Anxiety runs in families, and tends to propagate itself from parent to child. Part of this “dysfunctional inheritance” is genetic, and part of it is environmental — and part is epigenetic. Anxious children tend to become fearful children, who grow up to be fearful and often phobic adults. Up to 50% of the children of anxious parents tend to develop chronic anxiety themselves.
In Dangerous Child training, much effort is put into the early observation of a child’s reactions to various stimuli and increasingly challenging situations — on both an individual and a social basis. This will allow parents, mentors, and caregivers the opportunity to customise training in order to minimise dysfunction and maximise skills competencies.
But before that, parents themselves undergo a streamlined battery of written and hands-on tests meant to identify emotional and psychological patterns that may need work. For best results, potential parents seek consultation prior to conception of the Dangerous Child, or as early in development as possible.
If the child is allowed to develop anxious modes of thought and reaction for too long a time, the way back to functionality can be long and effortful — as any mental health analyst, councilor or therapist can tell you.
Here is more from a recent study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, looking at the issue of curtailing the development of childhood anxiety in children of anxious parents.
[Anxious] parents sought help because they struggle with anxiety, and want to prevent their children from suffering the same way. Children of anxious parents are at increased risk for developing the disorder. Yet that does not need to be the case, according to new research by UConn Health psychiatrist Golda Ginsburg.
Ginsburg and colleagues at Johns Hopkins University tested a one-year family therapy intervention as part of a study of 136 families with at least one parent with anxiety and at least one child between the ages of 6 and 13…
Anxiety tends to run in families, with up to 50 percent of children of anxious parents growing up to be anxious themselves. Until now, anxiety prevention programs have been largely conducted in schools, with only modest success.
For an anxious child, meeting a new peer for the first time can be paralyzing. Trying an unfamiliar food might summon worries of being poisoned. To cope with this kind of debilitating anxiety, kids start avoiding whatever provokes the anxious feelings. If they’re afraid of the dark, they might insist on sleeping with all the lights on. If they’re afraid of failing, they won’t try new things. In extreme cases, they may refuse even to leave the house.
“Anxiety and fear are protective and adaptive,” says Ginsburg. “But in anxious kids they may not be, because these children have thoughts about danger and threat when there really isn’t one.”
Both inborn temperament and life experiences play a role, she says. The more negative experiences a person has growing up, the greater the likelihood he or she will struggle with anxiety as an adult. But there is also a component of anxiety that is learned, taught inadvertently by parents who model the behavior. It’s these learned behaviors and thought patterns that interventions can help change.
Most of the adults who participated in the study struggled in school and didn’t tell anyone. They didn’t raise their hands, or they got sick before exams. They might not have had any friends. As adults, their anxiety still limits their activities and sometimes those of their family members, and they are very motivated to help their children avoid the same…
The families who participated in therapy were taught to identify the signs of anxiety and how to reduce it. They practiced problem-solving skills, and exercised safe exposures to whatever made their child anxious.
One of the ways to reduce anxiety is the reality check — learning to recognize when a fear is healthy and worth paying attention to (a growling dog) or unhealthy (a suspicion that the birthday cake is poisoned).
“We taught the kids how to identify scary thoughts, and how to change them,” Ginsburg says. For example, if a child is afraid of cats and encounters one in the street, the child can first identify the scary thought: “That cat is going to hurt me.” Then the child can test that thought — is it likely that the cat will hurt me? No, the cat doesn’t look angry. It isn’t baring its teeth or hissing, it’s just sitting there. OK, I can walk past that cat and it won’t do anything.
The above research study points out the parallel importance of genes and environment (experience). Every child has the potential to develop anxiety over particular situations and experiences. But some are genetically and epigenetically predisposed to develop fearful reactions — even paralysing phobias. An ounce of prevention of such dysfunctional patterns is worth several tonnes of cure.
Young children can learn to grow beyond irrational fears of water, heights, reptiles, predators — both human and animal, and other confrontational situations that might paralyse most “prudent” people. As long as their judgment and competencies grow to displace more and more of their fears, rationally.
Dangerous children learn to fly planes, pilot boats and ships in treacherous waters, can safely navigate and move cross-country when it is necessary to cross mountain ranges and treacherous rivers and canyons, understand more about realistic human history and human nature / culture than most professors — and can support themselves financially at least three different ways by the time they reach the age of 18. They are steeped in entrepreneurial capitalism, natural science, and independent methods of long distance mobility before most children reach high school age.
There are as many obstacles to an effective Dangerous Childhood as there are Dangerous Children. And yet, it is never too late to have a Dangerous Childhood. But the earlier one begins, the better.