An Antidote to anxiety? Predictability

By Jessica Schaffer

One of the main sources of heightened anxiety in all of us is our unknown futures. Of course we can’t predict our futures, but most of the time we can predictably foresee a likely outcome.

What if we couldn’t even do that? Imagine that you are walking alone down a winding path in a forest. It’s the first time you’ve walked down this path, and you don’t know what will be around the next bend. Each step would be slow and cautious, your heart beating fast and hard, your breath fast and shallow, your arms and legs shaking and your eyes scanning quickly. You would be ready to fight or run at any moment.

Now imagine that you are walking down the same winding path. And you’ve walked down this same path every day for the last several years. You know each turn and what lies beyond it. You know each stone and tree root in the path. You know where there are slippery slopes and steep mountains to climb. You know where the squirrels nest and the deer stop to drink at the creek.

You heart beats slow and steady, your breath slow and deep and your gaze is soft. You walk forward with confidence and clarity.

For children, who are learning and growing at exponential rates, every day can feel like they are walking in an unknown forest for the first time. They have little choice as to where they are going, what they are going to eat or who they will hang out with. It’s common for children to be coping with high anxiety that shows up as separation anxiety, shyness or aggression. They are ready to fight or run at any moment. You would, too, if you didn’t know was around the next bend.

What if we could help them predict what’s around the next corner? We do this through routine and rituals. If a child can predict what will happen at bedtime, morning times, school drop off or date nights, they will less likely experience anxiety. Start small, choose the most challenging time of day and create a routine. Create a step-by-step map. You can make a list or a picture board and have your child help create it. Not only will this reduce your child’s anxiety, it might just reduce yours as well. Win win.

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