Jen is a Psychologist and a qualified high school teacher with a Bachelor of Arts (English and Sociology), a Graduate Diploma of Education (Secondary), a Graduate Diploma of Psychology, a Graduate Diploma of Psychology (Adv.), and a Master of Professional Psychology.
Jen is also passionate about comprehensive educational assessments that focus on assisting parents to understand their child’s strengths and recommending effective interventions that mitigate their weaknesses in order for the child to navigate their educational environment with success.
Please talk to our doctors regarding a mental health care plan to obtain rebated services from psychologists.
Jennifer Busch, our child psychologist will commence consultations in late January 2020. Jen offers compassionate, person-centred and evidence-based therapy for children and adults.
Her special interest is in child psychology including full educational assessments for school-aged children
A recent article by Jennifer…
How Can I help my child when they are anxious?
As parents, it is common to find our children struggling with anxiety or fear about certain aspects of their lives. It might be getting their face wet at swimming lessons, separating from us at preschool, or being afraid of the dark. So how can we help our children cope with these anxieties?
From an evolutionary perspective, we now know that our brains are wired to detect threat in our environment. Historically, when we saw something yellow behind a bush, the best choice was to react quickly and run. If what we saw was a rock, there was no harm done. If it turned out to be a lion, our lives were saved!
Our brains still do the same thing – reacting to things that could be dangerous – just in case. This reaction, commonly called the fight, flight or freeze response, is triggered instantly, and overrides our logical thinking brains so we can act quickly. Ever wondered why you can’t reason with a child when they are anxious? It’s because their logical brain has been shut down by this reaction.
Seeing our children’s anxiety from this perspective helps us have empathy for their reactions; they cling, cry and scream all because their brains are telling them to get out of a situation that might hurt them.
Sometimes in our attempt to help our children, we unwittingly things more difficult. Research shows that avoiding anxiety triggers actually increases anxiety. When someone avoids situations, they don’t get experience being able to handle the situation and their anxiety levels going down. This avoidance reinforces that the trigger is dangerous. For example, if a child is afraid of flushing the toilet and we as parents start doing it for them, we tell them with our actions that we don’t think they can flush the toilet. We tell them by our actions that we need to do it for them because it is dangerous. So how can we help our children?
Acknowledge and Empathise
Firstly, we can acknowledge our child’s anxiety by labelling their emotions and empathising with them: “I can see that you are feeling really worried about swimming lessons, and it looks like it doesn’t feel very good to be in your body right now.”
Determine when to address the Anxiety
Before trying to force our children to do everything they are afraid of, we need to step back and work out whether this fear is a priority to address. For example, if a child is afraid of the dark, and a low-watt night light fixes this problem, this might be a fear that we choose to put off addressing until the child wants to go to sleep overs at other children’s houses when they are older. However, if a child is afraid of swimming and your family spends a lot of time near the water, making sure your child becoming safe in the water may be deemed a priority. The question to ask is: Will this fear, if it continues, interfere with my child living a full and meaningful life? If the answer is yes, now might be the time to address the fear.
If we decide that our child’s anxiety needs to be addressed, the next step is to create a ‘step-ladder’. If your child is old enough, they can help. The idea is to come up with a list of feared aspects of the situation starting from small to big fears – you could even use a scale from 1 to 10. For example, going to the pool might be a 3/10, sitting in the learn to swim area for fifteen minutes with clothes on might be a 5/10, and getting in the pool and standing on the platform may be a 7/10. Then, with our help, our children can work their way up until they reach their goal- to stay in the water for the whole swimming lesson. Make sure you reward your child for every step on the ladder they complete!
The important idea to grasp here is that exposure to the feared situation, will eventually lead to a decrease in the child’s anxiety. A common mistake is to tick off steps on the step ladder before the child’s anxiety subsides. It is recommended to practice a step with the child again until each step’s anxiety level feels like a 3/10. If we move too quickly, we don’t give children time to become comfortable in the situation and the anxiety sticks around for longer.
Coping with your own anxiety
Finally, we need to understand that anxiety often is genetic, meaning that if our child is anxious, we may be too! It can be especially difficult for us as anxious parents to see our children be anxious – we know how horrible it feels! We often want to ‘rescue’ our children when this happens and help them escape the situation. The problem is that although this feels better in the short term (our child calms down!) in the long term it will lead to the anxiety getting bigger! So, it is our job to be wiser, stronger and kinder to our children by letting them be just outside their comfort zone in certain situations – this will teach them that they can handle the situation and build a great sense of competence. What a great life skill!
Note: Sometimes, despite our efforts, children’s anxiety can need professional attention. If you feel that your child’s anxiety needs professional assistance, call your local psychologist for an appointment.
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