Watching a woman with her little girl when out walking the dog, I got to thinking about how our anticipation of events and how we react can have such a powerful effect on our children.
Take for example the child who is scared of dogs unexpectedly encountering one being walked towards them whilst out with Mum. Now us Mums will do anything in our power to protect our babies from fear, pain and discomfort so what do we do? We take our child’s hand in ours to provide comfort of course. So, even before the child has had chance to register the dog and decide how to react, Mum has anticipated the child’s fear and done what she always does in these situations. She has fired off the “fear” anchor! She has unwittingly used that particular physical act to elicit the emotion of fear in her child.
Working with children with phobias I frequently find that dealing with the parents’ desire to spare their child distress is one of the most difficult aspects of the process. With the best intents in the world, we make it harder for our children to overcome their irrational fears! Most of us (reluctantly in many cases,) encourage our children to pick themselves up if they fall over and let them learn through their own mistakes, and yet inadvertently we can increase the power of phobias with our demonstrations of support.
I am not suggesting for one moment that we throw our kids to the wolves,
nor that we shouldn’t protect them from real dangers, but perhaps taking pause and holding off for a short while to allow them to process their own reactions is possible. Try re-framing the anchor by taking their hand a few moments later than usual, and praising them for their bravery rather than making it an action which re-enforces their fear.