Understanding the fear and anxiety expressed by children and young people
I trust this finds you well and as prepared as is possible for Christmas.
My main focus of work of late has been around understanding the fear and anxiety expressed by children and young people which can often manifest itself as anger and frustration in their presenting behaviours. This is often due to not having healthy emotional responses modelled for them in their formative years and therefore becomes an almost alien concept, i.e., that people can feel sad, vulnerable and anxious and that this is OK and will pass.
Often, when children withhold one emotion, to stifle the pain or potential for ridicule they unfortunately block their capacity to feel all manner of other things. Except that is for anger, anger is the manifestation that something feels unjust. When we have lots of things inside us without a clear explanation as to why, being let down, treated as if we do not exist, punished severely, abused, made to feel insignificant and or abandoned they will express this in how it has been modelled for them.
I often refer to the below saying:
“We learn who we are through the eyes and minds of other people”
If we are made to feel bad or broken through how we are treated in our formative years then we perceive ourselves to be bad or broken.
Understanding this and attempting to connect with a child who is defensive, using control to manipulate, even to the point of lashing out physically can be the most complicated and difficult thing that we are ever likely to have to navigate.
I am again left inspired and in awe of her capacity to express the inner workings of the child’s response to fear and anxiety in her Poem “I am your Amygdala” and would like to share it with you here:
The Amygdala, the part of our brains that filters possible/perceived threat, (which we incidentally share with the Dinosaurs) is a tricky thing to circumnavigate as its job is to keep us alive. Our brains essentially being designed or evolving over millions of years in which threat was at every corner has developed a capacity to work without us even thinking about it. Taking time to think for even a nano-second could be the difference between life and death.
Some clever people who research this stuff call it neuroception, responding to perceived threat without thinking about it. The problem comes when we have lived in such chaotic and dangerous circumstances that out brains cannot switch it off, it’s as if they cannot afford to, just as much as they cannot afford to stop breathing.
Working through this with a child, trying to support them to switch off something that they are unaware is actually even switched on, is the most difficult but the most noble thing I have observed people doing.
There has been an awful lot of talk about how wonderful our NHS and delivery drivers and refuse collectors etc are in this time of Covid, something I that I totally agree with. But I would like to take this opportunity to thank you all for the amazing role that you all play in society, on a daily basis, whatever the situation is in the world.
For some resources around how, we can support children deal with their fight-flight-freeze response please see previous posts.
“The Boy, the mole, the fox and The Horse” – The Reading Corner for Children
I will leave you with this wonderful story written and illustrated by Charlie Mackesy, it’s all about life, love, hope and joy which I have had a great deal of pleasure from listening to.
I hope you enjoy it and would invite you to possibly share it with a child or young person that may find some source of inspiration within it.
With very best Christmas wishes and a happy new year
Therapeutic Parenting Lead at Regional Foster Families
I am the fostering agency Therapeutic Parenting Lead (DDP informed) and started my counselling training in 2011 becoming fully qualified in 2016. I have worked for the agency for the last 13 years.
My qualifications in respect of therapy are an advanced diploma in integrative counselling which is accredited by the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) whom I remain a registered member with.
I spent three and a half years volunteering at Personal Recovery Services as part of my training, an organisation that specialised in working with historic sexual abuse, working with both adults and teenagers.
I have consequently gone on and trained in Level 1 and 2 of Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy (DDP).
I have worked in various roles in the social care field specifically with looked after children for the past 20 years. I was a deputy team manager of a specialist (children’s) outreach team dealing with crisis interventions, a deputy residential home manager, an NVQ assessor (up to level 4 management), a trainer in dealing with challenging behaviour, drug awareness and therapeutic parenting.
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