Understanding the root causes of an anxious child
Understanding the root causes of an anxious child
His parents got in touch with Pinnacle Wellbeing Services to help get him back into school full time. As our work with the boy began, we quickly realised there were issues with the parents that were impacting the child, which needed to be addressed.
Feelings of anxiety in children are common – and normal.
Children go through a lot of changes in the process of growing up and so feeling worried or nervous at times is a developmentally appropriate response.
When their feelings of anxiety begin to interfere with their day-to-day lives, however, then parents need to seek help.
Giving children the tools they need to overcome anxiety
Treating anxiety disorders in children is, on the whole, a straightforward process, which can take as little as six weeks. Pinnacle Wellbeing Services give children – and parents – the tools they need to break negative thought patterns and we also teach them how to apply these tools.
For the most effective results, we work to educate parents alongside the child. As the adult providing day-to-day care, it’s essential that parents understand what is involved, that they’re comfortable with it and that they make sure their children are putting what we have taught them into practice regularly.
Having both parents onboard was critical to the success of helping one young child overcome his anxiety around school and getting him back into full-time education.
Our initial sessions highlighted a deeper issue at play between the parents, who were divorced and had an acrimonious relationship. Their parenting styles were very different – she was, perhaps, too soft, while he was stern and unsympathetic to how his son was feeling – and they were barely talking to each other.
A big part of helping the boy was in mediating between his parents to help them take a uniform approach to supporting their son and come to an agreement about how the two of them would deal with things going forward.
Some of that work was about agreeing on a strategy with them, but it was also about getting them to reflect on their own behaviour.
Their frustration with each other was coming out with their son. He was feeling caught between them both and also feeling confused – when he was with his mother things were one way and when he was with his father they were another.
Over a period of three months we worked together with the boy and his parents to explore the root cause of his anxiety.
As we began to unpack it, we found that his parents being at loggerheads with each other was feeding into his anxiety, so we also recommended that his parents attended individual sessions.
For the boy himself our approach was twofold:
- We gave him a safe container to talk about how he felt regarding the situation between his parents, and particularly his relationship with his father.
- We taught him practical strategies to manage his anxiety when he went to school.
His father had started a new family and had moved to a new home much farther away from the family home. This had severely disrupted the boy’s life as he no longer saw his father as frequently as he previously had.
The boy was frustrated with the way his father was with him, and also felt that he was no longer important to him.
The approach we took to helping him deal with his anxiety around school was effectively exposure therapy. Our aim was to teach him the techniques to extend his comfort zone to be able to stay in the school environment a little bit longer each time.
We taught him grounding and breathing exercises and also focused on building awareness of his thought patterns. He was being held back by negative thought patterns – predicting difficulty ahead of going into a situation, which would make him anxious, which then became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Rather than predicting how much he was going to be able to cope with at school, we gave him lots of little experiments to do to get him to challenge his belief about what he was capable of.
For the parents, who wouldn’t be in the same room, it was suggested that they both come for sessions on their own.
For therapy to be effective for any child, it requires a systemic approach. A child is entirely dependent on their parents. You can do some really good work with the child but if they then go back into a system that’s broken or is struggling, that’s going to heavily dilute the value of the work you’ve done. So although therapy for children is primarily about working with the child themself, it’s also about trying to create a more supportive structure around them.
Both parents were at completely different starting points when it came to how they felt about therapy. In speaking to both of them separately, we gained a better understanding of what was happening between them and how it was impacting their son.
One of the things that emerged was that the mother was feeling stressed and struggling to deal with the situation with both her son and former partner on her own. As a result, our therapy focused on teaching her ways she could bolster her resilience.
The father, on the other hand, was very resistant to the idea of therapy from the outset, so part of the challenge was getting him onboard.
We used motivational interviewing skills to encourage him to open up about what his concerns and goals were for his son. Then we formed an alliance based on what it was that he wanted to achieve for his son and how we could help him to do that.
It transpired that his reluctance was mainly about his misconceptions of therapy and also because he was in denial about the problem. His denial stemmed from his own worry and the fact he had been unable to deal with his son’s anxiety himself. He also felt there was a stigma attached to having a son who was going to therapy.
Our work together was in helping him to come to terms with that and also accept the reality of the situation.
Are you worried about your child?
If you’re worried that ordinary childhood feelings of worry have grown into something more severe, then please get in touch with us today for a free, no-obligation consultation.