Identifying Triggers and Determining Your Child's Fears – Anxiety
When your child responds with anxiety in specific situations, it means he or she fears particular consequences of being in that particular situation. Some children suffer from acute episodes of anxiety that seem to come out of the blue and accompanied by intense physical symptoms, (a racing heart, dizziness, trembling, choking sensation, chest tightness, and nausea). Most children, however, do not experience anxiety as a free-floating feeling with attacks for a reason. Even if they are not sure exactly what it is, something triggers their anxious response. It could be discarding a useless item, it could be sleeping alone in a room, it could be raising a hand in class. It could even be receiving a quiz or test back from the teacher, and seeing what the grade is. So the first step in addressing anxiety is to identify specific triggers. Many parents are often able to quickly identify the situations that trigger their child's anxiety. Other parents have a harder time and need more guidance. I find that when parents learn as much as they can about how stress works, they become better at identifying these triggers and the many subtle variations in a situation that trigger different levels of fear.
Once triggers have been identified, the specific content or structure of the fear must be clarified.
What does your child think will happen when he is in a trigger situation? Determining the content or structure is not always as clear to parents as are the triggers. For example, parents may be aware of the child becomes worried when she is called up to answer a question in class. She may try to avoid being called by slouching in her chair, looking down, and allowing her hair to hide her face. In this case, the trigger is clear – being called up – but the parents don't know what about it frightens her.
Even when they ask her, "why does talking in front of the class scare you?" They're likely to get a very vague answer: "I just don't like speaking in front of everybody." Some parents will often leave it at that and only assume their child is shy. The content of this fear remains a mystery, but the identifying material is vital for helping your child. For example, she may have fears of being judged negatively by others, (social anxiety) or may have perfectionist worries and feel terrified about giving a wrong answer.
Identifying both the triggers and the content of your child's fears is vital in the process of helping a child conquer his/her fears. There is a great deal to know about the specifics of your child's concerns, so this is not a process you should try to rush through.
The best way to determine the triggers is to observe your child and learn the situations in which he becomes distressed, worried, or avoidant.
For starters, ask yourself the following questions:
– in which situations does my Child become distressed?
– Does my Child avoid any situations?
– Is my child distressed in situations that previously were not problematic?
If this points you straight to all your child's triggers – great!
However, remember that your child may not have visible signs of anxiety. For example, she may attempt to convince you she just simply no longer likes playing soccer, rather than admitting to being terrified of being bitten by an off-leash dog in the park where the practice is held. Or she might start to avoid certain social situations by making excuses you find illogical or strange. Because a good proportion of children do not show obvious signs of anxiety, a little more detective work on your part may be necessary. This starts with monitoring.
Learn how to monitor your child's fears, and triggers in the next educational article!