Written by: Joella Anzelc, Professor of Psychology
At our recent East Coast Kabuki Conference in Baltimore, the issue of anxiety in our Kabuki children was raised and I offered examples of things my husband and I had done with our daughter, Kristin (30), throughout her development. Books or at least chapters are written on this, but I don’t want to overwhelm anyone. I decided to limit my initial writing to the top 10 that came to my mind!
1) Be mindful of and deal with your own emotions first. Your child will pick up on your voice and body language.
- Breathe and relax your body
- Keep a calm, soothing tone of voice
- Hope for the best, plan for the worst…or at least the many possibilities
2) Provide as much regularity and structure as possible. Many of our kids seem to be comforted by routine. I posted menus by the week and still use a large calendar in the kitchen to record appointments, work schedules, and various events. I also have our various phone numbers posted along with those of friends who can be called when needed. I also posted her personal care routines and labeled her drawers and storage areas.
3) Music and singing, especially of familiar children’s song when she was little. We sang in the car, waiting for the doctor, through at-home routines (“Clean up, clean up…”, “Brush, brush, brush your teeth…”). Even today, when on car trips, Kristin listens to her I-pod the entire time.
4) When possible, prepare your child ahead of time (for medical procedures, new experiences, special events, changes in routines, and such)
- Talk to your child in age-appropriate language; don’t give more details than they need.
- Use a matter-of-fact tone of voice and be honest to develop trust.
5) Normalize (do not deny) the child’s feelings. “It’s ok to feel scared, worried, excited…” and then offer your own experience with fear and coping (even if you have to make it up!): “When I feel (scared, nervous, excited…), I …” then tell your child what helps you.
6) Talk the child through experiences.
- As it turned out, Kristin is extremely auditory and she found it soothing for me to talk her through things. Even something as simple as washing her hair. Kristin feels like she is falling when she bends her head for hair washing. I would talk to her and have her feel the sides of the shower and assure her that I would not let her fall.
- I eventually got Kristin to talk to herself! One of my most successful lightbulbs was when I suggested that she have her brain tell her body that she is safe and that her mom is near and will not let her fall!
7) I intentionally taught Kristin breathing and progressive relaxation techniques, which really helped ease the tension in her body. You might be able to find some simple descriptions of these on the internet.
8) When Kristin was very little, my doctors encouraged us to hold her on our laps for many procedures/exams. This made the doctor visit less scary. As she got older, she was comforted by holding our hands. Throughout her teens, Kristin held our hand during blood draws, which occurred frequently. We still offer our hand when she has medical procedures.
9) Remind your child that he/she is not alone and that you will be there to support him/her. Use religion if that is part of your life. We are church-goers, so we sometimes pray with Kristin and remind her that God is with her. She has been comforted knowing she is on the prayer chain at church during hospitalizations.
10) Parent self-care
- We are all human and need to take care of ourselves in order to be fully available to our children. Find a way to express your own frustrations, fears, emotions, tensions with your partner, a friend, relative, therapist.
- Silent scream – in the bathroom or a closet. It is amazing how just 30 seconds alone can break your own cycle of emotionality.
I hope these ideas will help get you thinking about things that will work for you and your child. Oh….sorry one more…bribery! All those stickers, stars, and suckers the doctors, therapists, and teachers give out often do help! I have been known to promise ice cream if Kristin would behave well for the doctor. Sometimes it even worked!!