Jennifer DuBose, M.S.,
C.A.S., is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private
practice in Batavia and writes a monthly column for Chicago
child is gay, what do you do?
is it time to stop going on your kids' field trips?
to be a good step-parent
Want to eliminate the drama from your child's
anxious moments? Not only can those moments go more smoothly, but
you can also turn them into opportunities to learn how to
self-soothe through later crises.
Say you're at the pediatrician's office and it's time for
shots or stitches, or you're at the dentist's office with your
child, who needs a cavity drilled. The wailing and screaming begin
and you feel helpless. But are you? The small things you can do to
make a big difference.
Engage her senses and focus her attention on grounding
Begin by making eye contact with your child, if that's
feasible at the time.
Encourage her to take a few deep breaths, and take a few
yourself. Not only will this help you help her, but they're
contagious, like yawns. Then make her as comfortable as possible.
Medical offices can be chilly places. If a blanket isn't available,
the warmth of your hand can stop the shivering that panic inspires.
Something as simple as stroking her hand or making slow, gentle
circles with your thumb can be tremendously reassuring.
Talk to her. You know that trick I bet you already use
when you need to lull your child to sleep? You intuitively begin to
speak more slowly and quietly, and, quite literally, she slows
down, too. The same principle can work in a crisis. Her heart rate
slows and her breathing becomes less shallow. Her body relaxes and
her panic dissipates. Remind her about a relaxing future activity
you'll share, and give her a benign choice-about which video or
book you'll cuddle up with together, for example. Not only does
this unconsciously suggest that she will survive the present
ordeal, it'll engage her brain in a task that distracts from her
And it is her moment.
Be honest with yourself. Is your anxiety feeding hers? If
so, allow your partner or a nurse to rub her back when she gets her
It's not easy to know that our children are afraid or in
pain, but I'm encouraging you to become the calm center to which
yours can anchor themselves in a crisis.
Whether it's an injury, a fire drill in your building or a
tornado warning, these are opportunities for you to help fill your
kids' emotional toolboxes. Remember that their brains, when not
engaged in the heightened state of arousal that panic creates, can
be more focused on problem solving through a crisis-and will better
recall and employ those problem-solving skills when the need to use
them arises again.
Jennifer DuBose, M.S., C.A.S., is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Batavia.
See more of Jennifer's stories here.
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