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How can I help my nervous child?

In this blog Liz will reflect on something that every single person on the planet has experienced, albeit some more than others...nervousness. A common feeling, just like excitement, but maybe, if not understood can begin to control us, persuade us and cultivate itself into something which hinders personal growth. And as you all know by now personal grOWTH is what we, at Grow Your Mindset are all about.

What are the signs and symptoms of nervousness?

Just take a moment to stop and think of the last time you got nervous, I mean REALLY nervous, was it a job interview, a first date? Since 2018 when I left class based teaching, I've experienced numerous occasions were I have reasoned with my emotions rather than logical thinking. When I recall those moments of nervousness, more often than not my nerves come to the forefront when I am about to experience something new, so stepping out of my comfort zone (public speaking, live video's, being interviewed and hosting interviews, adapting to online training using new technologies etc.) Prior to these events I would begin to key hole the negatives that could happen and focus on these. And if I'm truly honest those nerves came on the back of worries, not because of the event, (what I was actually doing) but because of my thoughts. My fixed mindset thoughts create an emotional response, resulting in me concluding that I would be judged by others if things were to go wrong.

During these experiences the signs and symptoms of nervousness become apparent, as well as your fixed mindset inner voice going into overdrive and reminding you of all the 'What ifs', there's the beating heart, sweaty palms, being unable to sleep, stomach aches or tummy upset and the occasional headache to boot.

Anything that causes apprehension or fear can lead to feelings of nervousness. Remind yourself and your child that nervousness is a normal feeling, brought on by your body's stress response when you step from your comfort zone to your fear zone, but it's temporary and it will pass. If we think more logically using evidence rather than emotion, plus change our perception that feeling nervous isn't a bad thing or a sign of weakness it allows us to take back control. I use the above affirmation whenever I feel nervous, and do you know what? Every single new experience I've had, afterwards I've been thankful for it.

Why do children get nervous?

I think I've clarified we all get nervous but as a parent and teacher understanding why children get nervous allows us to not only support and teach them that it's OK to feel this way, but it also helps them to become self-aware and regulate their own emotions from an early age. We've written in previous blogs about the harm labels can do, so avoiding phrases such as, 'she always gets nervous' 'it's just the way you are' 'he's the nervous one.' is important, as the more we hear traits about ourselves we begin to believe them to be true and therefore respond in a way that's expected. This could therefore magnify feelings of nervousness in some children.

During our 1-1 Mindset Motivation sessions both myself and Gemma inform children why we have the fight or flight response mode. In fact it leaves some children aghast when they realise that the amygdala in their brain (we refer to it as the old part of the brain) stems back thousands of years and was there to protect our ancestors from sabre-tooth tigers and the like. And whilst there are situations we need to respond quickly to this part of the brain reacts quickly and slows the new brain, the one that reasons and thinks logically down.

There is also the argument that due to our parenting style in the 21st century we often protect and cushion these feelings of nervousness within our children, so stepping in quickly to solve any problems or challenging situations when we see the signs, fearing if we don't alleviate them it could lead to a more long-lasting emotion such as anxiety, and then what would we do?. Personally through experience, if I had done less of the latter, taught my son (who's now 22) more about his mindset (if only I had known!) and the close link between his thoughts and his emotions this would have helped build his resilience and would potentially have changed his focus when stepping out of his comfort zone.

Is anxiety and nervousness the same?

I've just mentioned that anxiety is a more long-lasting condition compared to nervousness. Whilst nervousness is a common symptom of anxiety disorders, they are not the same thing. Nervousness does pass and can be controlled, whereas anxiety is harder to control and often requires medical treatment. Anxiety is far more complex and has a number of factors associated with it.

It is interesting though, that when you google search nervousness the majority of the results jump straight to anxiety, which is why I feel many people confuse the two. The people that I know who suffer from anxiety often have severe worries and strong feelings of nervousness, but the difference is there is often no obvious cause or event and they come on frequently.

How to help a nervous child?

There are various ways to help a nervous child but as a parent or carer first of all create the calm to allow your child to begin to think with logic rather than emotion. Explaining to children about why we experience certain emotions and defining what our emotions mean is important, (Nervous: Feeling slightly afraid and worried about something.) This develops their emotional intelligence whereby they become aware of the different emotions they feel and what they mean. This not only allows them to communicate with clarity and precision but also use strategies to take back control.

Find out what he/she is worried about, reinforcing that feeling nervous is normal and sometimes can actually be helpful. Change perceptions of experiences when we face challenge or struggle to opportunities and experiences that we can grow from. Role model your experiences with your children, how you felt nervous and why, plus what you did to overcome those feelings, celebrate your achievements because you challenged your worries.

I mentioned earlier about how part of our brain (the old brain) is designed to react and often triggers our worries. Give this inner voice a name, Will the Worrier or Nervous Nelly, this allows your child to challenge that voice (thought) and press the pause button on it, they could even draw a picture of this character. Then discuss with reason and logic were Tilly the Thinker comes through (new part of the brain) and give evidence of a different outcome. Here's a common example:

Imagine your child is joining a new club, new class or new team and nerves begin to kick in. Not because of the event but because of their thoughts. Nervous Nelly is telling him or her that they won't have any friends, the other children might not like them. Who will they sit with? What if the teacher or coach isn't nice? What if the other children laugh at them and what if they can't do the activity and so on?

Pause Nelly...... What evidence do they have that their worry is going to actually happen? Tilly the Thinker suggests there will be other children feeling exactly the same and it's OK / they are all there to learn new things and when we learn new things we'll all make mistakes which we can learn from / think of all the new places you've been to in the past, other groups, on holiday, children's parties, have you ever been left on your own, have you never made any friends, where the grownups never nice? When you look for proof to justify your worries and there isn't much there, you end up with the 'Oh Yeah!' response.

Create and use positive affirmations to centralise your thoughts back to the here and now rather than focusing on something that hasn't happened and might never happen. Look at past experiences where children overcame their nerves and achieved or experienced new opportunities and focus on the positive outcomes.

If you know there is something coming up that may trigger your child to feel nervous pre-empting and preparing can help support the sudden feeling of being overwhelmed. Talk things through, provide time for plenty of practise or preparation. Develop relaxation techniques together that your child can use regularly when they sense those feelings building up.

We're here to help

A lot of the work we do at Grow Your Mindset, with children is all about the management and understanding of emotions, such as anger, frustration, sadness etc and hopefully some of the hints and tips here will help you at home.

If you need further support Gemma and I both provide 1:1 Mindset Motivation sessions which instils resilience, calm and strategies to manage those big emotions that EVERYONE has. We deliver either of these services face to face or over Zoom, which means it doesn't matter where you are based - we can help!!

Our Mindset Motivation programmes have helped hundreds of children all across the UK leaving parents thrilled and children feeling much better about themselves and how they learn.

Feel free to get in touch if you want to know more!

If you love a good read, why don't you check out our other blogs about mindsets.

If you would like to know more about Grow Your Mindset click here.

Much Love

Liz x

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