Dr. Malie Coyne ~ Love in, Love Out: A compassionate approach to parenting your anxious child
Helping your child get back to school using the SAFE approach
Returning to school can cause anxiety for children and parents at the best of times, but none more so than in the midst of a pandemic, where children have been at home for almost 6 months. Anxieties around how your child will re-integrate into school life may be rife, as well as concerns over safety and the uncertainty of what school life will actually look like.
My experience as an anxious child, as a parent and as a clinical psychologist, has taught me that parents play a crucial role in containing their child’s anxiety, and in finding the tricky balance between helping them to feel safe and empowering them to test their fears.
To find this balance, I developed the four steps of the S.A.F.E. Chain of Resilience, which can be used by parents to support any back to school anxieties.
Self-care: If your child is anxious, explore any discomfort that is provoked in you and bring your awareness to the source of your feelings from how your head, your heart and your gut feels. Pause and recognize the discomfort ("This feels bad. Is this about me or is it about my child?"); bring kindness to it ("It is understandable that I am hurting because..."); and respond to your child's need ("Breathing in and out of my belly helps me remain calm and think clearly”).
Anchoring: Recognize your role as your child’s anchor in helping them to feel safe and secure. Encourage your child to release built-up tension and adrenaline by engaging their senses in activities such as “shaking on purpose” (making noises jumping up and down), “dragon fire breath” (inhaling and exhaling like a dragon blowing fire) or “figure-8 breathing” (drawing a figure of 8 using their finger or toe, breathing in for 3, holding for 1, and breathing out for 3).
Feeling felt: If your child shares a worry with you, listen to their feelings and validate their experience (“You feel a bit nervous about... ”). Respond warmly and empathetically and unpack the source of their worry ("What part are you most worried about?"). Try not to smooth things over to make them, and you, feel better (“You’ll be fine”). Supporting them in their feeling is an important step in helping them to move on from it ("That sounds really tough for you").
Empowerment: Exploring your own responses and helping your child feel safe and connected builds the foundation for them feeling a sense of control in problem-solving a way forward together. Empowering your child means finding a middle ground between empathising with their worries and encouraging them to face their fears ("I believe you can do this. You managed it before and we will work though any challenges together"). This is what builds true resilience.
Malie’s book ‘Love In Love Out- a compassionate approach to parenting your anxious child’ is published now, and is available to buy here: