A Note from School Psychologist, Tara Reddington

A Message from NES School Psychologist, Tara Reddington
Posted on 05/18/2020

Seeds of Emotion- A Mindful Note from NES School Psychologist, Tara Reddington

Well they say the “apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”. During my over 20 years of working with children and families, I can’t count how many times I’ve looked at mom and/or dad during a meeting about their anxious child and asked, “So which one of you has anxiety?” Usually, with a sigh of honesty, one of the parents fesses up. In these times of covid-19 and the contagious nature of the virus, I was inspired to write about another extremely contagious condition; anxiety.

Angry parents tend to have angry kids. Sad parents have sad kids. Happy, well adjusted parents typically have happy well adjusted kids and of course, anxious parents have anxious kids. As “contagious” as anxiety is, so is calmness and confidence. 

I was working with a young girl once and we needed to make a change in the routine and before letting the daughter move forward with what I was proposing, mom paused and asked, “Honey, is that ok?”. That right there, was a seed of anxiety. Of course mom was trying to ensure her child’s comfort and security with the change but her own insecurity that it MIGHT NOT be ok, shined through and the girl hesitated. I interjected, “Of course, she will be fine!!” and mom again, hovered for a moment to check with her daughter, who thankfully took my cue of confidence.

This very subtle, almost undetectable seed of anxiety is part of a powerful cycle of planting and sowing insecurity. If this is a cycle that sounds familiar, then I’m glad you’re reading it so that you can REPLANT seeds of confidence, which is the opposite of anxiety.

When your young child wants assistance with tasks you know they can do on their own, do not assist them, rather, encourage them to function independently. Children need so much support with daily living and life skills, it is crucial to find areas and jobs in their life where they can shine on their own. This will build confidence and security. When they do complete the independent tasks, be careful to not OVER-PRAISE, as this can lead to the child performing the tasks just to get the praise.

After your child uses the bathroom independently, gets the mail for you, puts his or her siblings diapers in a stack for you or puts cans away in the cupboard, just acknowledge with a thank you and move forward with the next task. Children like to feel useful!! They want to be successful. If the cans fall down or the mail gets stuck, just facilitate with encouraging words but don’t do it for your child and don’t let them quit. These small seeds will grow strong and steady with proper nourishment from your own confidence and your own ability to let your child find their independence.

The moment you actually check in the closet or under the bed for a monster is the moment, you have acknowledged that there actually COULD be something lurking under there. These common and simple rituals happen all the time in homes and without knowing it, moms and dads are sowing seeds of worry and “what ifs”. The response to a child’s fear about something under their bed is best when the caregiver says, “That’s ridiculous. There’s no such thing as monsters!!” The child’s brain shifts into fear mode, which is an emotional state and their “smart brain” turns off in those moments of fear. We need to re-engage their “smart brain” (prefrontal cortex -which most NES kids know about!!) and shut off their fear brain (amygdala).

These very minor adjustments in how you respond to your own fears and your child’s fears can make a huge difference. Creating an awareness of your own responses (even faking it at times if you have to so your child doesn’t “catch it” is important).

Speaking of sowing and growing, I’m not a fan of worms at all but I love gardening. My son was sitting in the dirt with me when he was about 18 months old. He picked up a big fat, squirming earthworm. I became aware of my own reaction. I instinctively wanted to squeal and smack the worm from his hand because it was gross, but I paused and recognized in that moment, that my reaction would become his reaction. So I smiled, while my heart pounded seeing this nasty worm in his little hands and I calmly said, “Oh look at that, a worm. He needs to go back to his home and I just took it from him and gently placed it away from us” My son had no fear of squeamishness over that big slimy worm but I did. He never reacted beyond natural curiosity. Why should he inherit my dislike for worms. It’s inconvenient to not like worms, especially if you are a gardener. I am also proud to say that after 5 children and lots of dirt and lots of worms, I have no problems encountering them in my garden and gently picking them up and moving them to a new location without panic.

I hope that you can be mindful enough when you read this to recognize the areas in your own life that you need to pay more attention to so that your child doesn’t “catch” your worries and fears and anxieties, especially during this very trying time. They are spending a lot more time at home and the opportunities for growth and emotional learning are strongest in the home.

Please try to sow seeds of positivity, love and trust in yourself and your children.

Email me anytime with questions or if you would like advice in this area.

treddington@nssk12.org

Peace and blessings to the NES families...

-Tara