Assisting parents with managing overly anxious children – Part One

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Assisting parents with managing overly anxious children – Part One

Origins of anxiety

Anxiety dates back to primitive man.

Anxiety, an ancient and universal phenomenon

Let’s go back in time… some 315 000 years or more.

Gert Grotmann, his 4 wives and 12 dirty children live in up against a mountain, above a fertile valley. Imagine that, while they sheltered in their cave, huddling close to the fire to escape the cold of the night, wife number three, Eentandia, asks Gert to go down to stream to fetch water. After all, a woman needs her tea.

Gert, after refusing rather impolitely and vocally questioning her sanity, would probably ask her if she thought he had a death wish. Why? He would PERCEIVE situation as dangerous, possible life threatening.

Anxiety, which originates in the more primitive structures in the brain, is defined a response that protects us against things / ideas / changes we perceive to be dangerous.

Is anxiety all bad?

What would happen if we had no anxiety at all. We would not arrive for work, complete tasks or meet deadlines. All in all, we would have pretty short lives, as nothing would deter us from life-threatening behaviours.

All people have some level of anxiety. Generally people function somewhere on the spectrum of low – medium – high anxiety. People with high anxiety often do well in detail-oriented, precision and procedure-driven careers. Auditors, surgeons, engineers, theatre sisters, legal secretaries, logistic managers, architects and bakersare but a few examples.

Anxiety becomes a problem when it is excessive. Imagine your alarms going off at home, but there are no real threats. Then excessive anxiety becomes an untrustworthy source of information – making you fear, things, people or situations that you misperceive as threatening. Excessive anxiety elicits a strong, overly protective response, be that fight, freeze or flight. A typical example would be a excessively anxious child having a tantrum because things aren’t going his way.

It’s in the genes

Most children with high to excessive anxiety have parents, grand-parents, uncles or aunts who share similar traits. The anxious child inherits this disposition from one or both his parents. At grassroots level, this means that the way that the nervous system produces, manages and deploys the neurotransmitters associated with anxiety is compromised.

When highly anxious children are exposed to unexpected disruption of their lives, such as change, loss, relocation, the arrival of a sibling, they could easily experience excessive anxiety. As a result, they react with extreme protective behaviours that are out of proportion with the real threat.

There are situations where hereditary factors may not apply, such as when the person is exposed to extreme trauma and the anxiety management system within the brain is overloaded.

Coming attractions…

In Part 2 we discuss the types of anxiety with which children can present.

Part 3 and 4 offers some insight into the grief and stress that parents may experience as a result of having an excessively anxious child. Part 5 offers a a proven and practical model for dealing with the excessively anxious child. Part 6 pulls it all together. Happy reading!