My son was an anxious child. He struggled with reading and writing and was typecast with learning difficulties. Yet, his memory and ability to critically reflect was excellent. He learnt by listening, watching and doing. When speaking, he presented thoughtful well-reasoned arguments – this often came as a surprise to teachers who didn’t think he was capable of doing the work. My son was not recognised for what he could do, instead he was continually pulled up for what he could not do.
School Was a Struggle
My son didn’t like disappointing his teachers and didn’t like feeling behind his classmates. Every written word fueled his anxiety. He worried about how he looked. He checked and re-checked his work. It was time consuming and learning remained a source of frustration. He developed a range of avoidance tactics.
We took him to reading recovery classes and anxiety clinics. His reading improved and he learnt to manage his emotions however, his success in the classroom often depended on how well his teachers understood him – would they look past his learning anxiety, to his considerate and thoughtful mind.
As parents, we supported as best we could. We provided a loving home, recognised his triumphs and stood on hand during times of challenge. We wanted him to have the tools and environment to thrive. Yet, as it turned out, what he needed was dormant.
Our son’s life began to flourish when he recognised his strengths. He did Gallup’s StrengthsQuest and at first was angry with the results. He looked at his talents and said “but this is what I hate most about myself.”
It was a defining moment.
Imagine his internal conflict. The things he was best at were the things he fought against. He didn’t believe his talents had value. He hid them and didn’t let himself shine.
A New Story
Today it’s a different story. As he enters his 21st year, my son is a confident, self-directed young man who has a clear vision of what he wants to achieve and how he can achieve it. He found the ease of mind that comes from recognising what he has to offer. More than that, he realises what he offers has value.
Once he reframed his thoughts and understood (and could language) what he did well, he began to leverage his strengths. He focused his talents toward getting done what needed doing rather than fighting to squash them. His developed patterns for performance. He had success and felt valued for what he did.
Our Children Want To Be Recognised
Recently I read a Facebook post about another mother’s son. Her son was just starting school. He too was struggling with reading and he too had a quick mind. He was showing signs of anxiety because he didn’t want to disappoint the people around him. I felt her anguish and frustration.
Perhaps this is one aspects of early anxiety we, as parents, don’t always see. Children want success. They want to be valued and recognised for what they can do. However they don’t want empty platitudes or ‘good job’ praise. They want to be appreciated for what they know they do well.
What Can We Do
As parents of anxious children, we can help by offering a stable internal centre. We can help our children identify what they do well and give them a language for explaining it. This is the start of self-efficacy. When a child feels valued for what they enjoy doing, they feel a sense of accomplishment and acceptance. However, when they’re praised for something they struggled with, initial feelings of achievement may mix with a sense of foreboding – they start telling themselves a story. They believe they’re going to have to keep struggling over and over again, just to keep our approval. This can increase anxiety.
We Can Recognise Our Children’s Talents.
We can help our children name their talents and show them we value the things they do well. This helps them develop a sense of self-efficacy. When our children realise they have the ability to achieve, they gain access to a self perpetuating power source. Their achievements provide fuel so, when they’re in a situation outside their comfort zone, they know where to find the strength to move past the ‘it’s to hard’ story. This can increase confidence. They discover what they need to get the job done.
How to Spot Talent
You can recognise your child’s talents by being alert to their behaviours. Watch their play and pay attention to communication with siblings and other adults. Listen to teacher’s comments about exchanges at school. Consider your child’s participation in sport. Look at the way they manage their belongings or care for pets. The aim is to collect insights into your child’s reoccurring patterns of thought, emotion and behavior. Their behaviour offers clues to talents. For example, after a soccer match, is your child elated by the win or energised by an hour with friends? Ask yourself;
- What activity is my child continually drawn toward?
- When does my child learn things quickly and easily?
- What is my child doing when they are excited and enthusiastic about a task?
- When is my child so engrossed in a task they lose track of time?
Look for the patterns beneath the behaviours. Remember, this is simply the beginning. It is a process that takes time. You’re developing a shift in your perspective too.
I know adopting a strength-based approach works. It helped my son because it provided tangible tools to manage his anxiety. It helped our family become more alert to our communication. We learnt to recognise our needs. We developed the strength to move through the challenging times. We realised we could support each other by valuing the things we did well.
If you’d like to know more about how to help your child manage anxiety by adopting a strength-based parenting approach, contact us today.
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