A partial list of my childhood fears: knocking on neighbors’ doors, talking to pretty much anyone who didn’t live in my house, the doctor, the dentist, the thought of bugs in my food while I ate, other kids not liking me, asking a teacher or adult authority figure of any type for anything, the dark, the basement, cemeteries, the Wicked Witch of the West, the hello and goodbye parts of every single gathering, the phone.
I could go on, but I only have so much space. I was an anxiety over-achiever.
When my dad and two of my friends’ dads coached my softball team, we three girls — the coaches’ daughters — were responsible for calling our teammates about rainouts and schedule changes.
We’d split the list into thirds to make the calls.
Here’s how I handled my part of the list: I picked up the phone, hung it back up, picked up the phone, hung it back up, picked up the phone, called my friend Michelle and begged her to make my calls for me.
Nothing was more terrifying when I was 10 (and 12 and 15 and 20 and a little bit still right now) than phone calls.
Yes, I know it’s completely irrational. Anxiety doesn’t care about logic.
It’s comforting how many of you are thinking, “Yeah, me too.” I know you’re out there.
Who would have thought that so many of us could be afraid of the phone? But here we all are. United by anxieties. And crazy as it sounds, anxieties are the norm. More than half the adults in the U.S. have anxiety — and so do many of our kids.
And all those hours I agonized and cried and begged to not call my teammates, I can tell you what didn’t help: having my fears met with the reassurance that there’s nothing to be afraid of.
We, the anxious, by the time we are 10, we know that calling a teammate to tell her that the game is rained out, or running across the street to borrow a couple eggs, should be no big deal. We get that most kids do these things without thinking twice. Intellectually, we understand that there is nothing to fear.
But anxiety is real. And many kids have it.
1. Don’t discount their fears. Whether it’s a phone phobia or a little test anxiety, brushing it off doesn’t make the terrifying thing any less terrifying.
I am not exaggerating. Terrifying.
I know this, but as a parent when my kids’ anxieties take over, I still have to stop myself from spitting out the worthless reassurance, “There’s nothing to be afraid of.”
2. Listen to them. Hear what they are saying and empathize with their fears.
3. Let them know that it’s OK to have worries. Our human brains are highly sensitive to danger and wired to protect us. We, the anxious, must learn to feel the fear and do the scary thing anyway.
4. Of course, I know that’s easier said than done.
5. Doing the scary thing takes practice.
6. Mindfulness meditation. The art of noticing everything about your breath, your body and its surroundings in the moment and staying in the right now, helps keep us focused on what’s actually happening — and not what might happen in the future.
Recognizing what’s happening physically in your body when you’re afraid is one step toward changing the feeling, relaxing, and taking slower and deeper breaths. It takes practice, too.
7. Help your kids tolerate anxiety by asking them to hear the scary thoughts, recognize that they are afraid and learn that they can be afraid and do the scary thing anyway.
8. Doing one scary things makes it a little less hard to do another, even if you are still afraid.
9. There will always be something scary.
10. There are far better resources than me. Check out some of them out below.
And try not to worry so much about their worries. That list of my childhood fears?
Phone phobia? I majored in journalism and became a reporter, a career built on calling strangers.
Wicked Witch of the West? One word: Wicked. Read it. Turns out she was just misunderstood.
Dentists and doctors? As a mom I consider this “Me time.”
Bugs in my food? Why would I think about bugs in my food?
Social graces at parties? Well, if I slip out without saying goodbye, don’t take it personally. It’s not you. It’s still and forever me.
Child Mind Institute: What to do (and not do) When Children are Anxious
More from Holly Goodman