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anxiety Behaviour Management Inclusion parenting

The Difference Between Constructive and Destructive Anxiety Management

I came across some quality content from Dr. Tony Attwood on anxiety management related to children with autism. I love any information that is easy to understand and relay to people and has the potential to make a difference. This content fits the criteria.

Dr. Attwood discusses the two types of anxiety management. Constructive habits succeed in mitigating the potential impact of anxiety whilst destructive habits also does this but to the detriment of relationships with others. Dr. Attwood details three destructive strategies to avoid and promotes six constructive alternatives. If constructive strategies are not being used, a child may naturally fall into using destructive ones.

Three Destructive Anxiety Management Strategies

  1. Excessive Control: When children are feeling anxious, they may seek to exert control through defiance or threats to property, self or people. The impact this has on relationships is clear. Excessive control to manage anxiety may result in a diagnosis of Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). Is this a reason to move away from labels? (Full article here)
  2. Rituals: An anxious child may insist on sameness and become intolerant and inflexible to any change. They can become over-reliant on rituals and routines when they are too prolonged detracting from their ability to engage in other tasks.
  3. Emotional Explosions: When fight-or-flight reaches a certain point, a child rife with anxiety may release the emotional energy pent up through an outburst which hurts others and damages friendships and relationships. This also takes an emotional toll on themselves in the aftermath.

Six Constructive Anxiety Management Strategies

These six strategies are necessities for anxious children. They are not rewards. The child requires them to engage with day-to-day life successfully. Analyse each one and consider if you are making the best use of each strategy.

  1. Physical Activity: Often underestimated, being physically active has a significant impact on anxiety. This can be through team sports, individual sports, movement breaks or walks. The options are endless and finding the medium that the child enjoys exercising through will aid them in coping with their anxiety.
  2. Relaxation: An anxious child has never relaxed just because they were told to. They have to be taught how to relax. This could be through a meditation app like Mindful Gnats (Android link here and Apple here), teaching the art of journaling, yoga or engaging in a range of activities depending on the child’s personality (Article: 6 strategies to help an anxious child here). A highly anxious child might never have learned to relax so it must be a priority to teach them.
  3. Special Interests: Allowing a stressed or anxious child to engage with their special interest is a powerful tool to relieve building anxiety. Depending on the interest, this can be easily implemented into day-to-day life. Allowing an anxious child with autism to engage with their special interest is not time wasted. It is time-efficient as they will be able to re-engage with activity after a short break.
  4. Favourite Person: An anxious child can experience relief when they are afforded some quality time with their favourite person. If the person is an SNA, teacher or child, this strategy can be utilised without extensive planning. If the person cannot be present, we can use audio messages, phone calls and emails. The child’s favourite person can be a great sense of comfort and relief.
  5. Diet: The benefits of a good diet go beyond the scope of this article. Needless to say that a balanced diet will have a positive impact on a child’s anxiety compared to a diet of junk food, sugar and refined carbohydrates.
  6. Sleep: Much like a healthy diet, we all can appreciate the positive effect of eight to ten hours of sleep on an anxious child. Weighted blankets, avoiding screen time before bed and a consistent nighttime routine can contribute to good sleep hygiene.

When you consider the child, ask yourself which type of strategies are being used to manage their anxiety. Are they destructive or constructive? Can we improve on how we use constructive habits? Which constructive habits can I control if I am a teacher or a parent? Focus on these and lean away from destructive behaviour.

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