What Happened? The Follow-Up Question

14 Jul


From Your Anxious Child: Emails to Parents by Edward H. Plimpton, PhD



What Happened? The Follow-up Question


In the heat of the anxious moment, it is hard for children to have any perspective. Furthermore, they may not feel very receptive to the best-intentioned efforts of their parents. All they know is that they feel lousy, and when the anxious moment passes, children often act on the “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” principle. However, the mastery of anxiety involves recognizing that the feelings are “false alarms” and that they will go away on their own. By asking some simple questions, parents can help children begin to realize that their initial anxieties were not good predictors of what actually happened in real life.

Say, for instance, that the child has a big test in school and complains about feeling cold and asks, “Do you think that I have a fever?” You feel his forehead and it is as cool a cucumber, and you tell your child that he does not have a fever. The follow-up involves a simple question when the child returns from school, such as, “Whatever happened to that cold feeling you had this morning?” And hopefully the child will respond with something like, “Oh that feeling went away as soon as I entered the school building.” Such questions and comments slowly help children make the difficult connection that their initial reactions are not always good indications of what will actually happen. Since children, especially in the early and mid-adolescent years, are very sensitive to any adult suggesting that they know how they feel, it is probably prudent to take on the role of the curious bystander, rather than the “know-it-all adult.” But over time, the child will be quietly building a bank of accumulated experiences, so that he or she will be more accepting when a parent says, “Do you remember how you felt when you (…went to your last birthday party, sleepover, started last semester)?”

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