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By Tammy Marshall
In the Oscar-winning film, Life Is Beautiful (1997) starring Roberto Benigni, an Italian Jewish librarian and his 5-year-old son become victims of WWII’s holocaust and are sent to a Nazi concentration camp. There, Benigni’s character, Guido Orefice, uses wild humor to shield his innocent child from the many horrors caused by the Nazis. Despite his vulnerable circumstance, he succeeds. His child is virtually unaware of what is happening around him and even what is likely to happen to his father. He is shielded from adult reality.
When I worked with teen moms, I was continually guiding them to remain calm for their babies. These girls had already been through a lot, and our goal was to provide a safe and healthy place for their offspring. Firsthand, I saw the positive impact that calming themselves had on their children. Well, there’s actually science that backs this up.
According to a 2010 study from the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, “It is essential that children have safe, secure environments in which to grow, learn, and develop healthy brains and bodies. Science shows that early exposure to circumstances that produce persistent fear and chronic anxiety can have lifelong effects on brain architecture.”
Moreover, this anxiety brain building is known to cause learning problems as the child grows older. According to a study by Australian National University, high levels of anxiety actually impaired the learning of some children. For the full article, visit here: http://psychology.anu.edu.au/research/highlights/how-anxiety-affects-learning
When we stay calm, they stay calm
For all of us, life has its ups and downs. That is inevitable in this world. So how do we protect them from this or even, should we? Aren’t we teaching them to be adults?
When I was in the social work field and educating young mothers about protecting their children from anxiety our focus wasn’t to completely shield their children, it was more about being the adult or being Bigger, Wiser and Kinder. These exact words come from the parenting philosophy The Circle of Security. I was lucky enough to have had several trainings on this specific parenting program. With it, I saw struggling families grow and become cemented in the love and protection of their children. Here is the full website: http://circleofsecurity.net/.
In my own parenting, I have seen how this program works. I used the techniques I gleaned from my time in the world of social work to maintain a sense of calm when visiting places like my child’s pediatric physician’s or dentist’s office. I wanted my child to stay calm and used my own behavior as an example. I maintained my own calm. At both places I am continually told how well-behaved my child is and how she was so calm when getting vaccinated or her teeth sealed. I’m very proud of this. All of us will someday visit a doctor or dentist, why make it any harder than it already is by adding unnecessary anxiety. I feel like I played an important role in teaching my child to remain calm at the doctor’s office. From her first visit to a doctor I have remained strong and calm through every visit and I truly believe my self-calming resulted in her not crying, screaming or kicking—thus making the visit even worse.
Animals can help reduce anxiety
In addition to keeping myself calm, I’ve used chickens to teach her how to calm herself. When I got my first batch of baby chicks, I noticed my 2-year-old reaching a hyper hand into the cage containing the young birds. The swift motion caused the batch of chicks to retreat to the other side of the cage. I explained that if she kept calm, reached softly, then the baby chicks wouldn’t fearfully retreat. Calmly, she placed her hand in the cage and was able to then hold one of the babies.
On the informative website Anxiety.org, the use of pets to treat anxiety disorder is considered to be a viable way to treat this rampant disease, “According to many Americans with a registered Emotional Support Animal (ESA), the difference between manageable and unmanageable anxiety could be as simple as owning a pet. These animals provide support for emotional disorders including anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and much more by simply being present when their owner becomes emotionally distressed. This aid has helped thousands of Americans overcome their anxieties and stressors by providing a helping hand through stressful situations.” For the full website and article visit here: https://www.anxiety.org/emotional-support-animals-help-anxiety
Animals don’t simply help manage anxiety in adults and children. They’ve been shown by their simple inclusion to cause a release of endorphins in humans, which results in a calming effect as well as decreasing feelings of isolation and alienation. Simply, animals treat anxiety and depression.
This treatment using animals doesn’t just belong to the dogs—or even the chickens. Horses have been found to be very effective in the treatment for anxiety in children. Known as Equine Assisted Therapy, horses and therapeutic riding has been used in the United States and Canada since 1960. “Equine Therapy can help the individual build confidence, self-efficiency, communication, trust, perspective, social skills, impulse control, and learn boundaries. Since the horses have similar behaviors with humans, such as social and responsive behaviors, it is easy for the patients to create a connection with the horse.” (http://anxietytreatmentexperts.com/equine-assisted-therapy/)
Most of us moms and dads will do literally anything for our kids. I’ve met a lot of moms from a lot of different backgrounds and I have yet to meet one that says they plan to intentionally create an anxious environment for their children. However, none of us is perfect and life happens. Though few of us will face challenges as terrible as Benigni’s character, many of us are forced into life situations that work against our family and life goals. This struggle causes us to become anxious ourselves. Despite this, the research shows that it is important to do everything we can to protect our children from adult issues. Perhaps we can’t always shield them, but we can use our imaginations to create a wonderful happy environment for our kids full of hope and love. As for adult issues, we should leave those to the grown-ups and let kids be kids.
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Featured Image by Steiner Engeland via Unsplash