Disclaimer: This post is meant to be an over simplification of how fear can be created, and does NOT apply to those dealing with depression, trauma, or anxiety.
Is your mind-chatter real?
I’m sure you’ve seen the acronym F.E.A.R. which stands for False Evidence Appearing Real.
Fear is a complicated adult concept that has its roots in the childhood experience.
Parents work so hard to provide safe environments for their kids; it saddens me when I see parents, despite their best intentions, become consumed by a reaction and resort to yelling and punishing because they don’t know what else to do.
Shifting from empathy and understanding to yelling and being punitive, is confusing for kids. Yelling does draw a line in the sand, but not the type of line I think you want to convey.
Each time a child receives a correction delivered with yelling and/or punitive actions, his/her brain activates the fight/flight response which in turn releases the stress hormones of adrenaline and cortisol. Researchers have proven that repeated exposure to stress hormones isn’t good the body or the psyche, especially in kids.
Kids are experiential learners. They glean information about life from the situations they’re involved in. Frequent exposure to the fear of being told you’re wrong, again and again, or the anxiety that surfaces as you’re being yelled at or punished, changes the way a child understands the life they lead.
Researchers say repeated exposure to the fight/flight response normalizes fear and causes kids to seek out adrenaline rushes from dangerous or unhealthy situations. And no parent wants that.
Break things down.
Mindfulness can really help here. Introduce your child to the concept of focusing on the now. Teach him/her to focus on what’s really happening in this moment. Not what (s)he thinks is going to happen in the next moment.
You want your child to notice things like how fast they’re breathing, or how fast their heart is beating, and have them do some deep breathing to calm down. (For breathing games that teach preschoolers how to deep breathe, see pg. 10 in 10 Parenting Tools for Teaching not Punishing.) https://proactiveparenting.net/store/
After they calm a bit, ask your child to focus on the moment again. Ask them what they observe now? Did they notice that you’re standing right beside them? Did they notice that they were able to calm their breathing and their heart beat? Did they notice that they’re okay, even though they’re fearful or anxious?
Those are the beginning steps you teach your child so they know how to calm down and how to manage fear. You’re shifting the mind away from the mind-chatter that’s filled with fear, and refocusing attention on the things that a concrete thinker can easily become aware of.
If you have older kids, you begin to discuss the very adult concept that F.E.A.R. is actually False Evidence Appearing Real. But that’s a topic for another day!
Now, go hug your kids.