Teachable moments can come from a wide variety of sources, including other parents. From time to time parents write blogs for us that we think you will find interesting, useful, or entertaining. Please enjoy this post from a fellow parent.
To say that I have a worrisome child would be an understatement. After the tsunami that struck Japan in 2011, he refused to flush the toilet for six months for fear it would flood our house. Now, at age nine, we struggle to get him to sleep in his own bed because he is worried about robbers and burglars. Sleepovers only happen if they are on our turf. And every once in a while, he presents a new, seemingly nonsensical fear that makes us wonder where he even came up with the idea.
As a parent, dealing with this for more than eight years has been a real challenge. Fortunately, we have developed a system that helps him work through any of his worries. Through trial and error, I’ve learned the correct way to recognize and respond to these fears. These are my top three tips:
• Don’t Judge Their Irrational Fears – If they are worried about something, don’t immediately dismiss the fear by telling them it is silly. Obviously we know flushing the toilet is not going to flood our house and kill us all. But it was a very real fear at the time for my five-year-old. Rather than tell him he had an overactive imagination, we sat down to discuss the mechanics of a toilet, where the water comes from, what we would notice first if there was a real problem, how slowly the water filters out of a toilet, etc. I will admit: we used Google a lot in this discussion. But the more information we could use in our explanation, the more he understood why his fear was irrational. And involving him in the research helped him to not feel foolish or stupid for worrying about it.
• Discuss Their Rational Fears – In a day and age with school shootings and violence everywhere you turn, it’s hard for our children to escape the bad news. I know the second my son’s face starts to tense up that he is worrying about something. Every time I see this, I take him to a quiet place to talk. Or, I offer that if he wants to talk about anything that might be bothering him, I’ll be in the other room. Thankfully he is very good about opening up with what’s bothering him. After one of the more recent school shootings, we discussed what procedures his school has in place to keep him safe and who he could talk to at school if he ever became extremely worried or afraid for his safety. The Boys Town Crisis guide has great tips on how to facilitate this conversation and ease their fears.
• Give Them the Tools to Calm Themselves – Relaxation techniques are huge for our family as they really seem to help in stressful situations. We practice breathing exercises that he can use when he is worried. Together we have developed a list of activities to distract his attention so he is not focusing on fear. For example, going outside to shoot hoops. Other activities are meant to be quieter so that he can do them at school or in public, like saying the ABCs backwards in his head or drawing the person sitting in front of him. These simple actions really help him focus his attention on something other than his fear. Here are similar tips you can try:
More than anything, I’ve learned in raising him that these are the things that make me a good resource in his eyes to help him deal with his fears:
• Reserve judgment
• Talk to him and try to understand him
• Watch for those little gestures that indicate when he is worried
My goal whenever we talk is to help give him information and suggestions on how to calm his fears so that eventually when he leaves my house (tear) he will be able do it by himself.