June 22, 2017

Does Society Have Anxiety?: A Return to the Oasis of Calm for Parents and Children

Hello Everyone,

Image result for parents and child anxietySo if you survived my previous post examining a couple of perspectives contributing to "societal anxiety", you may have noticed that I did not provide any suggestions for what you, yes you, the parent can do to help manage its impact on your healthy daily functioning and you kids.  It certainly seems that we are getting a lot of negative information about the world, especially since much of it is out of context or delivered with few perspectives.  Often times we get information right as it is coming in.  Sure, it leaves us on the edge of our seats waiting for the next piece of information that will hopefully provide more fuel to feed our growing angst, or to give us a resolution or closure that calms us down.  Sounds great for a movie, but maybe not when it's real life we are talking about.  So what do we do when our ability to manage our anxiety about the goings on in the world is externalized and reliant on news or social media?  How can we as adults stay ok.  More so we have relevant life experience and have likely experienced one or two of these situations if not first hand, then vicariously in some form.  Our children often don't and they often do not understand the complexities of the world's functioning.  Sure they understand about treating others like they want to be treated and that bullying isn't good and needs to be punished.  But what about when the bullying is taking place on the international playground and is a country with with a leader hyper focused on destroying yours?  How do you explain to your children that type of bullying or the implications it has on them despite them possibly having no idea about that country, or worse only knowing negative views?  Let's get ready for some anxiety busting fun!  Here's what you, the parent, can do!

  • First of all, remember that your child has valid fears, concerns and opinions, even if you do not agree with them or know how they reached their conclusion.  So the first step to being that oasis is to validate them genuinely and show that their reactions matter.  You can't work through their reaction until you can identify with them from their point of view!
  • MAINTAIN A SENSE OF NORMALCY.  There are many fears that events unfolding in the world will lead to numerous scary consequences for everyone.  Validate those fears (see below) but also reinforce how their lives are still the same, particularly many aspects of their routines and daily life.  This will go great lengths to easing anxiety around fears that everything is going to fall apart.
  • Set aside a "worry time" consistently each day where you and your child discuss their worries and ask about the events they hear about.  Structure this time around calming and relaxing activities to help them transition smoothly into and out of worry time.  Worry time and bed time do not play nicely together!
  • Recognize that children often speak through very fluid and often complex metaphors.  For example, an expressed fear is that the newly elected president will permit more police brutality because of certain verbal statements that have been made.  Investigate into the metaphor being used to find the underlying meaning and concern, which can then be addressed.
  • When targeting a specific worry, use balanced and neutral facts to provide counterpoints to whatever facts the child has developed to support that worry.  For example, speaking with them about Black Lives Matter and its efforts to curb police violence as a counterpoint to the "imminent increase in police brutality".
  • As a side note, it is very, and I cannot stress enough, very important that counter-facts and opinions are presented as balanced and non-partisan as possible.
  • You are their "expert" and as such provide your child with facts of life and help them navigate their social world.  As they are often very concrete thinkers and unable to contemplate wider, abstract concepts such as many people having  many other opinions, that can vary from topic to topic, a child is likely to take information and see it as "the gospel truth" and not something to budge from.  If you can provide information from different perspectives and stress that people have different opinions you can make great contributions to their ability to handle peers and their reactions and opinions.
  • Remember that children in general, may not understand the implications of their actions or statements being made by parents or others.  They may also not understand the difference between appropriate and inappropriate contexts in which to share them.  They may think they are simply stating a fact, while it actually is a negative message some might find hurtful or worrying.  You can make sure that your child struggles less around this aspect by monitoring what you say and providing balanced information.
  • Help your child find appropriate outlets to express their conclusions and views where it will be seen as constructive and non-detrimental to them from a consequences standpoint.
  • Encourage communication with your child's teacher, therapist, and other service providers around ways they can express themselves and share their fears safely and healthily.
  • Encourage understanding of the event being discussed by using metaphor to explain the complexities of why the event(s) are important.  This may be more beneficial for younger children than older ones, but one idea is to use the CBT model, especially for kids already in treatment for anxiety, to apply it to understand how society responds to these events the way it does.
  • Remember to speak to the child's intelligence and ability to understand relevant concepts. 
  • Again avoid using bias and personal beliefs when answering questions the event(s).  It is normal to have a wide variety of reactions to negative event as well as to have some positive ones depending on which side of the fence you are sitting on.  Emphasize that point, especially around domestic and local issues, because your child undoubtedly goes to school with children of families both sides of the issue, hearing their opinion.  This holds especially true for YOU as the oasis, when discussing worries around race, gender, religion, etc. and their impacts on how the event is relevant to them and the community.
  • Limit screen time to the television, computer, other electronic devices, and social media.  Many children communicate easier through social media, yet they are simultaneously exposed to more frequent inputs about world events, peer opinions (see my post on social media anxiety), and views not in context of wider issues.  You can help them make sense of it.
  • Move slowly and in slow increments.  We may be able to process our responses faster than children and do not struggle with managing reactions to such a degree as  a result of our greater experience of having been around on this earth longer.  The topic and same concerns may come up repeatedly until the child feels safe enough to move on to the next one.  Be patientbreathe, and move slowly through each one giving as much time as is needed. 

Image result for parents and child anxietyPerhaps one of the most helpful things you can do as a parent in establishing the Oasis of Calm is to take time to focus on what IS going right in the world.  Unfortunately, society's ability to challenge negative and worry thoughts and use CBT tools on itself is not very strong.  But that does not mean you cannot help yourself and your child challenge that bogey man of worry thoughts "Everything is going wrong in my world".   And, don't forget that thought's close all-or-nothing thought, friend: "There is absolutely nothing I can do about it."   Take time each day to focus on positive events that have occurred.  For each negative event you hear about explore if it has a local, personal impact, or is something that you cannot fix.  For each negative event you discuss, discuss something that is going on positively in the world.  Get involved in the community as well!  If you are worried about the state of issues, getting involved in local organizations, donating to charity, spreading the word through meeting in person with other people, are all pro-active steps you CAN take to challenge the nagging sense of impotence to affect issues or to respond to crisis events.  These are just a couple of ideas, you can probably come up with more on your own.  I know you can, and good luck!

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