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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Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

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