Anxiety: What we decide, they will follow – but first, the decision.

What we decide, they will follow.

When anxiety hits, our children will look to us for signs of safety. They’ll be needing to know, ‘Do you think I’m safe?’ ‘Do you think I can do this?’ ‘Do you think I’m brave enough, strong enough, capable enough?’

What we decide, they will follow. They might be achingly unwilling for a while, but eventually, they will follow. If only making the decision wasn’t so entangled, so often, with our own anxiety, their distress, and the smudgy, uncertain line that often comes before brave.

One of the hardest things as a parent can be deciding when to protect our kids and when to support them into brave. For them, brave, hard, new things (scary-safe) will often feel like dangerous things (scary-dangerous). Their anxiety around this will drive anxiety in us. It’s why their brave things will often feel scary for us too.

There’s a good reason for this. As their important adults, we’re designed to feel distress at their distress. This is how we keep them safe. It’s normal, necessary, and the thing that makes us loving, beautiful, available parents. But – it’s also why their anxiety will often drive anxiety in us, and a powerful drive to protect them from whatever is causing their distress.

Their distress will drive distress in us … exactly as it’s meant to.

When our children are truly in danger, their distress (fight or flight) will drive distress (fight or flight) in us to give us the strength, the will, the everything to keep them safe. Fight or flight in them will raise fight or flight in us – to give us the physiological resources to fight for them or flee with them if we need to.

We’re meant to feel distress at their distress – but those distress signals can also run interference on brave behaviour. Anxiety can make safe, brave, important things feel like dangerous things – for them and for us. This is normal and healthy. What matters is our response.

Sometimes making the decision, ‘Do I step back into safety or forward into brave?’ is too much for our kids and teens, so we have to make the decision for them. What we decide, they will follow. 

You will see evidence of this everywhere in your home: Do I need to brush my teeth? Is it okay if I hit? Do I need to be kind? Do I matter? Is my voice important? And the big one to strengthen them against anxiety … Can I feel anxious and do brave? The decision on most of these is an easy ‘yes’. We decide. They follow (eventually).

With anxiety, the line can be blurry. Sometimes your concerns might be valid, in which case their fight or flight (anxiety) will be doing its job. Sometimes though, our enormous drive to protect them isn’t so much about needing to protect them from the situation, but about wanting to protect them from the distress of their anxiety. This is so normal! It’s what makes us loving, responsive parents. It’s also why we have an incredible capacity to respond to their anxiety in ways that can widen the space for brave behaviour to happen.

They will follow our concern, or they will follow our confidence – eventually. It doesn’t matter how long the move towards brave takes. What matters is opening them up to the possibilities for brave behaviour that are already in them, and have been all along. They can feel anxious, and do brave. So can we.

This is why we have to ask the question, ‘Do they feel like this because they’re in danger, or because they’re about to do something brave/ hard/ important?’Am I reacting to the situation, or to their distress?

And what if I feel uncertain?

If you do feel uncertain, what do you need to feel safer?  More information? More conversation? Smaller steps towards brave? If you don’t believe they’re safe – at school, swimming lessons, with the person taking care of them in your absence – they won’t either. Do you need more information or conversation to feel more certain that they are safe?

What information do you need to be able to position yourself to respond the way your young person needs you to – either by protecting them, or by giving plenty of signals of safety so they can feel bigger and safer as they move forward into brave. Until we make the decision, they won’t either.

So I’ve made the decision. This is a time for brave. What now?

If you’ve decided that this is a time for brave behaviour, now they will need you to love and lead. It’s not about one or the other, but both. See their anxiety and make space for it, and also see their brave and make space for that too.

This might sound like, ‘Yeah, this is big isn’t it. It’s okay to be worried. Of course you feel like this! You’re about to do something brave. I know you can do this. If you can’t do (the whole brave thing), what will you do – and don’t say ‘nothing’, because ‘nothing’ isn’t an option.’

The posture to take here is, ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ I believe you that this is big for you, and I believe you that you feel worried or scared or threadbare – and I know you can do this. I know it with everything in me.

