The other day I was on the phone talking with my daughter when I heard one of the grandkids screaming in the background. He sounded pretty terrified. My daughter calmly stopped the conversation to ask her middle child why he was screaming. His response was, he wanted to go outside and couldn’t because of a fly on the sliding glass door. He was screaming because he was afraid of the house fly.
Big Emotions are an important part of a kids life.
Big Emotions are an inescapable part of a kid’s life. What was happening that my grandson was so afraid of the house fly? When something shows up in a child’s life that they didn’t expect and is unwanted, it causes them to feel frightened. As parents, it is vital not to try to convince our children out of their fears. Once we feel fear or worry in our body, it can’t be unfelt. If we try to persuade them out of the fear with logic or saying something like, “It’s only a little house fly; it can’t hurt you,” or “what’s the big deal, it’s only a tiny little fly” What is the message we are sending? We are telling our kids that they can’t trust their feelings. Our children may think, Hmmm, I guess I don’t know what my feeling is telling me. Our child learns not to trust their feelings and look to others to tell them how they should feel. This leaves a kid all alone in their fears. There is nothing scarier than feeling all alone in fear.
How can I Surround my Child's Fear with Connection?
In my book, Giggles in my Heart, the main character is afraid of the “monster” under her bed. If your child is fearful of the “monsters under his/her bed.” How might you surround that fear with your presence and connection? You can get inside the anxiety by lending your connection and using curiosity to explore it with your child. Do this in a stepwise fashion. Don’t try to convince your child out of fear with logic or reasoning. When you say, “see, there aren’t any monsters under the bed” or “monsters aren’t real,” You are using logic or reasoning to try to convince your child out of the fear. Instead, join your child and get curious with them by asking them to tell you when they start to feel scared of the monsters.
Is it outside the door to their room? Is it inside the room? Is it when they are next to the bed? What you are doing is that instead of the fear just coming up suddenly and overwhelming your child, you are adding your connection and presence inside of the fear. You are opening some space and approaching the fear with curiosity. Doing this changes the fear in your child because you added some distance between the fear and the fight or flight mode (shut down and overwhelm). One other thing you can add when you do this is to say, “I am so glad we are doing this; this feels important.” Trust that the shift is happening as you explore the fear together with curiosity and connection to your child.
How Does Dysregulation Lead to Co-regulation and Eventually to Self-Regulation
A helpful key to helping our kids overcome their fears, stress, and anxiety is our connection. A child becomes dysregulated when big emotions overwhelm them. It may be hard to remain calm in the face of their dysregulation. However, our calm presence and connection in their moment of dysregulation will infuse a feeling of connection into the situation. It is this connection that will lead to co-regulation and eventually our child’s self-regulation. This ability to self-regulate takes time and lots of practice.
One thing I did with my kids and now my grandkids was infuse my connection by singing a slow rhymic song repeatedly. Something like Johnny, Johnny, mommy’s near. You are safe, and I am here. (I like rhymes) Sometimes it would take 20 or more rounds of this song before my child calmed down.
What can I do when my Child is Overwhelmed with a Big Emotion like Fear and has a Melt-Down?
In the moment of a child’s dysregulation, very little skill-building happens. Most often, it is just about surviving the moment. Place your hand over your heart and take some deep breaths. Repeat a mantra to yourself. Here is a favorite of mine. My child is a good child. He/she is having a hard time right now. We are going to get through this. Remember, It may take many deep breaths. This is so essential for helping your child feel less alone with big emotions.
My first book, Giggles in my Heart is an international best-selling book. Parents tell me this book is a favorite bedtime book. One Dad said his daughter slept through the night for the first time after several nights of listening to my book before going to sleep. In addition to the book, I’ve created a month’s worth of Giggles in My Heart daily activity sheets just for parents who want some additional resources to help their kiddos with anxiety and fears.