Last week, I got the chance to speak to Alex's behavioural therapist about Nathan's anxiety. After some questions, she said that it was probably a normal developmental reaction to his increasing independence (with a side effect of being an opportunity to have my unlimited attention for a time).
She did have some good advice to make sure that I didn't make things worse and I think it's worth sharing:
1) Don't simply tell him not to worry. Nathan is an anxious child. He always has been. (So was I, for that matter.) Telling someone who is anxious to "not worry" is just as helpful as telling someone who is depressed to "not be sad". Instead, I have to help him find ways to keep his anxiety from being an obstacle in his life.
2) Don't ride to the rescue. We've all done it. Child says there's a monster under the bed. We peer underneath with a flashlight and tell them there's not. The child has a moment of relief but, by looking, we've enforced a reality that monsters under the bed are a possibility. Ditto telling a child that nothing can happen as long as an adult is there. Because an adult isn't always going to be there and, frankly, isn't a magic shield against something bad happening. The advice summed up as: be a safe place to retreat, not a slayer of monsters. In other words: be the castle, not the knight.
3) Find a strategy which will work for you and your child. For some kids, deep breathing and meditation to overcome general anxiety. For other kids, make them answer "what then" to their "what if" questions. In other cases, make them do a reality check to see how realistic their fears are. In Nathan's case, she recommended a four step process: First, take deep breaths to calm down. Next: analyze the situation, have him figure out how he feels and what he needs. Next: have him present ideas and solutions. There should be at least three and they don't all have to be useful or appropriate. A silly one could be a tension breaker. Finally, have him pick a solution and act on it.
I think this technique will be very effective for Nathan. He gets caught up in a whirl of general anxiety and then it's hard for him to climb back out. By making him focus on the problem at hand and come up with solutions, he'll start to learn that these problems aren't insurmountable panic triggers.