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How listening helps an anxious child

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By Dr Tracy Laverick

How listening helps an anxious child

Listening to an anxious child has been a personal journey for me, and it was not one I expecting to go on.

The dread of a birthday invitation

Birthday invitations are always great to receive. It is always with dread when I looked at what the party was. Soft play -ok, even sleep overs with families she knew -ok. But anything else that she had not done before was a big deal.

I struggled with my frustration, the fact that she knew everyone, she knew the parents, she would enjoy it once she got in etc etc etc. We would all be tense before we arrived and spend most of the party with her sat on my lap or looking at the party through a window.

What changed?

We tried lots of approaches. The dump her and run (never really worked and was worse next time), the loiter by the door smiling, making a plan of action before and finally even saying ok let’s not go then (still led to tears as she really wanted to go but was scared). Her fear made no sense to me so I was frustrated by the whole thing and all my fixes had made no difference.

Then I read about listening to children. To let them get from one end of an emotion to the other. Just with your reassurance and love. No fixes. No advice just listening. I wondered how that could help but having tried everything (and as a psychologist I really had tried every trick in the book) I thought we would give it a go.

One evening my daughter was upset and I asked her what was wrong. She didn’t want to tell me because she said I would try and do something about it. I promised her I wouldn’t. She replied that she wasn’t sure that she could trust me as I had said that before. She was right. (But only in her best interest of course!).

I promised. Properly promised. Since that day I have not tried to fix things for her. When she becomes upset I reassure her. I pat her back like I did when she was young. I tell her that I know feelings are hard but she will be ok. I am listening.

Has it helped?

It has helped in a way that I could not have predicted. It has given me a purpose, I am useful when she is upset. My job is to listen. She has learnt that she can feel upset and then feel better. She accepts that she is able to manage her own emotions and problems and does not need me to do it for her. But I am there to be her rock.

Since this small and subtle change she has gone on to perform on stage in the theatre, sing solo at school, managed school transitions and goes into parties on her own. We have been doing this for a year and I cannot believe what a year it has been. Listening is my superpower – and hers.

What next? 

I am providing workshops to talk about this and other parenting challenges and share my experiences with other parents so keep your eyes out for my next workshop dates. I can also recommend reading the book Listen by Patty Wiplfer and Tosha Shore to learn more.

Happy listening!

Listen to Dr Tracy Laverick talk about handling toddler tantrums in a podcast with MMB Magazine here

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