Thursday, August 21, 2014

Dealing with fears. - Part 2. [EN / POL]


This post is a continuation of the previous one that you can find by clicking HERE.

                If you want to help your child deal with their fears, the first thing you have to ask yourself is: "Am I OK when my child is afraid? Does it cause me a problem?" Some common reactions parents have in situations where their children are fearful:
- Embarrassment - if the fear makes the child different from others then they don't want to be seen as having failed as parents.)
- Fear that their child may never be "normal" (for example, someone posted a comment like this - "if you don't push your kid to go into the water, then they won't be able to make friends in the future because they'll be too afraid of doing what others do.")
- Parents may feel powerless or incompetent if they don't know how to help their child or do not feel confident in the use of helping skills.

When a child exhibits fear, many parents unfortunately see their child’s behavior as cowardice. Imagining that others will judge the child likewise, a common reaction for parents is to feel embarrassed. They're afraid of losing the approval of others. It is indeed possible that others will disapprove of a parent supporting a child in emotional distress. At this point the parent will need to weigh this risk and the risk of not supporting the child.
When a child feels threatened and a trusted person chooses to withhold support, preferring to distract, argue, judge, ridicule, or lecture, the bond of trust is weakened along with any influence that adult may have with the child. A child is much more likely to avoid stressful situations entirely once they have seen that no one can be trusted to support them.

                 Fear that child may never be "normal".
If a child’s fears may result in him becoming socially isolated, as in the swimming example above, a parent may think that something HAS to be done. I suspect that underneath this desperation is the parent’s own painful memories of abandonment and isolation. For them, it is unbearable to risk allowing the child to handle it in their own way. However, the danger of taking control of the situation—from the child, that is, is that the child will feel betrayed and come to see the parent as a threat. It may or may not help them overcome their fear of swimming, for example, but tossing them into the water before they are ready WILL injure your relationship!
A no-risk approach is to facilitate a child in confronting their fears themselves. This improves the level of trust and reduces the anxiety of the child. 

                Parent may feel helpless if they don't feel confident in their helping skills.
The helping skill that we're going to discuss next is not common knowledge. It is used primarily by therapists and counselors with great effect. But this skill that I call active listening is very simple and takes only a little practice to master. In time it can become so integrated into your communication style that using it feels more natural than not using it. Here we discuss it only briefly and plan to expand on this in a future post.

            When a child experiences an "irrational" fear--one that doesn't make sense to us, they are then MOST in need of our support. These “irrational” fears exist only in the child's reality and no one else’s. This leaves them to face the danger alone. By listening to the child with the aim of seeing what the child sees and feeling what the child feels, we provide assurance to the child that we also see the danger and that he is not alone. In order to do this, we must briefly remove ourselves from our own reality and enter that of the child. To remove ourselves from our own reality is to suspend any moral judgments, to forgo attempting to solve their problem or to manage the outcome, and to accept ALL of your child’s thoughts and feelings as valid and rational (which is true... in their reality).
When the child feels that he is accompanied in his frightening reality, it becomes much less frightening. He now has someone with whom he can share his experiences. He does not need to concern himself with defending his reality from his parent’s reality. It is at this moment that a child can consider the dangers facing him. The child begins to see possible solutions to a problem that only moments ago seemed insurmountable. His new companion listens to his solutions and repeats them to allow the child to consider them more carefully. Once he finds a solution that feels good to him he is sure to follow through with it. It is now the child who is acting rather than reacting, he has found a measure of control where before he felt as if he had none.

                 We will use the scenario of the girl afraid to go down the water slide:

Girl: "I don't want to go on the slide, I'm scared!"
Adult: "You don't want to go there, you're too scared! I'd like to take a look from the top."
Girl: "No way, it’s way too high and I don't want to get wet!"
Adult: "You think the slide is too high and that you might get wet if we went to the top."
Girl: "Yes, I don't want to get wet."
Adult: "I got it, you want to stay dry. I don't see anyone getting wet up at the top, if it starts to look like that might happen then I'm OK with coming back down."
Girl: "OK, I'm OK with that. Let's see what it looks like."
 [From the top of the water slide.]
Girl: "Oh there is NO WAY I'm going on this slide!"
Adult: "It sounds like you've made up your mind! This slide looks like a lot of fun to me!"
Girl: "Yeh, this thing is a lot higher than I first thought and it looks more scary than fun!"
Adult: "You weren't prepared for a slide this high and now it just looks scary!"
Girl: "That's right! But you know... everyone else seems to be laughing and really excited about it. Do they have any smaller slides at this park?"
Adult: "Yes, they have one about half this size. I can go there with you if you’d like."
Girl: "I'm not ready for something this high just yet. I'll take a look at the smaller slide. Maybe I'll try this one next year!"

Using this skill anyone can provide a supportive environment in which their children (or anyone else) can find refuge from anxiety allowing them the pleasure of fully expressing themselves, of the pride that comes with solving their own problems and of being in control of their own lives.

                Come back in two weeks to read more about how to give a child more support in stressful situations - we'll discuss it in more detail.

Till next time!
Aga & Nathan

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