Teaching Physical Signs
For many children (and adults), it’s beneficial to teach about anxiety and our body’s physical reaction to it. When kids understand why specific symptoms happen in the body, they no longer need to be afraid that those symptoms signal a problem; rather, they indicate a solution.
Anxiety is a strong biological trait that promotes survival; hence, it is passed on (Evolution, huh?). For those children who are interested in nature and animals – think of gazelles in Africa. Which gazelle will survive longer? The one who is always nervous about lions and ready to escape, or the gazelle who wanders off alone and doesn’t even care about a lion’s presence.
In our normal day-to-day lives, anxiety is a reality. Oftentimes, it’s beneficial and something that we need to succeed. After all, if we’re not worried about deadlines at work, we probably wouldn’t be around very long. The difference between us and animals is that we need to realize when our anxiety is too high of a response to the situation (I doubt too many of the readers will need to worry about lions).
I’ll use another common example about our body’s reaction to anxiety. When we hear a loud noise, like a huge CRASH of thunder, it makes our heart beat faster and it may make us jump. This can feel pretty scary. Your body jumps and your heart beats faster because your body is really getting pumped up to protect you – it’s natural and helpful for our safety. When we feel our body act this way – I like to call it our Danger Extinguisher.
Physical strategies, like calm, slow breathing can help us put our Danger Extinguisher away by letting our body know that everything is safe.
At home, role playing scary situations is often a good idea: Let’s pretend there’s a scary thunderstorm coming and we hear it rolling in… What can you do? How will your body react? We know from past experience that you may start breathing faster and your body may tense up – what now? What if mom or dad can’t hear you right now. How can you put away your Danger Extinguisher and calm your body down to let it know it’s safe.
To help monitor growth: Use a Worry-Scale to rate fears and to set goals for ourselves – Become a Master of your Worries.
Don’t worry. Normal transitional anxiety…
Young children are often afraid of concepts of the unknown, like the dark or monsters. Elementary students begin to fear real-world dangers since they begin to see and hear more about real world situations (fires, burglars, storms, drugs). With more exposure, they learn that these are isolated risks – not constant worries.
Signs of positive, normal transitional anxiety for elementary-aged children:
· Child is responsive to suggestions for change
· Symptoms diminish in intensity over time
· Worries are limited to the situation (worry about storm only happens when it’s going to storm, or is storming)