The 2 Questions That Can Help You Find Your ‘Brave’ When You Feel Anxious – (A video for kids)

The 2 Questions That Can Help You Find Your Brave

Transcript

Anxiety is something that happens to every every every single person on the planet. Every person on the planet feels mad sometimes, sad, happy, excited, jealous, scared, and every person on the planet feels anxious sometimes.

Anxiety comes from a part of your brain called the amygdala, and it’s like your own fierce warrior, there to protect you. When your amygdala thinks there is something it needs to protect you from, it surges your body with a special body fuel, designed to get you faster, stronger, more powerful, more able to fight the danger or flee from the danger. Sometimes though, the amygdala can think there is something it needs to protect you from, and it surges your body, and it makes you want to avoid that thing. Anxiety feels terrible when it happens, and when you’re feeling anxious, it can feel like there is something dangerous there, and it can hold you back. The problem is, too many times it can hold you back from the things that would actually be really great for you, or important for you. So anxiety happens when there is one of two things: either a real threat that you need to stay safe from, or something important and meaningful, and it’s often the worry about messing up or missing out on that important, meaningful thing that can make anxiety happen.

The problem is, if you believe your anxiety, it can hold you back from the things that would be good for you, like school, or trying something new, or doing things with friends. All of those things can make you feel anxious. Now the thing to do when you’re feeling anxious – there’s a way to find a way through – is there are two questions that can help you feel brave enough to get the job done, or to move towards that important, meaningful thing. The first question is this: ‘Am I feeling like this because it’s a real threat, or because there’s something important or meaningful I need to do?’ Then, you ask yourself the next question, which is, ‘Is this a time for me to be safe?’, and sometimes it will be. Sometimes it is exactly the right time for you to be safe. If you’re walking past a dark alley and you start to feel anxious inside, then it’s a good idea to avoid the dark alley. That’s when anxiety keeps you safe. Most often though, it happens in response to the important meaningful things. So the question is this: ‘Is the time for me to be safe, or is this a time for me to be brave?’ ‘Is this a time for me to be safe, or is this a time for me to get the job done?’

The thing to remember is you don’t have to wait for your anxiety to go, for you to be brave. What you need to do is be the boss of your amygdala, and remember that you can feel anxious and do brave. So sometimes, that means might mean taking strong steady breaths. Strong steady breaths are like a lullaby for your amygdala. Brains love strong steady breathing. As soon as you start strong steady breathing, your amygdala will start to calm and it will help your anxiety to soften enough for you to move towards that brave important thing.

It can also help while you’re doing your strong steady breathing to have something really brave or powerful – something that makes you feel stronger and braver and more powerful. It might be something like, ‘I’m safe. I’m safe.’ And you say that to yourself. Put your hand on your heart. That can also boost it and help you to feel calm. It might be words like, “I can do this.’ ‘I’ve got this.’ ‘I made this work before and I’m going to make this work again. I can do this.’ Whatever feels right for you. And then you ask yourself, ‘What is one small step I can take towards that meaningful or important thing?’

Sometimes it will feel too hard to do the whole thing, but what you want to do is something that is braver than last time. That’s the way to teach your amygdala that you’re actually the one in charge, and that this thing that your amygdala is feeling a bit scared of or a bit anxious about, is actually safe. Your amygdala will only learn from experience, so we have to give it enough opportunities to do whatever it’s feeling anxious about so it can learn that it’s actually safe. So if your amygdala is feeling anxious about trying out for the soccer team, the more you you play soccer – the more you do it – you might start with 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes. The more you do that, the more your amygdala will go, ‘Oh okay. Well that wasn’t so bad. Maybe we can do a bit more next time.’

Sometimes your amygdala might feel even bigger and even more anxious. It might make your anxiety bigger when you do that but that meaningful important thing. That’s okay. That doesn’t matter. That means that your amygdala is learning something new. So if your anxiety feels bigger when you’re trying those meaningful important things that are good for you, that’s okay. That means that your amygdala is starting to learn something new, and that is that you can be brave, even when you’re anxious.

