“Do you promise you’ll pick me up later?”
“Are you sure I’m not sick?”
“Do you promise it will be OK?”
If these questions sound familiar, your child may be engaging in excessive reassurance seeking behaviors. And unknowingly, you may be contributing to your child’s increased overall anxiety symptoms by answering those questions.
When your child asks, “Do you promise you’ll come home after dinner?” and you say, “Yes, of course I promise,” your child takes a sigh of relief, gives you a hug, you leave for dinner, and everyone feels better. But then you get a call while you’re at dinner asking the same question. Why? Because reassurance doesn’t last as long as your dinner does.
Reassurance is like a parasite, the more it gets, the more it thrives and then needs more to survive. But it’s hard to tell because it makes you feel so good in the short term. It’s a vicious cycle of feeling anxious --> seeking reassurance --> feeling better in the short term --> anxiety comes back --> seeking reassurance again because it made you feel better last time and so on and so forth. What’s the long term result? More anxiety, and very possibly a very annoyed parent or teacher!
So what’s the solution? Well, first it’s important to understand the difference between assurance and reassurance. If your young child asks if you’ll be picking them up from school, it is totally okay to assure them that you will. But if that turns into an everyday pattern, then we have reassurance on our hands. And in order to kill the reassurance parasite, we need to starve it. That means no more reassurance! Instead, remind your child that you’ve answered that question before and that answering it will only make them more worried.
You may notice anxiety going up at first, but with time, as your child learns to deal with the uncertainty and anxiety without seeking out reassurance he or she will be less anxious and able to get back to being a worry-free kid!
About the author:
Stephanie Kaufman, MSW is a social worker on staff at Light on Anxiety, a mental health treatment center that specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) for anxiety disorders and OCD. Stephanie received her Master of Social Work from the University of Chicago and her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Science in Human Culture at Northwestern University. Stephanie’s previous clinical experiences include working at a Chicago-area junior high school as well as a local private practice specializing in the treatment of depression, anxiety, and OCD with evidence-based practices. Stephanie works with children, adolescents, and adults and is passionate about helping them get back to living valued lives.Stephanie believes in working collaboratively with her clients to meet their goals and uses humor and warmth to create a welcoming environment. Stephanie is an ADAA member.