Naming the Bully

Anxiety is a bully. It can bully in small ways...

 

...You're gonna fail

...It's dark in there. Don't go in by yourself

...Your voice is too squeaky

 

And in large ways....

 

....School is a dangerous place. Stay home where it's safe. In fact ask your mum to be homeschooled.

...Cancer is contagious. Don't touch her

...You’re having a heart attack. You’re gonna die. Run! Leave! Get out!

 

As a parent or caregiver of an anxious child, you know the many ways your child’s anxiety bullies. These can be mind messages filled with put downs and fear mongering, or demands for you, the parent/caregiver, such as providing reassurance seeking or changing your schedule to calm your child. Furthermore, your child’s anxiety can keep him or her awake long after bedtime, home “sick” from school with vague symptoms, or afraid of engaging in routine activities. However, for many children and teens, fighting a nameless, faceless thing can feel overwhelming. Fortunately, experts have found that providing the anxiety with an identity can help you and your child picture what you are up against, and can give your child a sense of courage to fight back. Creating this identify and starting to talk about anxiety as a character can even become fun. And when we are having fun it's hard to feel anxious.

Tips

  • Consider characters from stories, movies, or even people you might know to inspire a name for your child’s anxiety.
  • Encourage your child to choose a name and character identity that can be defeated. Characters that are invincible may leave your child feeling defeated on days when anxiety is being particularly mean.
  • For young children, they can draw or paint a picture and hang it somewhere central in the home so the whole family knows whom you are fighting against. Your child might want to create trading cards, or make a clay sculpture that depicts the anxiety. Let his or her creativity flow.
  • Although some parents and caregivers become concerned that externalizing the worry can lead their child to use it as an excuse for other things, like poor grades or a messy room, this happens infrequently. Most children are good about taking responsibility for their own actions and putting the blame on anxiety only when it really belongs there. 
  • Once the anxiety has a name and identity, encourage your child and the whole family, to start using it. For example,

...I can’t believe meanie scared you into missing the sleepover. What a bully!

...It looks like baloney has really bossed you about today and now it's telling me what to do!

...Doc Oc. Is at it again! Telling lies about germs and disease. What can you say back?

...Get lost farty-pants. Pick on someone else for a change.