How Reassurance is Negatively Affecting Your Child's Anxiety
Parents want to protect their children. Even parents who struggle with the role of parent want what is best for their child. I truly believe that. There are cases however, in which a parent’s own struggles get in the way of their ability to EFFECTIVELY guide their children through the child’s difficult emotions. One of the ways parents attempt to help their child with difficult emotions is through providing reassurance. Reassurance sounds like “it will be okay, everything will be fine, it will go away, or I’ll handle this for you” Reassurance is a natural response to hearing a difficult situation. Reassurance can be very effective in building rapport and connection in a relationship. Reassurance can be helpful in providing quick relief in a highly distressing crisis situation. However, there are some consequences of reassurance that could be working against your long term goals of developing a child that has the capacity to tolerate and regulate their own emotions and behaviors in response to difficult situations.
The consequences of providing excessive and misplaced reassurance are that it will develop an attachment to you that is not sustainable. Even though you want to, you cannot guarantee that things will get better or everything will be okay. A child will continue to look to you to regulate their negative emotions, when in fact you want to turn the reigns over to them as they get older. Reassurance can be considered invalidating, in other words dismissive of the negative experience of the child. It could develop a mistrust in themselves to accurately perceive a situation.
What can you do?
Increase your awareness of your desire to reassure.
Acknowledge, without judgement, that you have a desire to reassure your child.
Allow this to indicate to you that you are uncomfortable.
Utilize your own coping skills to decrease your distress in the situation.
Let go of the belief that you and you alone are responsible for making your child’s world perfect and pain free.
Take the time to listen to what is bothering your child.
Validate their experience by acknowledging their negative emotion.
Ask them if they want to feel better about the situation. Then ask them what they have or want to do to feel better in this situation.
Then ask them how effective that was in helping them to feel better in the situation. Let them know they have the power to respond to this situation and give them the space to explore what options they have.
Ask how you can support them in them choosing one of those options on how to handle the situation for themselves.
Block your desire to rescue!
Follow up to see how things are going and provide praise for any effort you see your child making to take ownership of their response to their problems.
Do you struggle to know how to handle your child’s anxiety? If you need help navigating your child’s anxiety, reach out for a session with Emily Ellis. She can be reach by email or at 615-945-0090.