Growing Up Brave with Dr. Donna Pincus

by Keziah Furth, School Nurse at The Rashi School

Over 200 people came to Rashi on Tuesday, April 9 to attend a Gateways-sponsored lecture on anxiety. The speaker, Dr. Donna Pincus, is the director of a pediatric treatment program at the Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders at Boston University. She taught from her extensive experience working with anxious children, and I’d like to share a few highlights that struck me from her lecture.

Dr. Donna Pincus

1. Teach your child about the constructive role that anxiety plays in our lives.

Dr. Pincus explained that children need to be taught that anxiety is a natural response, part of our body’s fight or flight reaction. The physical sensations that we experience, such as dizziness, heart racing, or nausea are results of sympathetic nervous system enervation. The reaction is meant to protect us when we’re in danger, to prepare us to run if a tiger is chasing us. However, in the case of anxiety disorders, the fight or flight response happens even though there’s no tiger in the room.

Our instinct as parents and teachers is to figure out what is causing a kid to feel anxious and immediately remove that trigger. But Dr. Pincus stressed that avoiding triggers actually causes anxiety to persist and even intensify.

2. Allow your child to sit with discomfort.

Our instinct as parents and teachers is to figure out what is causing a kid to feel anxious and immediately remove that trigger. But Dr. Pincus stressed that avoiding triggers actually causes anxiety to persist and even intensify. What she and other cognitive behavioral therapists teach is learning to sit with discomfort. We can help children look at the situations that make them anxious, such as going to school or being around crowds, and help them to develop the techniques to calm themselves within those situations instead of running away from them.

3. Model emotional resilience and let your child experiment – and fail.

There is a lot about anxiety that we can’t control but Dr. Pincus pointed out that many of the anxious behaviors in children can be affected by parental influence. She encouraged us as parents and caregivers to manage our own stress and to model healthy ways of handling difficult situations. She shared examples of loving parents who overprotect and over-reassure their kids, never realizing that this extra attention is hindering the children’s ability to become resilient and independent. Children need to be allowed to fail, to make mistakes and to encounter obstacles if they are going to grow up brave. As hard as it is for us, maybe it’s time we stepped aside and let our kids step out. 

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