Developing an Internal Locus Of Control to Reduce Anxiety
A recent report on childhood anxiety by the Australian Primary Principals’ Association (APPA) showed that children as young as 4 or 5 are increasingly using more anxious words (I’m worried or I’m anxious) and they are behaving more anxiously (being reluctant and more avoidant than ever before).Michael Hawton
Most anxiety problems are on a trajectory. That is, they start at one point in time and build, they will get worse in time if remedies are not put in place from as early as possible in a child’s life. The average age for a diagnosis of an anxiety disorder in Australia is 11 years old. To get to that point it’s usual for that diagnosis to have been years in the making. It might start off at age 7 as fretting and build to more obvious worrying by 9. By the time that child is 11, the anxious behaviours have become more observable avoidance and catastrophising and may lead to a diagnosis.”
“The majority of anxious thinking is learned, two-thirds of it actually.”Michael Hawton
One of the foundational ideas of the No Scaredy Cats Workshops developed by Michael Hawton is the idea of locus of control. Research shows that those children/adults with an internal locus of control (a belief I can work this out) have a healthy problem solving orientation and resilience skills whereas those with external locus of control (believing others have control or it all comes down to luck or fate) are more likely to experience anxiety. This makes sense looking back over my life…when I have had little control and felt powerless I have experienced more anxiety…and when I have sought support and counselling and discovered what I do have control over I have felt much better. Have you felt something similar?
And the great thing is that we can learn and develop our internal locus of control within ourselves and within our loved ones. And it all begins with working out what we have control over and what we cannot control?
Persons with an internal locus of control feel that they are responsible for the consequences resulting from their behaviour, while individuals with an external locus of control attribute outcomes to luck, fate or circumstances beyond their control.”Ahlin & Antunes 2015
Often, growing up, we feel we have no control over our feelings, for example we feel our anxiety controls us or is caused by external events outside of our control. Yet it is a breakthrough when we realise there are multiple ways to interpret and respond to external events. We can learn to be in charge of our feelings and our responses and in this way develop an internal locus of control and build the courage and resilience to live life in a way that is consistent with our values.
People with an internal locus of control tend to have other prosocial personality traits such as responsibility, tolerance, a general sense of well-being, greater resilience, self-control and are better equipped to handle stressful situations…(while those with an external locus of control) are more likely to experience … anxiety, depression, and a sense of learned helplessness.”Ahlin & Antunes 2015
Once we know we are in charge of our feelings we can focus on developing our own internal locus of control and also developing our child’s internal locus of control. For example even if our child can’t control what happens at school they can learn strategies for how to manage how they feel and how they choose to respond. This is where No Scaredy Cats workshops and the Cool Kids Anxiety Program (more info here) are so valuable in providing early intervention and supporting children to learn effective strategies and develop their internal locus of control to reduce anxiety.
We want to help our kids get the most out of life and live confidently and without fear. As parents, we can learn ways to help our children overcome their fears and manage their anxiety. Helping a child to overcome a specific phobia might require some planning and management of our own reactions to our children’s distress, but it is possible. By gradually exposing our children to their fears, we can help them to better manage their discomfort.Michael Hawton
As a parent, your goal is not to eliminate your child’s anxiety altogether, it is to help your child manage their anxiety. To do this, as a parent you need to learn to manage your own anxiety and the emotions associated with seeing your child in a distressing situation. After you’ve done that it’s about you giving them skills to develop their emotional skillset.Michael Hawton
It can be so difficult watching our child/teen feel anxious and it is so tempting to support them to avoid or minimise whatever is making them feel scared. Unfortunately this can provide short term ease for everyone but doesn’t support our children to face their fears and build courage and resilience. It is only by being supported to face their fears that children & teens will feel less fear. Whereas counterintuitively avoiding what we fear will only increase the fear – this is a really key element to anxiety that all children & teens need to understand. In my experience for some teens understanding this concept alone was enough for them to have the courage to face their fears (especially when equipped with some strategies to reduce their anxiety as well).
As a parent it is vital to learn to handle our own discomfort and distress watching a loved one feel anxious so that we can choose how to respond in a way that supports our child/teen to face their fear with support rather than avoid their fear. Fear is a normal part of growing up and being human and every time a child/teen learns to face their fear they are building their courage and resilience. I hope you can join me for one of the No Scaredy Cats workshops or feel free to contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on how you and your child/teen couls work through the Cool Kids Anxiety Program (or Chilled Out For Teens) more info here.
Watching a child react to a specific and persistent fear can be distressing for parents. Sometimes, a parent feels so distressed by their child’s response that she feels compelled to alleviate the fear by removing the object or avoiding the activity. By reducing or removing the child’s exposure to her fear, there is an initial sense of relief for both the child and the parent.Michael Hawton
However, this practice can limit what families do together and can force parents to come up with workarounds for situations that should be straightforward. The pattern of trying to change circumstances to allow a child with anxiety to avoid certain situations or activities is called ‘accommodation’. The thing is that while accommodation may seem like the best option to resolve an emotionally fraught situation, in the long run, it may exacerbate your child’s anxiety. Once a pattern of accommodating is established, it reinforces the child’s belief that they cannot cope with certain situations. Furthermore, setting up the pattern creates an expectation that fearful situations can always be avoided. And patterns, once established, can be hard to break.Michael Hawton