I often find it easy to come up with topics for my weekly mokuso because I just write about current challenges and problems our parents seem to share in common. My intent is to give you valuable bits of information to help your child discover their full and unlimited potential.
Today’s topic is an interesting one because in my 17 years of educating children, and running our dojo I have actually seen and sensed a clear increase of a problem…….ANXIETY. Now I feel it is important to point out there is a difference between having a healthy respect for something and acknowledging something that is clearly dangerous, and being Anxious (fearful).
We see more and more children with anxiety and it is heartbreaking, and I just don’t mean they are a little nervous or anxious at times. No, I am talking about having such intense and constant anxiety it is debilitating. They can barely get out of the house and are constantly freaking out about the smallest things. Many end up having to resort to medication.
First I want to speak to what I observe and some patterns to watch for.
Here is one pattern. It sometimes begins with an innocent and often unnoticed seed and progresses into a deepening downward spiral.
First, let me back up and say “anxiety” is characterized by a feeling of worry or fear that are strong enough to interfere with one’s daily activities. Anxiety is not your big fears like a fire or sharks. They are something much more sinister and destructive. They are your small fears. These small little fears happening multiple times a day are what crush people. Most do not perceive these are fears because they are too small. So I like to say anytime you hesitate, over think something, or second-guess yourself it is really a fear. But these small fears are every bit as dangerous as a big fear.
With this, we can now address the pattern. Often it starts with some experience or event that scares someone, like a death of a relative or pet, or maybe a fear of snakes or flying, or maybe a car accident or illness. This causes a natural self-defence mechanism to go into effect to protect you…….Fear. Fear causes either the “Fight or Flight” reaction. For most modern fears, more than likely it will be to flee, avoid, and back away from.
This reaction can be good except for one thing, our brains see all fears as the same! When you become scared by one fear you tend to become more sensitive to all your fears. So this can be one way the downward spiral begins. You get scared and you back away, then your actions are validated by you and others. You tell yourself “See I was right, that was scary and dangerous.” You are also validated by others. For example a mother saying “Oh Timmy, that was so scary, I am glad I pulled you away from that before you were hurt, my poor baby.” Then as all your fears get bigger and your reaction stronger, you spiral downward until every little thing scares you. What makes it worse is, by doing this you are conditioning the validation of your child’s fears too! I am sure you have seen people that are so scared and anxious about so many things, even with help, they cannot reverse it.
What are the things that contribute to anxiety and are they worse today? Here are the biggest three that I notice:
1. Pressure and expectations: This is a very different world. Life is tougher and harder on kid’s today. School, sports, parent expectations, peer pressure. Pressure to make the rep team, pressure to get not just good grades but exceptional grades to get into University etc etc….The list goes on and on. What can you do? Just watch for this and back off (in a balanced way) for as long as you can. For younger kids…Ages 3-12 Enjoy the moments of being a parent and just let them be kids. Guide and nurture by teaching your child to develop a “growth mindset” instead of fixed mindset. How?Reward attitude and effort, choices, and the process over performance and results. What ruins sports for most kids? What parents say on "The ride home."
2. Overprotective parents: All parents mean well but most do not realize protecting their kids from too much actually does the opposite. When a child always has an adult saving them from fears and protecting them, then validating their feelings they lose both confidence and courage. They become fearful and weak children. You know one of my favourite sayings “When I back away from a fear, the fear gets bigger, but when I power through a fear, I get bigger!” This is how the downward spiral progresses, fear builds every time you let a child back off. Try not protect your child from a fear that is not actually dangerous. Never let them back away from a fear!
3. A paranoid world: One thing I often do when talking with a parent about their anxious child is ask this question; “Does anyone else in the family struggle with anxiety?” You can probably guess the answer. It is not your fault. We are living in an overly paranoid world, increasingly polarized along ideological beliefs to condition us to “fear”, and social media has been the fuel to that fire in a way like we have never seen. Because of technology we cant seem to get away from it. Our society’s primary source for news now is social media, a highly unregulated and sensationalized source to say the least, and the perfect breeding ground for fear and polarizing beliefs. It is conditioning us to be scared of everything!! We are scared of our kids being abducted right in our neighbourhoods. Scared of that storm of the century that happens every other week. Scared of economic uncertainty. Scared of disease, scared if this person wins, scared if that person wins….The list goes on and on. Is there any wonder why we are an increasingly “scared” and paranoid society? How do you counter this? Well maybe we can start with a little less social media and screen time. Then, think……Think some more……Then think about it again and ask yourself “Is this really something for my child to be afraid of. Just become more aware of how scared we are and how unjustified it can be. Then “de-scare” yourself, so you can de-scare your child!
I hope this gives you some thoughts going forward about helping your child develop confidence and resiliency.
Helping you develop.....Courageous, Disciplined, and Humble Children,
Have an amazing week Sensei