Any parent who witnesses their children’s excruciating fear will instinctively react to protect, help, and comfort them. That is the expected and the right thing to do. However, when children experience fear due to OCD and anxiety, parents can learn the right skills. They can intervene in a positive way to help their children overcome their challenges and avoid overprotecting them.
Grug Crood from the film The Croods comes to mind. Grug was an overprotective father and his favorite words were: “Never not be afraid!” His number one goal was to keep his family free from danger. Of course that advice proved to be ineffective. His belief was that other families had been destroyed because they had not been afraid enough! It turned out that by moving and taking risks his family was able to find peace and contentment.
How can parents walk the fine line between caring and being overprotective?
- Validate your child’s feelings in the moment. Let them know you understand how they feel.
- Take time to educate yourself regarding OCD and anxiety.
- Help your children understand the fight-or-flight response in simple ways. Recognizing this is a normal reaction will be empowering for them.
- Help them understand that when they avoid fearful situations, their fear is heightened.
- Be patient. Be willing to meet them half-way. They are learning to overcome their fears. They need time to retrain their brain habits.
- Ensure they are getting appropriate sleep, nourishment, and exercise according to their age.
- Allow for them to take small steps to get used to difficult situations. Help them increase the time they can tolerate the discomfort.
- Teach them to talk back to OCD. They can defy it and become empowered by that response.
- Keep your hope and optimism. Stay positive, be encouraging, be a teacher.
- Don’t rescue and overprotect. Allow them to problem solve as much as they can on their own.
- Don’t participate in their OCD rituals and demands.
- Don’t give them reassurance every time they want to satisfy their uncertainty. This will only reinforce this behavior.
- Don’t tell your child to just shape up or snap out of it. They cannot. If it were that easy they would do so to avoid your being upset at them.
- Don’t compare your anxious child with other children.
- Don’t expect the child to just “grow out of it.” Things may at times appear to be better, unfortunately, if they don’t learn the skills, anxiety issues will resurface when they experience stress in their lives.
- Don’t neglect your needs!
Remember what your ultimate goal for your children is –to leave the cave and really be free! They’ll be able to do so with your help, encouragement, and love.