Friday 6 January 2017

Dealing With Fear of the Unknown

Nathan has been showing more anxiety these days, particularly over trying new experiences.  Unfortunately, the term "new" can now apply to anything outside of the regular routine, even if he's done it before.

I've worked very hard to encourage my boys to listen to their feelings, and that those feelings will be respected when they're shared.  But from my own experience, I also know how easy it is to be overwhelmed by fear and how quickly it can rule all decisions.  So this has put me in a bit of a quandary.

I've adopted a multi-part response to Nathan's declarations that he's not going to do something.  He usually begins by being angry, so I usually have to start with what is and isn't an appropriate way to express that anger.

Once he's through the initial tantrum, then I press him to tell me why he's upset at whatever we've planned.  I usually get a bunch of answers like "I hate " or "it's stupid" or such.  It takes awhile to boil down to what the real problem is: that he doesn't want to do it because it's new and/or he's worried.

I'll usually let it alone after that.  I'll thank him for telling me and let him go back to his day.  But I'll bring it up again at a later time (usually bedtime or a post-meal).  I find he needs a break or else the whole cycle just starts over again.  I talk about why fear is a tricky feeling who doesn't always tell us the truth and how the only way to stop being afraid is to go ahead and do what scares us.  I talk about how he will miss out on a lot of fun stuff if he lets being afraid stop him.  Then I usually drop the bomb that he is expected to participate anyway, despite being afraid.  It provokes a lesser tantrum but usually it's much easier to control.

The final step is yet another conversation, one where I offer the opportunity for sharing and compromise.  If Nathan can tell me something specific that bothers him, then we work on finding a way to avoid or deal with that specific thing.  If he can come up with a suitable alternative for the activity, then I'll consider that.

I think this is a fair compromise between pushing him to overcome his fear and still respecting his feelings.  But it's a long process and means we need to have a couple of days lead time between the first tantrum and the activity.

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