As parents, we comfort our children when they’re scared. But are we doing that too often?
New research shows that some of things we parents do in our efforts to help may not be so helpful when it comes to children with anxiety issues.
An Arizona State University study shows that parents with an anxious child often fall into the “protection trap” that may negatively influence their child’s behavior down the road.
“Anxiety in kids is one of the most common disorders in childhood. A certain amount of anxiety is normal and necessary to stay safe. It’s when the problematic levels of anxiety crop up when you can’t go to school or hang out with friends that it becomes a major problem,” said Lindsay Holly, a graduate student at Arizona State University, whose paper on the matter was published in Child Psychiatry and Human Development. “That’s when we can really look at what parents are doing and guide them in having a big impact on helping their kids cope with fears.”
Sometimes parents who try to protect may actually reinforce their children’s anxious feelings.
Often parents swoop in to take control when a child starts to show signs of anxiety or fear. Parents may tell the child what to do, how to behave and what to say during situations when the child is anxious. Or, they might just take over.
“They do the scary thing for them. The children don’t overcome the situation and they keep feeling anxious,” Holly said.
Children who may be fearful of attending birthday party because they are anxious aren’t necessarily helped when a parent RSVPs their regrets for the child.
“Even anxious children naturally face fears and situations that are frightening to them. Parents can look out for this type of bravery, no matter how small, and reward their child. Attention is often the most powerful type of reward so doing easy things like giving a high five, a smile, or a simple ‘I like how you faced your fears!’ can go a long way.
“Being supportive and helping kids face their fears is really the key,” Holly said.