causa pandemic, climate crisis, economic, war? The fact is that in the last ten years i Rates of depression and anxiety have grown exponentially. In adults but also, incredibly, in young people. L’American Psychological Association in the report “Stress in America 2020” is about a real one teenage struggle (ages 13-17) and young adults (ages 18-23) against uncertaintyin a situation of high stress that generates symptoms of depression.
Anxious Parents of Anxious Children: What to Do?
It is always more difficult to be young, and no less difficult than these young people is to be a parent. How can you raise fearless children in a world of anxieties? A guide, in this sense, is offered by the book The recipe for resilience (FrancoAngeli), written by Muniya S. Khanna and Philip C. Kendalltwo specialists in the cognitive behavioral treatment of childhood anxiety.
University professor emeritus and director of the Child and Adolescent Anxiety Disorders Clinic at Temple University, Kendall founded the Coping Cat program, the core principles of which are set out in the book. Based on the principles of CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), he teaches children in particular the FEAR plan: an acronym to remember the four steps to take to face it, fear, instead of avoiding it. The ambitious goal of the course is to teach the resilience: or the “ability to respond adaptively in times of adversity, developing awareness and a compassionate attitude towards our emotional and physiological experience”. It can be done? And, above all, can the teaching be passed on to one’s children?
Fight fear with the FEAR plan
Before proceeding, or trying, it is essential to clarify for yourself the behaviors and consequences that are reinforcing or maintaining the anxiety that the child feels. But also their own behaviors, their own reactions to anxiety or to the child’s avoidant behaviors. It is also worth pointing out that, along the way, the following are necessary: trust in the child’s ability to cope with the situation, a lot patience and a lot I listen. But also managing your emotions (studies find that anxious young people have anxious parents). Finally, have fun.
Faced with great and bad sensations, we often abandon ourselves: “I’m sad” or “I’m nervous”, we think, but without dwelling on it too much, as if there was nothing to do. But that is precisely the moment in which the FEAR plan can be used. So first.
Step P. What Am I Feeling?
Identify physiological symptoms: Is this a false alarm of fight or flight? Try taking a deep breath. The first step in managing emotions is to identify them. And understand the underlying physiological process. For this reason, psychologists recommend creating a “dictionary of feelings” by cutting out photos from magazines, with a caption that labels them. And when the emotion comes you can name it, normalizing it: you don’t have to worry about sensations. They are just the body’s way of telling them they are anxious or expecting something bad. It can also be helpful to distinguish worries and negative thoughts.
As soon as you notice that you are feeling anxious, sad, or any other great feeling, it’s time to move on to step A of the FEAR plan.
Step A: stands for “Do I expect bad things to happen?”
Just because you thought it, doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. It doesn’t mean it’s the only way to think. What are alternative ways to think about it? The goal here is to create awareness of our thought patterns, so that we can choose the most accurate and helpful views and interpretations of the situation.
It can be useful distinguish worries from negative thoughts. The former often begin with the words “What if…” What if I make a mistake and everyone makes fun of me? What if I miss my parents and want to go home? What if I get a bad grade and my parents get mad at me? Sad thoughts are usually about not being good enough, or that things will always go wrong. They usually include the words “I can’t”, “all”, “never”, or “always” … I can’t run like other children. I’m not good at talking to people. I’m so bored with everything. I never get invited to anything. I always do worse than all the other children.
When a way of thinking becomes a habit
We know that our way of thinking becomes a habit over time. For this, the goal here is to make the child acquire awareness of his pattern or style of thinking. Easily recognizing “frequent thoughts” makes it quicker and easier to deal with them the next time they arise.
But sometimes the brain warns without there being a real danger situation. The suggestion is then to use a series of “challenge” questions every time the alarm goes off. For example. I’ve had this concern before: what usually happens? My worry always says that if things go wrong, my life will be ruined. But is this really a life-ruining situation? Or is it just a difficult situation? Is it useful to think about it right now? How much time do I want to spend thinking about it like this?
The U step: Usefulness of actions In every situation
If there is a problem, what are the options? Approach rather than avoidance. We work to be able to control our response, rather than reacting purely on instinct: we want our kids to choose the actions that will be most helpful in bringing them closer to their goal. This is why it is essential to encourage and even create opportunities for them to face challenges, without avoiding negative feelings. Those who avoid, end up assimilating that things are really stressful and difficult, and that it is not able to handle them. The “bad” feeling will continue to arise in situations where there is a challenge, and may even get stronger over time. If avoidance continues to develop as a pattern, one will end up self-described as vulnerable and incapable.
Conversely, approaching challenges, fears, and the unknown – rather than avoiding them – is the fastest and most lasting way to build self-confidence, adaptability and resilience, and to reduce anxiety.
When your child is trying to decide what to do when they feel worried or anxious, they should do the opposite of what the worry wants it to do. It helps to proceed in small steps, helping him to break down the challenge into all aspects and inviting him to face each of them, one at a time.
The RA pass. Results and rewards to achieve
Set realistic expectations. Focus on efforts, not results. Reinforce any approach to difficult situations with a reward. The first three steps of the plan encourage a mindset of learning, growth, and progress, rather than success and failure. Approach rather than avoidance. The RA step, the last step in the plan, reminds the child to learn from the results and to reward himself for taking the actions and attitudes that have helped him get closer to his goals.
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