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Enabling our child’s anxiety by helping (read: overly controlling) them, With Michal Simon, LCSW.
Michal is a licensed clinical social worker who works with children, teens and adults, and specializes in trauma and anxiety.
She enjoys working with complex traumas. Throughout the day, she is constantly going between working with children and adults, and she loves this variety of experiences. Michal always wanted to be a therapist. She has a love for psychology and enjoyed shadowing therapists in college. Michal found it inspiring when people used life’s challenges as an opportunity for growth. She loves working with that depth and watching people working on their self-growth.
Oftentimes, parents will bring their child into her practice to work on picky eating.
Usually this is a child trying to gain autonomy through eating. When they can’t get this autonomy, the child goes to shame and doubt. There’s a concept that overprotecting enables anxiety, which is hard for parents to understand. When we protect our children too much, we take away the child’s ability to problem solve and we are telling their mind that they can’t handle difficult situations. If a parent takes away these abilities from the child, the child has no opportunity for growth in that area. This increases the child’s anxiety and ability to deal with problems. As a parent, how do you know when you’re overprotecting? Ask yourself, am I noticing stress, anger or anxiety in myself about my child’s issue? Is this issue within my child’s capability to figure out on his own? Michal’s 4 year old came up to her and said I found this toy in my brother’s room that I want to take to school. Instead of saying, you can’t take that, she said do you think your brother would be happy if you took his toy without permission? Michal laid out the situation in question form for him to think about. A few minutes later, her 4 year old told her that he wasn’t going to take it to school because his brother would be upset. Michal let her child problem solve on his own instead of yelling at him about what he should do.
Being a conscious parent, is becoming aware of your own feelings and understanding why your child’s behavior is triggering you and why you’re trying to control it.
When your child puts on a quirky outfit, instead of forcing him to change, think about what insecurity this is bringing up in you. What are really going to be the consequences if my child wears this outfit? If your child refuses to wear a coat in the winter, let him go without a coat one day and hope he learns his lesson. When a parent realizes they are exaggerating the negative consequences that may occur, they should step back and let the child decide. Your child needs boundaries, but within those boundaries we must let our children make choices. To parallel this with food, it’s amazing to see the choices your children will make when you give them autonomy over food. You will see them trying to make choices that feel good in their bodies.
Parents are often scared that their child will fail.
When Michal deals with teenagers who are anxious about school, she makes them realize how silly it is to be anxious for a test. Your child won’t fail out of school because of one test or one homework assignment. When you notice that you’re getting into a control battle with your child, it’s usually a sign that you’re trying to control too much. When you fight, it usually ends in a blowup. If you take a step back and think why am I fighting with my child? Am I letting my anxiety take over? My child is trying to establish autonomy and I’m trying to control something, probably because I’m anxious about the worst case scenario. If my child goes to school without homework, I don’t have control over this. You can check in with the teacher and ask her to come up with a consequence or a form of encouragement. You’re not hearing what your child really needs in the moment.
Sometimes a child will dress oddly or do something strange because they aren’t getting enough attention.
A child that is forced to eat, may just stop eating altogether. When the child is getting more attention for the negative behaviors than the positive, they’ll continue with the negative behaviors. Let’s say you’re on your phone and your child misbehaves. All of a sudden you look up and give your child attention. In the child’s mind, he is thinking if I misbehave, that’s how my mother pays attention to me. Kids who don’t have enough physical contact will even look to be hit. Give specific praise to your children about things they have done. It takes years to work on this but it’s important to remain mindful and present. You do what you can and if your child is still upset, can you deal with this? It’s not about the outcome but about attunement to what your child’s needs are at the moment.
When you let children make their own decisions, you’re telling them you trust them.
You want to be the calm you wish to see in your child. When we’re anxious we go into fight or flight mode, so if you can try to slow things down then you can tune in to the little hints you’re getting from the environment and from your child’s face.
Gila Glassberg is a Master's level registered dietitian and a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor. As a teenager, she was faced with constant diet talk, body shaming and obsessive guilt around food. She struggled with disordered eating. This is what propelled her into the field of nutrition. She uses a non-diet, weight-neutral approach called Intuitive Eating. She helps growth oriented women break out of chronic dieting, and regain clarity into what is really important to them.
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