If Your Student is Fearful…
Do you have a student or client who is afraid many things? Fear can be a real beast, but it’s possible to tame that beast. Here are my tips to share with your fearful kids. (Modify the language to fit the child’s age and communicative ability.)
1. BREATHE. When you first feel fear bubbling up, you might find your breathing becoming fast and shallow. Take a moment and consciously take a few slow, deep breaths, inhaling and exhaling completely, while consciously relaxing your muscles. Your body is trying to prepare you for battle by amping up the adrenaline, but that’s only increasing your anxiety. Calm your breathing to calm your fear.
2. EVALUATE. Ask yourself, is there any real danger here, or is my fear trying to trick me? If your friends are trying to get you to go skateboarding at a construction site, you are right to stand up to them and say, “No.” Your fear is being helpful, and you are smart to listen. On the other hand, if you feel afraid when family or friends invite you to go on a roller coaster or on a camping trip, your fear might be over-active, trying to keep you safe when there is no real threat. Evaluate the danger, and if you’re not sure, ask a trusted adult if they think it is safe.
3. ACKNOWLEDGE. Admit to yourself that you feel fear, even though the situation is not truly dangerous. Your fear is trying to protect you, but it’s going overboard. Acknowledging your feeling makes it manageable, while bottling it up and trying to pretend you don’t feel it seems to make it worse.
4. SELF-TALK. Tell yourself that you can do it, even if you feel fear or anxiety. Think of a short saying, such as, “Fear can’t stop me,” or, “Thanks anyway, Fear Beast, but I’ve got this.” Silently say it to yourself over and over, while practicing slow breathing. Visualization can be part of your Self-Talk, too. Before doing something that scares you, imagine yourself putting on Black Panther’s vibranium suit, or Tony Stark’s Iron Man armor. Picture yourself overcoming the thing you fear. See yourself getting off the roller coaster at the end of the ride, laughing with your friends. Imagine waking up to a beautiful morning after a night spent camping. Any time your fear tries to trick you by throwing in negative thoughts or images of things that might go wrong, just silently tell your fear to “STOP” and consciously replace the fear-thoughts with positive images.
Using these techniques, many fearful students have found that they had the power to tame their Fear Beasts and enjoy activities that they used to be afraid to try. Like anything that is worth doing, it takes time and practice. Never force your fearful students into situations that scare them, but keep working with them until they are comfortable taking the next step. Consult or collaborate with other professionals on the team when needed, especially when fear is extreme. Let your students know they can trust you to keep them safe, and remind them that everyone is scared sometimes. Courage is being afraid, and then doing the thing anyway.