Online Social Workers Know Anxiety Quite Well
Online social workers realize that every child is afraid and anxious at times. This fear and anxiousness can be helpful in protecting the child in unfamiliar situations, promoting caution.
But full-blown anxiety is different. It causes a fear alarm inside the child’s mind and body. Although it's only a false alarm, it still feels very real to the child; triggering the fight-or-flight response.
Why Reassurance Isn't Helpful
Why does the reassurance of the parent or online social worker so often fall on deaf ears? Because the ears are not the problem! The anxious child wants to listen, but the brain won’t allow it. When the child is gripped by anxiety, chemicals steadily stream into the body disabling the prefrontal cortex, clouding the thinking and preventing reassuring words from penetrating.
If we explore further, we will discover that far more can be done to comfort children by listening carefully to their fears and teaching them the methods and techniques to engage and remove those fears by themselves. Think more deeply into the child’s words and drill down to their core, instead of accepting the child’s interpretation of the situation at face value and responding to it.
By teaching children how their anxiety operates, they become liberated from the bonds of their perception and begin to see the situation from a different vantage point. Reframing their problem will empower them to rise above their assumed predicament and enable them to engage the risks of the situation knowing that they're not as insurmountable as initially presumed.
This is the case regarding nearly all anxiety disorders whether it be obsessive compulsive, where the child may be convinced that his hands are contaminated with a dirty tissue, or a child who is suffering from a separation anxiety disorder, petrified that a robber is about to invade the house. Either way, the job of the online social worker is to challenge and change the child’s perception.
Simply put: If you want to help a child stricken with anxiety, you need to inform her that she has options.
In other words, we want to elevate the child beyond reacting to the situation by worrying, and instead empower the child to solve the problem by selecting a more realistic option. Reassurance, because it doesn’t challenge the perception, does none of that.
The Alternative: Which Narrative?
Anxiety is not an automatic reaction to the situation but rather to its perceived risk. Fear is not an accurate measure of the actual degree of risk. It could be that this is one of the most valuable keys online social workers can offer children. Once we help change the narrative, the problem becomes more manageable.
The result? We transform “worrying energy” into "solutionizing".
It's imperative that the online social worker shows the distinctions between the narrative that induces worrying and the narrative that is more factually based. This needs to begin with the child enunciating all the fears swirling around in her head, allowing her to hear those worries. Once articulated, the alternative narrative can start by correcting the mistakes of the “worry narrative”.
It's only after children have mitigated in their minds the perceived risk that they can approach the problematic situation slowly and carefully, with new confidence. Reassurance never accomplishes that. At best it is merely a temporary fix. However, often it handicaps the child from overcoming the anxiety.
Remember, successful therapy means empowering children, not reassuring them!