Anxiety can drive children to seek perfection. Anxiety can leave children mute and make them physically sick. A small fear can grow to affect all aspects of life.
Dr. Patrick McGrath, Director of Alexian Brothers Center for Anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorders, discussed the issue of anxiety in children and adolescents in the District 200 parenting seminar Thursday.
McGrath provided concrete examples of strategies for dealing with children’s anxiety and stressed long-term solutions instead of short-term appeasement of fear. “It will be uncomfortable,” he said, “but there is nothing wrong with being uncomfortable. Children need to face their fears and learn how to handle them instead of avoiding them. A little discomfort now is much better than a full-blown life-affecting issue later.”
McGrath recommended writing out a behavioral plan to correct behaviors and having both parents and child sign the agreement so there is no debate regarding positive and negative consequences. He stressed that all emotion must be removed from the process. “You are genetically designed to respond to your child’s crying... they know how to pull at your heartstrings,” McGrath said as he reminded the crowd that this process will be uncomfortable.
“Your kid is not your friend. Your kid is your kid,” McGrath said. “You don’t make your friends do something they don’t want to do. Don’t make the mistake of treating your kid as your buddy, they need you to be their parent... If they can bully you, they win. Do not let your child run your household."
McGrath recommends having children do what they are afraid of and face their fears so that they realize they can handle it. Though it is uncomfortable, children need to be exposed to their fear, learn to handle it and allow for anxiety to disappear on its own. Avoid distraction, McGrath said, since it only works in the short term.
Our brains are not designed with the ability to be talked out of being anxious, McGrath said. Our brains are designed to first seek safety. Therefore, the treatment is “to behave someone out of being anxious,” McGrath explained.
One example McGrath provided of a common parent mistake is to say “everything will be ok.” McGrath said this statement is a big mistake since your trust will be lost if something does go wrong. Instead, he recommends parents say, “You can handle it.”
Donna Kozica, District 200 social worker and organizer of the Parenting Seminar Series, said, “Dr. McGrath was excellent and provided information to empower parents with strategies and resources to get help if they feel their child has a problem.”
Today’s seminar was the first that Jolene Stokesberry has attended. “I will definitely come back,” she said. “I’m glad the school district is organizing these discussions and trying to get the information out to parents. I encourage other parents to come and listen.”
Stokesberry described today’s seminar as helpful and informative but that more time was needed for questions and discussion. Even if your own children don’t have these problems, chances are you will run into other children who do and it’s good to have this knowledge, she said.
The final seminar, “The Ten Most Common Mistakes Good Parents Make,” is Thurs., Oct. 20 from noon – 1 p.m. at the Wheaton Community Center. Join Clinical Psychologist, Dr. Michael Maniacci, as he explores how to handle these very common mistakes. RSVP by contacting Donna Kozica at 630-836-0240 or firstname.lastname@example.org.