Sunday, April 28, 2019

A Long One About Adult Fears and Anxiety?


There are less than 2 weeks until Conscious Parenting/Creative Discipline with Young Child, a workshop I am giving in Santa Cruz, CA on May 11.
If you are at your wits end with conflicts with your child, and losing your cool when your child doesn't do what you want, this is the workshop for you.


The young child is like a sponge for experiences in his or her environment. All levels of sensed experience go deeply in to the child’s developing soul and body. And the young child has the capacity for sensing levels of experience that most adults have long since filtered out from their palette of experience such as feelings and thoughts of those around them. Young children are a sponge also for your feelings and what you think about. And they attempt to digest all of their experiences and make them a part of themselves as they create themselves. This is Maria Montessori’s absorbent mind.

So what is in the inner life of an adult in the world of 2019? Often it is anxiety because there is so much to be anxious about. The climate on our planet is changing and it seems like nothing is being done to change that course or adapt to the results. Stress is lurking everywhere. People are becoming more allergic to foods and environmental situations. Also, our world is filled with people who use fear as a tool to get us to buy certain products, to vote for certain candidates, and various other intentions. Anxiety and fear permeate all types of media. And we carry around a device that lets us be constantly connected to media.

We end up turning that fear into generalized worry and anxiety about so many things so much of the time. We helicopter our children. We constantly worry about our children’s safety and want to cut down the trees on playgrounds.

There is a problem here aside from the obvious issue of the adults causing health issues in themselves from all the worrying and tension. The children are growing up in an environment filled with anxiety. The children sense your anxiety, even when you are not speaking about it, and even when you are not even aware that you are feeling your anxieties.

Three things happen to the children?
  1. They adopt anxiety as their normal state, as the default mode.
  2. They cannot truly connect with their anxious parents and caregivers.
  3. They cannot develop to their full potential.

Young children learn by imitating. They take in what they experience and make it part of themselves. Experiencing anxiety in their beloved adults, the child learns to be anxious.

When someone is fearful or anxious, they cannot connect with those around them. Fear stimulates the reptile brain to take actions of self protection. Fear creates reactions that don’t include reaching out with openness and care to those around. So the child loses out on connection with his anxious parent.

Fear and anxiety is a cold experience. The blood rushed to the heart waiting to find out if running or fighting is coming next. Thereby the limbs become cold from less blood flow. Anxiety is also emotionally cool, missing the warmth necessary for human connecting. All development requires warmth, the children need warmth so they can relax and develop. Not enough warmth, the child cannot develop to their fullest. Fear also results in physical and chemical responses. Blood rushes to the heart from the limbs. The limbs feel cold and heavy. We tend to hold in the breath. In fear and anxiety states, our bodies produce extra cortisol which speeds up our reactions. A continuous supply of cortisol in the bloodstream can lead to serious chronic health issues.

In the child, fear interferes with the possibility of play. Anxious children have difficulty entering into free creative play with others. I have experienced over the years an increase in aggression being acted out in play, an increase in behaviors that are physically harmful to others among young children. Children who live in a sea of anxiety don't feel safe and have no clear (inner) boundary between what is play and what is harm.  True play can live when the environment feels safe to the child. Then protective and defensive behaviors are at a minimum. The child can embrace and explore the physical and social world through play. 

When the adults in the environment are anxious and fearful, the young child experiences that tension and lives within it. How much effect does this have on the child's capacity for play? One can contemplate the possibilities. Fear interferes with play. True play can be a means to overcome fears and grasp the world. Play serves as a venue for learning to cope with life. There is a vicious cycle at work here.  To play requires an atmosphere of security. One has to feel safe. No safety, no play. No play, no grasping of social dynamic. In play, we are safe and so we can be vulnerable.

If a child (or an adult for that matter) is in an environment where they feel safe and nurtured and WITHOUT anxiety, then play is possible and the child is open to embracing the world and other human beings. A tense and anxious or fear-filled atmosphere for a child evokes defensive and protective behavior and a closed-off gesture. And it is self-perpetuating. Fear begets fear.

The nature of play involves risk. Children need a lack of outer control over their play. Yet out of fear, how much controlling of the children's play is inflicted. We adults must find ways to alleviate the anxiety we are in danger of taking on at all times. 

What are we gonna do?
  1. Develop our own practice of anxiety and fear reduction. A practice means it is something we have to do over and over. And over and over. Every day, except when we forget. At the same time every day, so it can become a habit, and that makes it easier to do every day. For at least a few minutes. And it’s a practice, so we don’t expect to be perfect, we only are trying to do better and better. Find your own way toward joy!
  2. What is the best practice? That is up to each of us to discover. There is no one-size-fits-all recipe. The best one for you is the one that you actually do.
  3. It might be a good idea to assess how much time we spend on our devices plugged in to the anxiety creating media, and what times of day we do that plugging in. Perhaps make a commitment to leave off all devices during mealtimes? Perhaps don’t check your phone right before bed? Or first thing upon waking up in the morning?

Anxiety is not healthy for you! It gets in the way of sleep, it influences your digestion and it affects your connection with those you love.

Your anxiety is not healthy for your children. It gets in the way of their connection with you, it affects all aspects of their development, and it creates anxious little people.

Maybe now is the time to start working to overcome the anxiety of the modern world for the sake of the children, the future of our world.



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