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 experiences.
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 tough moment.
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 shots.
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.