Parents of Children with anxiety problems sometimes find themselves arguing with their child about his or her irrational fears. The child may insist that there is good reason to be afraid while the parent tries to convince the child that there is no sound basis for fear. Or, the child may throw a tantrum or fit or act extremely distressed in the face of a feared situation. The upset often serves as a mechanism for the child to in fact avoid the situation or even talking about the situation that scares him. The attention is drawn to the drama of the fight or fit. Parents respond to such fits with anguish, fear, attempts to quell their child’s fear by agreeing to do things that they know are not helpful. Feelings of anger, frustration, and helplessness are common for many parents in these situations. Some parents change their behaviors to avoid such responses from their children. When any of these behaviors occur, the child’s anxiety has won and will most certainly be reinforced. This interplay can go on repeatedly for days, months or even years, all the while the child’s symptoms do not improve, but rather shift and grow.
As a parent your job is to recognize these avoidance strategies. Do not scold your child for attempting to draw you into an argument about his fear, but rather, do not take the bait. You may instead: 1) ignore the invitation, 2) distract your child, 3) or play Columbo (act like you’re a little puzzled, don’t quite get the gist of what your child is requesting) and move on to some other topic. Consistency is crucial here, for your anxious child may marshal all of his intellectual resources to come up with ways to convince you otherwise. Endurance also helps, because if you can hold tight until your child’s invitations for argument reduce, you will see less of that distressing behavior and you will have done your part in reducing your child’s anxiety.