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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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.♥️
For our kids and teens, the new year will bring new adults into their orbit. With this, comes new opportunities to be brave and grow their courage - but it will also bring anxiety. For some kiddos, this anxiety will feel so big, but we can help them feel bigger.

The antidote to a felt sense of threat is a felt sense of safety. As long as they are actually safe, we can facilitate this by nurturing their relationship with the important adults who will be caring for them, whether that’s a co-parent, a stepparent, a teacher, a coach. 

There are a number of ways we can facilitate this:

- Use the name of their other adult (such as a teacher) regularly, and let it sound loving and playful on your voice.
- Let them see that you have an open, willing heart in relation to the other adult.
- Show them you trust the other adult to care for them (‘I know Mrs Smith is going to take such good care of you.’)
- Facilitate familiarity. As much as you can, hand your child to the same person when you drop them off.

It’s about helping expand their village of loving adults. The wider this village, the bigger their world in which they can feel brave enough. 

For centuries before us, it was the village that raised children. Parenting was never meant to be done by one or two adults on their own, yet our modern world means that this is how it is for so many of us. 

We can bring the village back though - and we must - by helping our kiddos feel safe, known, and held by the adults around them. We need this for each other too.

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 that block our way.♥️

That power of felt safety matters for all relationships - parent and child; other adult and child; parent and other adult. It all matters. 

A teacher, or any important adult in the life of a child, can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child (and their parent) so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, I care about you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
Approval, independence, autonomy, are valid needs for all of us. When a need is hungry enough we will be driven to meet it however we can. For our children, this might look like turning away from us and towards others who might be more ready to meet the need, or just taking.

If they don’t feel they can rest in our love, leadership, approval, they will seek this more from peers. There is no problem with this, but we don’t want them solely reliant on peers for these. It can make them vulnerable to making bad decisions, so as not to lose the approval or ‘everythingness’ of those peers.

If we don’t give enough freedom, they might take that freedom through defiance, secrecy, the forbidden. If we control them, they might seek more to control others, or to let others make the decisions that should be theirs.

All kids will mess up, take risks, keep secrets, and do things that baffle us sometimes. What’s important is, ‘Do they turn to us when they need to, enough?’ The ‘turning to’ starts with trusting that we are interested in supporting all their needs, not just the ones that suit us. Of course this doesn’t mean we will meet every need. It means we’ve shown them that their needs are important to us too, even though sometimes ours will be bigger (such as our need to keep them safe).

They will learn safe and healthy ways to meet their needs, by first having them met by us. This doesn’t mean granting full independence, full freedom, and full approval. What it means is holding them safely while also letting them feel enough of our approval, our willingness to support their independence, freedom, autonomy, and be heard on things that matter to them.

There’s no clear line with this. Some days they’ll want independence. Some days they won’t. Some days they’ll seek our approval. Some days they won’t care for it at all, especially if it means compromising the approval of peers. The challenge for us is knowing when to hold them closer and when to give space, when to hold the boundary and when to release it a little, when to collide and when to step out of the way. If we watch and listen, they will show us. And just like them, we won’t need to get it right all the time.♥️

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