Acknowledgment to Karen Young; www.heysigmund.com
Reading this article by Karen Young, I was struck by how relevant this is to adults as well as children. We know how negative self-talk increases and feeds our anxiety, but bringing in positive self-talk, over time and with consistency, reduces it.
Let’s be brave for our children, but also for ourselves. Let’s take hold of our anxiety for what it is; A warning sign, not a stop sign
Anxiety comes with a story, ‘I feel as though something bad is going to happen so something bad must be going to happen.’ This story makes sense, but it will drive fight or flight behaviour that can hold them back. This might look like avoidance, aggression, resistance, refusal, sick tummies, headaches, tears, tantrums.
When we change the story, we change the response. To do this, we need to present anxiety as an ally that ‘works hard to keep you safe, but sometimes it just works a little too hard.’
Here’s how it works: When the amygdala part of the brain senses something that might be a threat, it surges us with a powerful neurochemical cocktail to make us more powerful, stronger, faster, more alert, more able to fight or flee the threat. This drives every physical symptom that comes with anxiety. It’s the brain and body doing exactly what they are meant to do, but at a time they don’t need to.
Not everything the brain senses as a threat is actually a threat. Brains are smart, but they can be a little overprotective sometimes. Brains will do anything to keep us alive – it’s why we love them so much – but sometimes they will work too hard.
The problem is that the physiology is so persuasive. It feels like we’re in danger, which can make even the strongest of minds believe it to be true. The key is to help them see anxiety for what it is – a warning, not a stop sign.
We can strengthen our children by nurturing a felt sense inside them that lets them feel bigger in the presence of anxiety. We do this by presenting anxiety as something that is there to look after them, and something they can manage.
Because they can feel anxious and do brave.
Anxiety is there to hold them back from danger but it was never meant to hold them back from life. We know they are capable of big things, every one of them. Now to shift anxiety out of their way so they can know it too.
The conversation about courage isn’t one conversation, it’s many. Many small conversations and moments of being or doing that build into something big. Children might not always recognise the courage in themselves, but they will recognise it in you. When you collect them with a ‘we’, and claim the possibilities for courage in you, you will turn them towards the abundant, powerful, beautiful possibilities for courage in them.
Attachment builds courage by building safety. One of the ways to nurture attachment is through similarity.
‘We can do hard things, can’t we?’ We are brave, aren’t we?’
When our children feel close and connected to us, they are more likely to look to us for direction. When we combine our influence with love and leadership, we amplify our capacity to move them forwards with courage.
We can see into them, past their fear, anxiety or exhaustion, and through to their courage, resilience and strength. We know who they are and what they are capable of and our task is to help them see it too. There is no hurry for this to happen. Beautiful, powerful things are built on strong, solid foundations and those sorts of foundations take time. ⠀⠀
When we speak to their courage, and that precious part of them where their strength and self-belief and fears are kept, we add to that foundation. Our words will eventually become theirs, but we have to speak to their fear, as well as their courage. They stand side by side. They always do. ⠀⠀
Acknowledge their fear, acknowledge their need to flee (or fight), then tell them what you know to be true –
‘I know this feels scary, and I know you want to run, but I also know you are brave.
I know you can do hard things. My darling, I know it with everything in me.’