Parents often go to great lengths to protect their children from harm. And so they should. Kids need adults to protect them from danger. And in today’s world, parents protect their kids far more than they did in the past.
For example, if you’re in the Boomer generation, you may remember walking or bicycling to school as early as the first or second grade. You don’t see much of that today. And if you took a bus to school, no adults stood around watching out for you.
Today, parents are much more cautious. That’s probably good—at least to a point. I guess I knew things had gone a bit too far when I saw an ad from the Internet the other day which proclaimed:
I recently ran across a Behavioral Intervention Plan (BIP) for an elementary school girl. Behavioral Intervention Plans are often a good idea and can be used to teach students to focus better, reduce their oppositionality, follow rules more often, and become more cooperative. These plans usually emphasize positive interventions (such as rewards and attention) although they also employ negative consequences judiciously, when called for.
The original idea behind BIP’s was grounded in something called learning theory. In brief, learning theory proposes that kids will do more of what they are rewarded for and less of what they aren’t. They’re also likely to engage in disruptive behaviors less often if those behaviors result in a loss of something the child likes or if the behavior is followed by a mildly unpleasant consequence.
However, some of the BIP’s that I’ve seen in recent years seem to have lost their original grounding in learning theory. The school girl I mentioned (we’ll call her Nicole) had been failing to follow rules, blurting out inappropriate comments in class, banging her head, arguing with the teacher, and sometimes trying to leave the classroom when she shouldn’t. Here are some relevant snippets from Nicole’s BIP:
Parents worry a lot about their kids nowadays. Life has become more complex and the world seems to deliver a constant stream of unpredictable stressors, challenges, calamities, toxins and traumas. Parents naturally want to help their kids overcome these difficulties and succeed in life. In other words, they want their kids to feel happy, secure, and competent.
So naturally, many parents feel quite upset when they see their kids experiencing distress. At those times, they feel highly motivated to help their kids calm down. To accomplish that goal, these parents will often:
Generally speaking, one or more of these strategies will, in fact, result in both kids and their parents feeling better. There can’t be any problem with that can there? Well, actually there is.
We have been writing this blog for a few years. When we started, we decided to call the blog Anxiety and OCD Exposed. It’s been a long time since we have discussed why we decided on that title so we thought that new readers might want some explanation.
The term “exposed” may bring up a lot of different thoughts such as:
• Finding out that a politician was cheating on his wife
• Discovering a dumping ground of toxic waste
• The feeling of your hands when you forget to wear gloves in cold weather
• A politician taking opposite positions in the same campaign
• Not noticing the piece of toilet paper stuck to your shoe
• The most effective treatment for anxiety and OCD
Research says that overall the best treatment for anxiety and OCD is a method called exposure. When people are afraid or anxious about something, they tend to avoid it. The more they avoid what they fear, the more fearful they become.
Exposure helps people face their fears in a gradual way. Most people find that after being exposed to their fear or OCD triggers, over a period of time, their anxiety decreases. The goal of exposure is not to eliminate all anxiety, but to make anxiety manageable.
Some kids love school and others are more reluctant. How should parents respond when children complain about school, start to cry about leaving home, or even have a tantrum rather than going to school?
If your child has reluctance about going to school, start with the following:
Most people, who have more anxiety than they want, work hard to rid themselves of their anxiety. They try relaxation training, meditation, medication, and more, all in a desperate attempt to conquer uncomfortable, distressing feelings. And who can blame them? After all, isn’t that the goal of therapy—to rid yourself of anxiety, uncertainty, doubts, and discomfort once and for all?
Well, yes and no. Of course most therapists would love for you to be able to feel calm, relaxed, and peaceful all of the time. However, that goal isn’t possible for anybody. Life is full of unpredictable, often random, dangers, hassles, and perils. Therefore, if you have the goal of eliminating these things, you will almost certainly fail.
I’m pretty sure that I came out of the womb as a cognitive behavioral therapist. Well, maybe a behavioral therapist—I guess I wasn’t using language those first few months. But, I’ve always been acutely aware of how rewards, lack of rewards, and thinking all interact and influence feelings and behavior.
In my early training, I considered myself a radical behaviorist. I still do pretty much. I believe that the words we use and the thoughts we think can be considered verbal behavior. But, those beliefs are much more complex than what I wish to discuss today.
Santa Claus is coming to town. He’s making a list and checking it twice. He’s going to find out who’s naughty or nice.
This popular Christmas song is really about how we encourage children to have self-control or engage in moral behavior. The song lets kids know that someone (could be a parent, big brother, the neighbors, the police, a spiritual figure, or Santa Claus) is watching what they are doing. And there will be consequences for their actions—presents for those “good” or “nice” kids and nothing or worse for those who were naughty.
Philosophers have grappled with the reasons people behave the way they do for centuries. What motivates saints and sinners? Do people behave because they want to be good (nice) or because they don’t want to be punished? Well, that depends.
When children are afraid of something, adults often reassure them. Many kids are afraid of the dark or of monsters under the bed. This fear usually starts sometime around preschool and is a great way to delay bedtime or to keep a loved one hovering around the bedside.
Many millions of parents, with good intentions, have said to their scared kids, “Don’t worry, there’s nothing to be afraid of.”
Most scared kids willingly accept their parents’ reassurance. They might get an extra hug or a night light or one more bed time story. Gradually, they outgrow their fears. But some kids don’t easily grow out of their fears. They may just be prone to anxiety or sometimes they get too much attention from their caring parents.
These kids’ fears may get them extended routines of reassurance such as long rigid rituals that must be performed each night before they sleep. And many exhausted parents give up and extend an invitation to their frightened children to sleep with them in their beds.
Kids don’t generally develop anxiety disorders all on their own. Oh sure, genes and biology have some influence, but these factors largely just predispose kids in the direction of acquiring problems with anxiety. The wrong messages can push both anxiously disposed kids as well as otherwise normal kids in the direction of struggling with anxiety for the rest of their lives.
If you’re a parent or someone who cares about kids, you just might want to know what type of messages instill insecurity. I’ll start by laying out three common mistakes that parents make; in other words, the kinds of messages you “don’t” want to give them: