern that they express in words is just an effort to share something that they don’t have words for. It’s a deeper emotional message and it’s really important as parents that we not focus on the word part of a child communication because sometimes, not always, but sometimes it can mislead us into believing that what’s really bothering them is something other than what actually needs to be addressed. So an anxious child who asks about something specific, like when there’ll be heading back to school or when she could see. Grandma may appreciate a specific answer to that question, but if anxiety is an ongoing challenge, chances are that a different worries just going to pop up if that particular one is resolved.

Speaker 1:

So it’s important to address the underlying experience that she’s having, a feeling uncertain or unsafe and let her know that you’re big and sturdy enough to help her through the discomfort of not knowing without just making up answers. So what we’re demonstrating is that we’re comfortable with being uncomfortable, that we ourselves are modeling for our kids, that we can feel the feelings of a little disorientation or uncertainty without crumbling. They watch us to see how they should feel about the unusual and unpredictable unfolding of events that we’re currently living through. Many times parents become anxious over their child’s anxiety and they show up with a sort of frantic energy scrambling to produce some kind of platitudes or making up promises. When we exude our own worry because our child has revealed to us that they’re unsettled, it only magnifies their fears. They sense our discomfort or our shakiness.

Speaker 1:

So we really want to hold that place of the Kong captain of the ship, giving them physical comfort if they’re open to that, playing with them, talking with them, having honest conversations with them, but most importantly exuding that alpha captain of the ship energy that is the biggest comfort to our children when they don’t know exactly what’s going on around them and then we can move into ways of helping her feel less anxious or more comfortable in her skin as she moves through this phase of not knowing. There are a lot of ways of helping anxious kids. I love the work of Susan Kaiser Greenland mindful games and I did a great masterclass on helping anxious children thrive with Maggie dent, which is still on my website. Before I share a few tips here for helping children find their calm, I want to repeat what an anxious child is looking for. Beyond specific answers to specific questions is confirmation for mom or dad or grandma that whatever the landscape of the next few months, how ever different life is from what we thought it would be, she can depend on them to carry her through because that goes a long way to settling an anxious child. So here’s a couple of things you can do to help someone who’s feeling flooded by anxiety. One is to move her from focusing on a shapeless fear to a specific fear and to explore that. So what do I mean by shapeless fear? Shapeless fear is just this general discomfort, this vague, undefined feeling of worry and anxiety that we experience in our body as maybe a fluttery feeling or a pressure or a shakiness and it doesn’t have a focus. So if a child says, well, I’m worried that we may not be back in our classroom next fall and I might fall behind, that’s a specific fear. And then you can help her find more comfort with that fear by helping her do something. I call making friends with the worst case scenario. So you might say, okay, so if school isn’t back in session in the fall, you’re afraid that you might fall behind and then what are you afraid might happen? So you’re working with her to identify the actual heart of her concern.

Speaker 1:

And again, remember that for children who are chronically anxious, it may be that game of whack-a-mole where you resolve one concern and another one pops. But if you can guide her through that process of identifying the specific thing that’s troubling her, you can help her get more comfortable with the worst possible outcome of that. So you might say okay, so the worst, worst thing that might happen if you don’t go back to school in the fall is that you’d have to get a tutor or you’d have to go to after-school tutoring to catch up or maybe be in a different reading group. Do I have that right? And you allow her to kind of steer this dialogue until she can feel that she’s landed on the thing that is really at the core of this particular concern. Often when we lay things out this way, guiding a child to make concrete something that’s been vague, then they will relax and even smile at how worked up they were over something. So you might say so, the essence of your fear is that you might be in a different reading group or have to get a tutor and she might go, Oh wow, I could be okay with that. So helping children get a clearer picture of what is at the root of their fear can be very helpful, but that’s not always true. And of course every child is different. So it’s always important to just make sure you’re encouraging your children to share whatever they’re struggling with with you and make it clear that you’re sturdy enough to help them through it. Again, you are their answer. And if you’d like to find out more about this, check out the film A. N, G, S. T. I’m going to see if I can put together a screening of that for our parent community.

Speaker 1:

So please make sure that you’ve signed up for our free newsletter at susanstiffelman.com and you can also check out Susan Kaiser Greenland, work with mindful games for children and the class that I did with the wonderful Maggie Dent on helping anxious children thrive, so that’s it for today. I hope you’re taking good care of yourself, that you’re honoring your own need for reassurance and calm because of course, if you’re anxious, then your children will often pick up on. That doesn’t mean that you’re responsible for your child’s anxiety. It doesn’t mean you can always fix it and it does mean that you have every right to feel unsettled. It’s a difficult time right now, but make sure that you’re getting support for any anxiety that’s creeping up so that it doesn’t spill over into the conversations that you have with your children or that you’re not walking around the house saying, Oh my gosh, I just don’t know what’s going on, because naturally that’s going to fuel their own tendency to worry.

Speaker 1:

As always, if you’re enjoying these episodes, it would be so great if you would take a second to leave a rating or review or tell a friend about the podcast or all three. And if you have a question that like me to address, just email podcast@susanstiffelman.com and again, if you’d like more ongoing personal support, I hope you’ll check out Susanstiffelman.com/membership and remember to use coupon code Podcast19 if you want to try out our Parenting Without Power Struggles membership program for just a dollar. Okay, then, thank you for being here. Take a breath, let your shoulders relax and remember, no matter how busy life gets, look for those moments of sweetness and joy. Stay safe. Stay home and I’ll see you next time.

YouTube
YouTube
Twitter
Visit Us
Follow Me