Have a Question? Need Parenting Advice? Ask Michael Hawton

My wife, who is a special education teacher, is seeing an increasing number of children presenting at the learning centre in the school where she works saying that they aren’t coping and with more feeble excuses for not being in class. These are students who are increasingly not engaging in learning and saying it’s all too hard. School refusal, I am told, is at an all-time high.

School leaders who I speak with are increasingly telling me there is a spate of parents coming up to the school saying that their child is being bullied and Jonathan Haidt, author of The Coddling of the American Mind, is saying that as a result of culture of ‘safetyism’ in western nations a larger number of children are being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder than a generation ago.

The presentation of an anxious child can present a real conundrum for parents, particularly if they themselves are going through a family crisis. On the one hand, any parent of an anxious child wants to be a reassuring parent who is being concerned and kind. They will tend to give in and ‘accommodate’ their child’s stressing out because not-to appears to be unkind. Parents get ‘drawn-in’ to a child’s anxiety (and avoidance behaviour) through family ‘accommodation’. Accommodation can include both active participation in the child’s anxious symptoms and modification of the family routine caused by the child’s anxiety. The problem with accommodating like this is that these responses are mostly counter to the cognitive and behavioural principles used for overcoming anxiety. They may impede a child’s capacity to cope. Where therapy aims to promote coping, minimise avoidance, encourage deliberate exposure and de-catastrophise, a parent’s protective responses may do the opposite.

So, where does this leave us?

If parents can be given a good reason to override the triggering of their attachment system, by introducing them to a parent-led method for managing a child s anxiety, there is growing evidence that they can help their child adapt to adverse events. In other words, parents can lead the change in their child’s ability to cope.

By building up a collection of coping strategies in their child, parents can help a child to cope rather than succumb to their anxiety or fear. Parents can do this, if only they know what to say or do at various times in their child’s reactions to stress to develop a parent-led method for managing anxiety. By increasing children’s internal locus of control, parents can help their child become better at using an inner resourcefulness.

The No Scaredy Cats program for developing robustification in children is a short, method-based course that can be learnt by parents over three weeks. Parents then take the skills they learn in the program to apply in their future interactions with their child.

For more information on No Scaredy Cats click here.

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