john piacentini headshot

The Key to Curbing Childhood Anxiety Before It Gets Baked In

For over a decade I’ve been thinking about how we got so scared for our kids — and how our kids got so scared of seemingly normal childhood activities.

Enter John Piacentini, a Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA where he runs an entire program — CARES — dedicated to identifying and reversing anxiety in kids.

He explained to me how anxiety works, and especially the role of “accommodation of anxiety” — letting kids avoid doing something that we don’t think is dangerous, but they regard with dread. You’ll find my Q&A with the good psychologist over at Let Grow, including his discussion of how great kids feel when they don’t have to leave their comfort zone…except that that means they start to believe the can’t leave their comfort zone. Which is anxiety.

Fascinating insights. Click here for more!

2 Responses to The Key to Curbing Childhood Anxiety Before It Gets Baked In

  1. Emily February 13, 2021 at 11:06 am #

    Flip side; you can also trigger anxiety by constantly pushing a young person out of their comfort zone.

    “Murgatroid, I want you to try out for football!”

    “No, Dad, we played football every year in gym class, since grade three, and I really don’t like it. I’d rather do theatre.”

    “You HAVE to play sports to be WELL-ROUNDED!!!”

    “But I’m still making friends and learning to work with others, and I get plenty of exercise at dance practice!!!”

    “Murgatroid!!! How many times have I told you; you need to learn to STEP OUT of your COMFORT ZONE?!?!? Lenore Skenazy and her psychologist friend say it’s good for you!!!”

    “You mean you’d take the opinions of strangers over your own child?”

    *Cue a lengthy screaming match, where Dad attacks Murgatroid’s character and makes him feel like the only way to make Dad happy, is to become a completely different person.*

    This was an extreme example, but I just wanted to point out that it’s possible to go too far in the other direction. Repeatedly pushing kids to do non-essential activities that they’ve already established that they don’t like, even if they’re involved in other, equally valuable activities that they do like, just gives those kids the message of “My parents want me to be someone I’m not,” or “I’m not okay the way I am.” It’s not healthy for that to get “baked in” either. I grew up with a bit of that, and my reflexive answer to “what do you want to do” type questions is, “I don’t know, what do you want to do?” I’ve been learning to turn it around, because I met some people who started calling me out on it, but it would have been better if I’d never picked up that habit in the first place.

  2. Common sense February 14, 2021 at 5:29 pm #

    Nobody says to push children to be someone they’re not. And yes it is very possible to do that. But reflexively saying oh ok don’t even try if you are that upset is it’s own trap,and the easy way out for the parent. It begins to shrink their lives before you know it. The example above of not wanting to talk on the phone is a good.