When you have a child who needs constant reassurance you find yourself attempting to preempt and address their worries before they even appear. I discovered this week that doing so can actually add to their worries and result in the polar opposite of what you were trying achieve.
Recently we went on our first holiday as a family; just us and the dog. It went fairly well on the whole, other than the heavens opening for most of the week, and a certain youngest son being a bit too ‘helpful’ when children were in front of him on a slide, not wanting to go down.
Admittedly it wasn’t exactly a relaxing holiday. We spent far too much time inside due to the weather when we have two children who love being outdoors running around. The whole point of going where we did was to give them the opportunity to run around in a controlled outside environment, so that went a bit out the window. We did get to see some wildlife though.
When we did manage to get outside we reassured our son that he would be fine so long as he stayed where we could see him, and if we could see him he wouldn’t get lost. mistake.
He interpreted that as “if I don’t hold your hand then I will get lost”. This meant it took even more reassurance to get him to run around like a child his age would normally want to – like he would normally want to.
We found that giving our son too much information about what was going to happen, rather than setting his mind at ease actually caused him to worry about it. He is like me, he is a worrier. The difference is I have 30-something years of life experience to know when I can ignore the worry (I know enough about anxiety to know that saying “do not worry” will not work, we can only attempt to bury it but it will always be there).
Reassurance isn’t a bad thing, it just needs to be done in the right way, otherwise you have an uphill struggle. When someone is fully into a session of anxiety about something you can’t just say “don’t panic, all is fine” and expect any form of positive reaction. You’re more likely to be looked at like you’re a two-headed alien-galactic-president, than have them snap out of it and reply with “oh, yes, aren’t I silly”.
The problem we have is that he is extremely curious. He will ask all sorts of questions about things and doesn’t like answers that don’t fulfill his desire for knowledge. That means we sometimes overshare information he doesn’t need to know in order to satiate that desire, and in doing so we fuel his anxiety. Whether his curiosity for knowledge stems from his anxiety, or his anxiety stems from his knowledge I don’t know, it’s a bit of a vicious cycle.
Preparing him for things in advance causes worry, and sometimes refusal when the time comes. Surprising things on him causes immediate stress and again sometimes refusal. We have to learn to strike the right balance, but I don’t know where that balance lies.
This need to reassure him stems from advice from social services, but they are wrong. It isn’t necessary to prepare him as much as they advised we should. They did it during the matching process and I hate to think how much worry that may have caused him at the time. He was quite young, so may not have understood enough to worry, but he’s also very bright, so who knows how much it affected him.
What I have learned is: When reassuring him do not say “If you [don’t] do this you might…” (I say this all the time). Do not say “You do not need to worry about…” (I’ve said this fairly often). And certainly never ever say “Don’t panic” (I’ve never said this). It will have the opposite effect.