Navigating the Anxiety of Growing Up

Navigating the Anxiety of Growing Up
By Sarah Sacks

 Long after the children had gone to bed, I came home last night to learn that our youngest had asked the question “Dad…is the Tooth Fairy real?” 

Three kids on, between us we’ve been asked this question many times and dodged it, in so many ways.  But this time, my husband confessed he couldn’t turn away from her direct and insistent gaze.

In his recounting of the story, I learn there were tears from her around the relief in finally knowing the truth, especially as she was being teased at school for still “believing”.  Combined with tears of confusion as it dawned another enormous step toward leaving her childhood behind.

Our youngest is 10 very soon.  We live in a first world country, where everyone is busy.  I was busy that night.  For the children and the parents alike, there are places to be, classes to attend, meetings to be had.  But at what cost? 

Taking the time to slow things down and acknowledge for both ourselves and our children that transition is occurring is critical to everyone’s wellbeing. 

For everyone change is hard.  It is a time of moving from the known to the unknown.  And with that comes fear.  Fear of will I be enough to cope?  Who will I become?  Will be alone in this new world?  Will someone be there to help me when I struggle in this new place?  These fears, often exhibited as anxiety, are as true for a child as they are for an adult.

When change is occurring for a child and you recognize how scary and unfamiliar it is for them, how it is hard it is to say goodbye to what they have known, that there will be times that they will wish they could go back to the past, and that through all of it, you will be there for them – is one of the best gifts we can give our children. 

The key here is time.  It takes time to offer someone who is fearful or in pain the space to slow down, feel safe and experience.

Sometimes as parents our child’s pain is more than we can bear, at others we may feel some guidance may be necessary.  In these instances, professionals experienced in working with children can help.

Finally take a moment and think about how you navigate change and what you do to address your fears and anxieties during transitions.  As parents it is these moments of modeling, combined with the times of being with our children as they try to navigate their own struggles, that will largely define our children’s capacity to tolerate change.  For you and your children, slow down and take time to be with both your and their experiences.  You are giving your child a gift.

I wasn’t there yesterday when the big question was asked and the truth revealed, but today I met our daughter at the school bus, so that we could spend the afternoon together.  On our walk home, she tells me about her chapped lips and that the best lip balm is “the one Santa gave me…I mean you gave me”.  We talk about how it makes her cry to think of Santa and the Tooth Fairy not being real.  And I am quietly thinking how it makes me cry, seeing our littlest growing up.  It is a transition for all of us, that we all have to navigate.  Holding each other along the way.


About the Author: Sarah Sacks

Sarah is a qualified and experienced counsellor, meditation teacher and group facilitator.  

Sarah’s years of body based based practices, in meditation and yoga, have led Sarah to believe in the inherent wisdom of the body.  In line with this belief, Sarah has trained and qualified as a Whole Body Focusing Orientated Therapist, Transpersonal Counsellor, Holistic Counsellor, Meditation Teacher and is currently continuing her training in Group Psychotherapy Facilitation.  

Over the last 5 years Sarah has worked in the not-for-profit sector, the community health sector and privately, as a generalist counsellor and group facilitator.  Sarah has experience working with children, families and adults around issues of; isolation, anxiety, depression, grief, loss, trauma, anger, separation, addiction and general mental health.  

Sarah’s warm and intuitive counselling style, along with her extensive life experience, enables Sarah to gently support her clients towards their own path of change.

Qualifications – Bachelor of Holistic Counselling, Diploma of Transpersonal Counselling, Bachelor of Business (International Marketing & Trade), Diploma of Arts (Japanese), ACA (level 2), qualifying member for CAPAV

You can find Sarah at The Grove Counselling and Therapy and on Facebook.

See the The Grove’s ‘Training and Events’ page for more information about training and events offered by the Grove, including Wholebody Focusing Training. This program is open to anyone interested in conscious living and connecting directly to their own body wisdom, and will be of particular interest to therapists and body/movement focused practitioners.

2 Comments

margaret

I love your article on anxiety in children I have had my grandson in my care for two years he has special needs I am concerned that I FEEL PRESSURED to put him on anxiety medication he was on ritulin and epilem last year and have managed to get him of both of these I now use homeopathic kids calm he is great at home and has a meltdown maybe once every ten days at school I am concerned that professionals see the need for anxiety medication as an answer to his problems he is only 11 yrs old margaret

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Hey Sigmund

It’s great that you are such a strong advocate for your grandson and his capacity to manage without medication. Unfortunately, there are a lot of professionals who consider medication as the first response to anxiety, but there are also many who would only consider it as a last resort. If you could find a professional who has the same philosophy as you, who considers medication as a last resort, that might be a source of great support for you.

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Anxiety shows up to check that you’re okay, not to tell you that you’re not. It’s your brain’s way of saying, ‘Not sure - there might be some trouble here, but there might not be, but just in case you should be ready for it if it comes, which it might not – but just in case you’d better be ready to run or fight – but it might be totally fine.’ Brains can be so confusing sometimes! 

You have a brain that is strong, healthy and hardworking. It’s magnificent and it’s doing a brilliant job of doing exactly what brains are meant to do – keep you alive. 