So when you’re anxious, if you can ask yourself those two questions: ‘Is this happening because it’s a real threat, or because it’s something meaningful or important?’ and, ‘Is this a time for me to be safe, or is this a time for me to be brave?’ And if it’s a time for you to be brave, if it’s a time for you to get that job done, take a few moments take some strong deep steady breaths. Say your brave talk. Imagine talking directly to your amygdala, ‘We’ve got this.’ ‘We’re safe.’ And then do what it is that was braver than last time. Even if you can’t do all of that brave thing, ask yourself, ‘What can I do that was braver than last time?’ And that is a really powerful way for you – when you’re feeling anxious – to find the courage in you. You’re built for this. You can do this. Even when you’re feeling anxious, you can do brave.“”

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For way too long, there’s been an idea that discipline has to make kids feel bad if it’s going to steer them away from bad choices. But my gosh we’ve been so wrong. 

The idea is a hangover from behaviourism, which built its ideas on studies done with animals. When they made animals scared of something, the animal stopped being drawn to that thing. It’s where the idea of punishment comes from - if we punish kids, they’ll feel scared or bad, and they’ll stop doing that thing. Sounds reasonable - except children aren’t animals. 

The big difference is that children have a frontal cortex (thinking brain) which animals and other mammals don’t have. 

All mammals have a feeling brain so they, like us, feel sad, scared, happy - but unlike us, they don’t feel shame. The reason animals stop doing things that make them feel bad is because on a primitive, instinctive level, that thing becomes associated with pain - so they stay away. There’s no deliberate decision making there. It’s raw instinct. 

With a thinking brain though, comes incredibly sophisticated capacities for complex emotions (shame), thinking about the past (learning, regret, guilt), the future (planning, anxiety), and developing theories about why things happen. When children are shamed, their theories can too easily build around ‘I get into trouble because I’m bad.’ 

Children don’t need to feel bad to do better. They do better when they know better, and when they feel calm and safe enough in their bodies to access their thinking brain. 

For this, they need our influence, but we won’t have that if they are in deep shame. Shame drives an internal collapse - a withdrawal from themselves, the world and us. For sure it might look like compliance, which is why the heady seduction with its powers - but we lose influence. We can’t teach them ways to do better when they are thinking the thing that has to change is who they are. They can change what they do - they can’t change who they are. 

Teaching (‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘How can you put this right?’) and modelling rather than punishing or shaming, is the best way to grow beautiful little humans into beautiful big ones.

#parenting
Sometimes needs will come into being like falling stars - gently fading in and fading out. Sometimes they will happen like meteors - crashing through the air with force and fury. But they won’t always look like needs. Often they will look like big, unreachable, unfathomable behaviour. 

If needs and feelings are too big for words, they will speak through behaviour. Behaviour is the language of needs and feelings, and it is always a call for us to come closer. Big feelings happen as a way to recruit support to help carry an emotional load that feels too big for our kids and teens. We can help with this load by being a strong, calm, loving presence, and making space for that feeling or need to be ‘heard’. 

When big behaviour or big feelings are happening, whenever you can be curious about the need behind it. There will always be a valid one. Meet them where they without needing them to be different. Breathe, validate, and be with, and you don’t need to do more than that. 

Part of building resilience is recognising that some days and some things are rubbish, and that sometimes those days and things last for longer than they should, but we get through. First we feel floored, then we feel stuck, then we shift because the only choices we have we have are to stay down or move, even when moving hurts. Then, eventually we adjust - either ourselves, the problem, or to a new ‘is’. 

But the learning comes from experience. They can’t learn to manage big feelings unless they have big feelings. They can’t learn to read the needs behind their feelings if they don’t have the space to let those big feelings come back to small enough so the needs behind them can step forward. 

When their world has spikes, and when we give them a soft space to ‘be’, we ventilate their world. We help them find room for their out breath, and for influence, and for their wisdom to grow from their experiences and ours. In the end we have no choice. They will always be stronger and bigger and wiser and braver when they are with you, than when they are without. It’s just how it is.♥️
When kids or teens have big feelings, what they need more than anything is our strong, safe, loving presence. In those moments, it’s less about what we do in response to those big feelings, and more about who we are. Think of this like providing a shelter and gentle guidance for their distressed nervous system to help it find its way home, back to calm. 

Big feelings are the way the brain calls for support. It’s as though it’s saying, ‘This emotional load is too big for me to carry on my own. Can you help me carry it?’ 

