Beth's presentation of Dr. Neufeld's theories on Anxiety

This past Thursday night I attended a presentation by Beth Hachowski on Supporting the Anxious Child.  She is a teacher with the Neufeld Institute and gave a great presentation.
This is a summary for those of you who are interested.

Dr. Neufeld believes that parents should be trained to find their own answers to help their children.  Parents need to be the answer, not the experts. And thus, this training got started and is being carried out around the world to help parents find their own answers in helping their children.

Anxiety Disorders are growing in astounding numbers.  1 in 8 children have a diagnosis such as ADHD, Childhood Depression, ODD, etc.
The medical model is using hand-me down strategies and medication: things that have worked on adults. Medicine might be needed in some cases, but it is only a short term solution: it doesn't get to the root of the problem.  It flattens affect (feelings).  Dr. Neufeld wants to put the solutions back into the parent's hands.

Developmental Perspective 

This perspective offers a different way of making sense of children with emotional and behavioral challenges.
The missing piece:

Anxiety comes from an activated alarm system.  this is different for every child: what makes one child alarmed, might not affect another one.
Our alarm systems are there for a purpose: to keep us safe, bring us to caution.
Observable Symptoms that let us know a child is in an alarmed state:

¡Phobias- not rational
¡Difficulty sleeping
¡Ruminating thoughts
¡Stomach aches
¡Prone to panic
¡Trouble focusing
¡Hyper focused
¡Incessant worrying
¡Acting out
¡Overly conscientious
¡Obsessive behaviors/
compulsive behaviors
¡ Difficulty learning

 Our parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems are wired to register a threat and orchestrate a response.  When too much alarm is present, it is too much for the brain and it will defend or numb against seeing or feeling. If the futilities of the things we can't change don't set it, we are left with a sense of alarm.  

Things that alarm us: 
-facing separation (not being able to hold important people close to us)
-examples: birth, bedtime, arrival of sibling, moving, parents working, school, camps, shuffling between parents, parents working away, 
-not being chosen, wanted, liked, recognized, significant, valued, favored by those attached to
-realization bad things can happen to those attached to
experiences of adoption/divorce
-separation based discipline is becoming the norm (time outs: when you're at your worst, you can't be with me)
[instead use time with's: talk about their feelings, let them cry, make sense of their impulses, structure their environment]
-parents are resorting to alarming their children (refrain from discipline that may be alarming)

Reasons for escalating Anxiety:
1. unprecedented separation from parents
2. children are failing to develop deep attachments
3. children are becoming more peer oriented [children looking at each other for attachment will be chronically wounded: the attachment must be to an adult. Children can't protect each others hearts and can't filter senses and feelings. 
4. Children are becoming more alpha. (bossy, prescriptive, controlling) yet children cannot make themselves feel safe. 

Signs of an alpha child:
tends toward bossy, controlling
taking care of others
compelled to take over/take charge
false leadership
driven to show superiority
difficulty taking direction or asking for assistance
driven to trump interaction/ have the last word
must be in the know/can act as a know it all
can't feel vulnerable/ can't let someone take care of you
Some of these traits have their place, but if they get stuck in a child, they can cause alarm as: 
the child can't make themself feel safe, 
can't trust in adult in one's life to keep one safe
doesn't feel covered or taken care of
doesn't experience being shielded against and alarming world
[need to buffer/filter the alarming world from our kids]
more likely to experience obsessions and compulsions
{greater frequency, intensity and duration of symptoms}
Examples of child-centered parenting: 
"Do you want to do this?" 
"Tell me what you want"
Instead, script alpha language: 

"I've got this"
"your problems are my problems"
"I understand"

You don't have to HAVE the answers for your child, you have to BE the answer. 

There is a crisis of confidence in parenting.  Generations past parents knew to bluff their way through, they didn't tell their children they didn't know what to do.

5 solutions to help: 

1. REDUCE THE SEPARATION THE CHILD IS FACING.  ask who is the child attached to.  reduce peer interaction.  Emotional separation is when you don't feel close to someone who love.  our children are reading books, watching movies about peer interaction.  We want them to walk like and talk like us and our values, not their peers.  We want them to respect us and desire to be good for us.  there is too much celebrity attachment as well.  They are only as good as their last outfit or their best friend etc.

  • morning check in's, recess or lunch time check-in's 
  • hug them until they let go
  • toddler who wants to be picked up: generously pick them up until they want to be let down
  • satiate with generosity
  • notes in lunch kits
  • notes for after school
kids shouldn't need to tell us what they need, we should know. (do flowers mean more when you hint that you want them or when you are surprised by the gift of them?!)

COLLECTING a ritual of greeting:
  • the eyes, a smile, a nod
  • the ears
WHY? to provide a context within which to work and to harness the energy of connection. 

BRIDGING separation in the relationship: 
  • focusing on the next connection/meeting instead of separation: ie. see you in the morning, see you in my dreams etc. instead of good night
  • In France, they set the breakfast table together each night...bridging to the next meal they will be eating together
  • When parents are going away, give something or theirs ( a shirt, etc. ) for the kids to keep hold of them while they are gone.  
  • Bridge small separations..."When I get to here, I will call you", "I'll talk to you on Friday night" to bridge large separations. 
  • Bridge problem behavior, shortcomings, faults: "We're still good" "you're still my son"


  • Don't overwork the alarm system...if you can't handle them, go to the bathroom instead of saying,
    "I can't be with you/ handle you right now"
  • Accept the work of the relationship- if there is a problem and there is work to help the child feel close, it is the parent's work/parent's goals.
  • Assume the alpha role in the your child's life. Who is leading who?  Children are meant to be in a dependent position, seeking for adults to be responsible for them.  "I have what you need" Believe in yourself as a parent. 
  • matchmaking; getting people closer to your child: ie. endear the teachers to children...."I know your teacher, we see each other at ..."  By doing this, you add to their village of attachment.                            

  •      Foster an accepting attitude towards alarm/ anxiety

  •      medication tends to only work on symptoms, not the root
  •       roots will pop up somewhere else
  •       instead walk around the problem and see it from a different angle 
  •       don't make anxiety an alarming experience 
  •        call it "alarm"- no judging, just a description of state
  •       don't battle the symptoms or irrationality. 
  •       anticipate and make room for the experience ("this is what is happening for you...and we'll get through it)

  •       help find acceptable substitutes for reducing anxiety
  •        help child activate parasympathetic nervous system. 
  •        teach them to self- gum chewing instead of shirt chewing
  •        get body to calm down....this might be the first thing to do
  •         worry beads, watching waves, playdoh, 
  •         physical exertion (ie. swimming) to help bring them down
  •        rocking, listening to drumming, drumming
  •        watch diet for sugar and food coloring...glucose as a first ingredient with added carbs tends to push the sympathetic nervous system. 
  •       expressive art, drawing, clay
  •        third person in story..."they are really frustrated"  using indirect language. 

  •      guide them with emotions, build a language of emotions (language of the heart:
  •       helping a child name emotions also aids them in managing them. 
  •       parents need to be comfortable in language of emotions as well
  •       the more a child can tell you, the better it is for them
  •       help them face their fears and find their tears
  •       give them a safe place to be vulnerable 
  •       make room for their tears and your own tears
  •       give them a safe place to share their feelings
  •       rages before age 7 are normal, tantrums when young are a part of development
  •       children need to be able to feel in order to grow
  •       they need to have their cry and come out the other side 
  •       we need to buffer them from too many activities
  •        we can do this by attending some activities/ sports with them.