Your brain is fabulous, but it needs you to be the boss. Here’s how. When you feel anxious, ask yourself two questions:

- ‘Do I feel like this because I’m in danger or because there’s something brave or important I need to do?’

- Then, ‘Is this a time for me to be safe (sometimes it might be) or is this a time for me to be brave?

And remember, you will always have ‘brave’ in you, and anxiety doesn’t change that a bit.♥️

#positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #parenting #childanxiety #heywarrior #heywarriorbook
The temptation to fix their big feelings can be seismic. Often this is connected to needing to ease our own discomfort at their discomfort, which is so very normal.

Big feelings in them are meant to raise (sometimes big) feelings in us. This is all a healthy part of the attachment system. It happens to mobilise us to respond to their distress, or to protect them if their distress is in response to danger.

Emotion is energy in motion. We don’t want to bury it, stop it, smother it, and we don’t need to fix it. What we need to do is make a safe passage for it to move through them. 

Think of emotion like a river. Our job is to hold the ground strong and steady at the banks so the river can move safely, without bursting the banks.

However hard that river is racing, they need to know we can be with the river (the emotion), be with them, and handle it. This might feel or look like you aren’t doing anything, but actually it’s everything.

The safety that comes from you being the strong, steady presence that can lovingly contain their big feelings will let the emotional energy move through them and bring the brain back to calm.

Eventually, when they have lots of experience of us doing this with them, they will learn to do it for themselves, but that will take time and experience. The experience happens every time you hold them steady through their feelings. 

This doesn’t mean ignoring big behaviour. For them, this can feel too much like bursting through the banks, which won’t feel safe. Sometimes you might need to recall the boundary and let them know where the edges are, while at the same time letting them see that you can handle the big of the feeling. Its about loving and leading all at once. ‘It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to use those words at me.’

Ultimately, big feelings are a call for support. Sometimes support looks like breathing and being with. Sometimes it looks like showing them you can hold the boundary, even when they feel like they’re about to burst through it. And if they’re using spicy words to get us to back off, it might look like respecting their need for space but staying in reaching distance, ‘Ok, I’m right here whenever you need.’♥️
We all need certain things to feel safe enough to put ourselves into the world. Kids with anxiety have magic in them, every one of them, but until they have a felt sense of safety, it will often stay hidden.

‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what they feel. At school, they might have the safest, most loving teacher in the safest, most loving school. This doesn’t mean they will feel enough relational safety straight away that will make it easier for them to do hard things. They can still do those hard things, but those things are going to feel bigger for a while. This is where they’ll need us and their other anchor adult to be patient, gentle, and persistent.

Children aren’t meant to feel safe with and take the lead from every adult. It’s not the adult’s role that makes the difference, but their relationship with the child.

Children are no different to us. Just because an adult tells them they’ll be okay, it doesn’t mean they’ll feel it or believe it. What they need is to be given time to actually experience the person as being safe, supportive and ready to catch them.

Relationship is key. The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains in our way. When we feel someone really caring about us, we’re more likely to open up to their influence
and learn from them.

But we have to be patient. Even for teachers with big hearts and who undertand the importance of attachment relationships, it can take time.

Any adult at school can play an important part in helping a child feel safe – as long as that adult is loving, warm, and willing to do the work to connect with that child. It might be the librarian, the counsellor, the office person, a teacher aide. It doesn’t matter who, as long as it is someone who can be available for that child at dropoff or when feelings get big during the day and do little check-ins along the way.

A teacher, or any important adult can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
There is a beautiful ‘everythingness’ in all of us. The key to living well is being able to live flexibly and more deliberately between our edges.

So often though, the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ we inhale in childhood and as we grow, lead us to abandon some of those precious, needed parts of us. ‘Don’t be angry/ selfish/ shy/ rude. She’s not a maths person.’ ‘Don’t argue.’ Ugh.

Let’s make sure our children don’t cancel parts of themselves. They are everything, but not always all at once. They can be anxious and brave. Strong and soft. Angry and calm. Big and small. Generous and self-ish. Some things they will find hard, and they can do hard things. None of these are wrong ways to be. What trips us up is rigidity, and only ever responding from one side of who we can be.

We all have extremes or parts we favour. This is what makes up the beautiful, complex, individuality of us. We don’t need to change this, but the more we can open our children to the possibility in them, the more options they will have in responding to challenges, the everyday, people, and the world. 

We can do this by validating their ‘is’ without needing them to be different for a while in the moment, and also speaking to the other parts of them when we can. 

‘Yes maths is hard, and I know you can do hard things. How can I help?’

‘I can see how anxious you feel. That’s so okay. I also know you have brave in you.’

‘I love your ‘big’ and the way you make us laugh. You light up the room.’ And then at other times: ‘It can be hard being in a room with new people can’t it. It’s okay to be quiet. I could see you taking it all in.’

‘It’s okay to want space from people. Sometimes you just want your things and yourself for yourself, hey. I feel like that sometimes too. I love the way you know when you need this.’ And then at other times, ‘You looked like you loved being with your friends today. I loved watching you share.’

The are everything, but not all at once. Our job is to help them live flexibly and more deliberately between the full range of who they are and who they can be: anxious/brave; kind/self-ish; focussed inward/outward; angry/calm. This will take time, and there is no hurry.♥️

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