Often when we see our children are struggling emotionally, socially and academically, we don’t look first at exactly what their days look and feel like to them and what we can change about it – we take for granted the things they just ‘have to do’, that they have to study what they’re being told to, that they will inevitably be surrounded by some people they are not happy with etc and our focus should be on helping them to cope with the things they don’t like. We can talk with them about their stressful day, we can buy them special treats and we can take them to numerous therapies – but they are still living in the midst of the permanent stress. Nothing in their ultimate state really changes. In fact, when this builds up it has the potential to create high levels of anxiety in your child’s state, which they really struggle to move away from. This stressed state often leaves the child unable to open up to people and learning.
When you see your child in this state, you want to change how they feel but you don’t really know how.
Let’s examine the internal state our children could well be in. They could be highly uncertain about their place in the world, not sure who to relate to, who they really are, not sure what’s fully expected of them and basically using all their energy to try and manage all this. They could be struggling with the invisible pain of sensory overload or feeling the fear of making mistakes. That’s a high level of internal stress.
When was the last time you saw your child have fun? I don’t mean a few minutes through the tears but really having fun? You see, you can’t have fun with stress – not really.
An important question to ask yourself is how can you fill up your child’s need for certainty and gradually release the stress within their state?
One thing we can do whether our child is in or out of school is really become a detective about their likes, dislikes, interests and motivations. If we can find just one thing our child likes to do and start to love that thing as much as they do and be willing to listen to their love of it, show interest in it and give quality time to do this particular thing with them, it can start to create more of a trust and a bond between you and them. You can put relationship first while you do it. You can, in your own time, read up on your child’s favourite topic and tell them what you have discovered. Your motive here, matters very much. If you are doing this because you feel you ought to, your child will know. You need to do this to show them that you are on their side totally, that what interests them matters to you because you love them – no other agenda. You may be the only person they can start to really relax with and have fun with. This is so key for starting to reduce anxiety – and when we see our children in such high states of it, we’ll do anything won’t we!
If you see your child’s life through their eyes, you will find that in a 6-hour school day they are not likely to have a close and happy connection with any adult and may not even have a close or happy connection with any child or friend. If this is the case, we, as parents need to step up and be that connection on a long-term basis. Stress, in my experience can start to go down when fun, interest, togetherness and trust build. But it can only be done when you become intentional to do it.
It’s exciting to think how you as a parent can play such a key role in your child’s state.
Sometimes this requires us to find interest in things that don’t usually interest us and sometimes it takes us way out of our comfort zones. Because of my son’s interest in film-making I found myself spending one and a half years becoming an amateur film director and working with actors, musicians, dancers and videographers and spending hours in film locations and with deadlines in music recording studios. This wasn’t something I would have otherwise done, but the results have been incredible. Talk about a state-change! He lost a large amount of his social anxiety, found an increased confidence in his creative drive and enjoyed a high level of connection with friends.
When your child is in a better state they can be more open to friendships and learning, and having access to these things can open doors to further development and opportunity.
In all the anxiety books I have read, they talk about the child having daily quality time with someone who loves them – and for the child to know they will have this every day. This helps fill their need for certainty. If you take this further and do something your child is interested during that quality time, you will help your child relax, have fun and feel significant.
What’s one thing your child totally loves that you can also get into?
If you’d like to see other ways I helped my child, please check out my coaching resource
Sally Wagter, author of Miracle in Slow Motion