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Separation anxiety can come with a tail whip - not only does it swipe at kids, but it will so often feel brutal for their important adults too.

If your child struggle to separate at school, or if bedtimes tougher than you’d like them to be, or if ‘goodbye’ often come with tears or pleas to stay, or the ‘fun’ from activities or play dates get lost in the anxiety of being away from you, I hear you.

There’s a really good reason for all of these, and none of them have anything to do with your parenting, or your child not being ‘brave enough’. Promise. And I have something for you. 

My 2 hour on-demand separation anxiety webinar is now available for purchase. 

This webinar is full of practical, powerful strategies and information to support your young person to feel safer, calmer, and braver when they are away from you. 

We’ll explore why separation anxiety happens and powerful strategies you can use straight away to support your child. Most importantly, you’ll be strengthening them in ways that serve them not just for now but for the rest of their lives.

Access to the recording will be available for 30 days from the date of purchase.

Link to shop in bio.
The more we treat anxiety as a problem, or as something to be avoided, the more we inadvertently turn them away from the safe, growthful, brave things that drive it. 

On the other hand, when we make space for anxiety, let it in, welcome it, be with it, the more we make way for them to recognise that anxiety isn’t something they need to avoid. They can feel anxious and do brave. 

As long as they are safe, let them know this. Let them see you believing them that this feels big, and believing in them, that they can handle the big. 

‘Yes this feels scary. Of course it does - you’re doing something important/ new/ hard. I know you can do this. How can I help you feel brave?’♥️
I’ve loved working with @sccrcentre over the last 10 years. They do profoundly important work with families - keeping connections, reducing clinflict, building relationships - and they do it so incredibly well. @sccrcentre thank you for everything you do, and for letting me be a part of it. I love what you do and what you stand for. Your work over the last decade has been life-changing for so many. I know the next decade will be even more so.♥️

In their words …
Posted @withregram • @sccrcentre Over the next fortnight, as we prepare to mark our 10th anniversary (28 March), we want to re-share the great partners we’ve worked with over the past decade. We start today with Karen Young of Hey Sigmund.

Back in 2021, when we were still struggling with covid and lockdowns, Karen spoke as part of our online conference on ‘Strengthening the relationship between you & your teen’. It was a great talk and I’m delighted that you can still listen to it via the link in the bio.

Karen also blogged about our work for the Hey Sigmund website in 2018. ‘How to Strengthen Your Relationship With Your Children and Teens by Understanding Their Unique Brain Chemistry (by SCCR)’, which is still available to read - see link in bio.

#conflictresolution #conflict #families #family #mediation #earlyintervention #decade #anniversary #digital #scotland #scottish #cyrenians #psychology #relationships #children #teens #brain #brainchemistry #neuroscience
I often go into schools to talk to kids and teens about anxiety and big feelings. 

I always ask, ‘Who’s tried breathing through big feels and thinks it’s a load of rubbish?’ Most of them put their hand up. I put my hand up too, ‘Me too,’ I tell them, ‘I used to think the same as you. But now I know why it didn’t work, and what I needed to do to give me this powerful tool (and it’s so powerful!) that can calm anxiety, anger - all big feelings.’

The thing is though, all powertools need a little instruction and practice to use them well. Breathing is no different. Even though we’ve been breathing since we were born, we haven’t been strong breathing through big feelings. 

When the ‘feeling brain’ is upset, it drives short shallow breathing. This is instinctive. In the same ways we have to teach our bodies how to walk, ride a bike, talk, we also have to teach our brains how to breathe during big feelings. We do this by practising slow, strong breathing when we’re calm. 

We also have to make the ‘why’ clear. I talk about the ‘why’ for strong breathing in Hey Warrior, Dear You Love From Your Brain, and Ups and Downs. Our kids are hungry for the science, and they deserve the information that will make this all make sense. Breathing is like a lullaby for the amygdala - but only when it’s practised lots during calm.♥️
When it’s time to do brave, we can’t always be beside them, and we don’t need to be. What we can do is see them and help them feel us holding on, even in absence, while we also believe in their brave.♥️

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