Every time we meet them where they are, with a calm loving presence, we help those big feelings back to small enough. We help them carry the emotional load and build the emotional (neural) muscle for them to eventually be able to do it on their own. We strengthen the neural pathways between big feelings and calm, over and over, until that pathway is so clear and so strong, they can walk it on their own. 

Big beautiful neural pathways will let them do big, beautiful things - courage, resilience, independence, self regulation. Those pathways are only built through experience, so before children and teens can do any of this on their own, they’ll have to walk the pathway plenty of times with a strong, calm loving adult. Self-regulation only comes from many experiences of co-regulation. 

When they are calm and connected to us, then we can have the conversations that are growthful for them - ‘Can you help me understand what happened?’ ‘What can help you so this differently next time?’ ‘How can you put things right? Do you need my help to do that?’ We grow them by ‘doing with’ them♥️
Big feelings, and the big behaviour that comes from big feelings, are a sign of a distressed nervous system. Think of this like a burning building. The behaviour is the smoke. The fire is a distressed nervous system. It’s so tempting to respond directly to the behaviour (the smoke), but by doing this, we ignore the fire. Their behaviour and feelings in that moment are a call for support - for us to help that distressed brain and body find the way home. 

The most powerful language for any nervous system is another nervous system. They will catch our distress (as we will catch theirs) but they will also catch our calm. It can be tempting to move them to independence on this too quickly, but it just doesn’t work this way. Children can only learn to self-regulate with lots (and lots and lots) of experience co-regulating. 

This isn’t something that can be taught. It’s something that has to be experienced over and over. It’s like so many things - driving a car, playing the piano - we can talk all we want about ‘how’ but it’s not until we ‘do’ over and over that we get better at it. 

Self-regulation works the same way. It’s not until children have repeated experiences with an adult bringing them back to calm, that they develop the neural pathways to come back to calm on their own. 

An important part of this is making sure we are guiding that nervous system with tender, gentle hands and a steady heart. This is where our own self-regulation becomes important. Our nervous systems speak to each other every moment of every day. When our children or teens are distressed, we will start to feel that distress. It becomes a loop. We feel what they feel, they feel what we feel. Our own capacity to self-regulate is the circuit breaker. 

This can be so tough, but it can happen in microbreaks. A few strong steady breaths can calm our own nervous system, which we can then use to calm theirs. Breathe, and be with. It’s that simple, but so tough to do some days. When they come back to calm, then have those transformational chats - What happened? What can make it easier next time?

Who you are in the moment will always be more important than what you do.
How we are with them, when they are their everyday selves and when they aren’t so adorable, will build their view of three things: the world, its people, and themselves. This will then inform how they respond to the world and how they build their very important space in it. 

Will it be a loving, warm, open-hearted space with lots of doors for them to throw open to the people and experiences that are right for them? Or will it be a space with solid, too high walls that close out too many of the people and experiences that would nourish them.

They will learn from what we do with them and to them, for better or worse. We don’t teach them that the world is safe for them to reach into - we show them. We don’t teach them to be kind, respectful, and compassionate. We show them. We don’t teach them that they matter, and that other people matter, and that their voices and their opinions matter. We show them. We don’t teach them that they are little joy mongers who light up the world. We show them. 

But we have to be radically kind with ourselves too. None of this is about perfection. Parenting is hard, and days will be hard, and on too many of those days we’ll be hard too. That’s okay. We’ll say things we shouldn’t say and do things we shouldn’t do. We’re human too. Let’s not put pressure on our kiddos to be perfect by pretending that we are. As long as we repair the ruptures as soon as we can, and bathe them in love and the warmth of us as much as we can, they will be okay.

This also isn’t about not having boundaries. We need to be the guardians of their world and show them where the edges are. But in the guarding of those boundaries we can be strong and loving, strong and gentle. We can love them, and redirect their behaviour.

It’s when we own our stuff(ups) and when we let them see us fall and rise with strength, integrity, and compassion, and when we hold them gently through the mess of it all, that they learn about humility, and vulnerability, and the importance of holding bruised hearts with tender hands. It’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency, and honesty, and the way we respond to them the most.♥️

#parenting #mindfulparenting

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