Learn to tame the mammoth

When families come to the psychologist Nathalie Parent for the anxiety of a child, it sometimes happens to him to make a curious observation : it is the father or the mother who is anxious. Not the child. His advice to parents is to take a deep breath and let go.

The psychologist of the region of Québec, specializing in the treatment of anxiety, is fairly busy. The waiting list for her private clinic has expanded since the beginning of his practice in 1999. It is clear that anxiety has become a major concern of parents.

“There is a lot in the testing [mental health problems], even in toddlers. It is a good thing, but they panic easily, ” said the blunt Nathalie Parent, contacted by telephone.

“The parents come because the day care said : “There may be an anxiety disorder.” However, the anxiety is part of the normal development of children. As a parent, you must accompany them. But often, it is the parents who are anxious. It is fine to want to be a good parent, but if you put too much pressure, we have to transmit our own fears, we stress our children without realizing it, ” explains psychologist and author.

Being diagnosed with all sorts of disorders and their cures. This is wonderful, except that the anxiety has always existed. It’s part of life, recalls Nathalie Parent.

One person in ten develops an anxiety disorder in his life, ” she says. Before you say that stress or anxiety becomes a disorder of anxiety in the child, it is necessary that the distress lasts for more than six months and that it has an impact at school, in the family and in social life.

Face the fears

Even in the face of a child with an anxiety disorder, the parents, great anxiety, must have confidence in their young, who doesn’t get to be put in a cocoon or protected to the utmost against the ups and downs of normal life.

“If the child is going through a difficult period, it is essential to have confidence in his abilities, believes Ms. Parent. We must teach him that he can trust, he can have some control. Not that the help comes from the outside. When we feel a power over what we experience, we become more confident and the anxiety takes up less space. “

For this reason, the school should encourage students anxious to face their fears, the expert believes. Adaptation measures, such as providing access to exams in a quiet room, should last a time, ” she says.

“Some children are terrified at the idea of doing an oral presentation and it avoids them to do. But we should not do it. We need to help them to mobilize their energy to get there, tell them : “You have a crisis of panic, we will help you make small steps so that you succeed.” We are going to do the presentation in small groups of three or four people. It is necessary to focus on the effort. Otherwise, the child perceives that he has a disability for the rest of his life. “

There is a lot in the early detection of mental health problems, even in toddlers. It is a good thing, but we panic easily.

— Nathalie Parent


Nathalie Parent meeting a lot of anxious parents compared to the school results of their child. Once again, she advises them to let go.

“A bad result is not a guarantee of admission to the university,” she said. Normalize it ! In secondary 4, we hear in the schools that their future is at stake, they will not be admitted to college in such a program… as The child is willing to do the math ? He will resume if he chooses one day a program that needs them. Already as a teenager, it was fear of the future. Not to put too much pressure on it will help. “

Social networks can also amplify the anxiety. “With Facebook and Instagram, we are compared constantly. One has the impression that everyone is happier than us, we always present our best side. If one has a sensitivity to the anxiety, we will feel less than : “My God, I am not able to do as much as the other.” “

Reduce stress

Sophie Leroux, a psychologist at the Centre hospitalier universitaire Sainte-Justine, finds it also a distress in the parents, exhausted by the work-family balance, in front of the hardships encountered by their children. The teachers, who can detect problems of adaptation of children, are themselves out of breath. The psychologist and author advise sometimes to parents to reduce their working time. A british study has shown that working one day less per week reduces stress significantly.

Apprendre à dompter le mammouth

Photo: Jacques Nadeau Le Devoir
Sophie Leroux, a psychologist at the Centre hospitalier universitaire Sainte-Justine

“We must not forget that the stress and anxiety, it is essential. This is what allows us to stay in life “, says Sophie Leroux.

In the Face of danger, real or perceived, the body releases adrenaline, a burst of energy needed to face the threat. Scientists evoke the image of the mammoth that humans had to hunt to survive. The problem with people anxious is that they see mammoths everywhere. Even where there is not. They are constantly in a state of alert. It is tiring, to be anxious. Exhausting even.

“The difference between stress and anxiety, it is only when the stress is past, it is relieved. The anxiety amplifies the dangers and possible consequences of the danger. Before an exam, a student stressed out is experiencing symptoms but can function. A person anxious will anticipate and imagine catastrophic consequences : “I’m going to fail my exam, I’m going to run my session, I’m going to be expelled from the school and I will never find an interesting job.” “

To tame the mammoth interior of the little (and big) anxious who end up in his office, Sophie Leroux has a wide range of tools and tips that are relatively simple. “Breathing is one of the most simple, non expensive and effective way of managing the anxiety,” says the psychologist. A good breathing helps restore the parasympathetic system which decreases the doses of adrenaline and cortisol made by the body in situation of stress.

It should not be forgotten that the stress and anxiety, it is essential. This is what allows us to stay in life.

— Sophie Leroux

More and more schools offer sessions of breathing, meditation and yoga, said Ms. Leroux.

The psychologist also teaches children to manage their thoughts. “I teach them to take a distance from thoughts of disaster. You can say : “I’m going to do my best, I don’t need to be perfect ; if I make a mistake, it’s going to teach me something.” For a long time, it advocated confrontation with the thoughts. Meditation leads us to be aware that we do not control the thoughts, but that you can control the attention given to them. Stop certain thoughts, it does not work. It is better to say : “This thought, is this going to help me ? Not ? I’ll try not to take that into account.” “

It is for this reason that the science recommends that people with anxiety to face their fears rather than avoid them. “The more we avoid this fear, the more fear “, said Sophie Leroux.

Mission: to adapt the school to the students

The school may encourage students to face their fears, specialists have the mission to take the youth by the hand to make their lives easier. “We have been working in the field of adaptation,” says Nathalie Lacombe, psycho-educator at Commission scolaire de Montréal (CSDM). She is “responding” to the approximately 200 psychoeducators. His team can help students to cope better with the stress in the transitions, for example between nursery and primary or between primary and secondary. Example : “We are going to visit a secondary school with students from sixth year. They are shown how to work the famous padlock for their locker. We visit the lockers, the cafeteria, the library. “Psychoeducators work with the child, his parents, the teacher and the other members of what is called” the school team “. They are practical and simple solutions to stressful situations lived by the students. Some refuse to go in the school yard because they were intimidated, others are afraid to do an exam or an oral presentation. “A child’s impulsive, verbomoteur, restless, who disturbs the group or cut the word, does not necessarily have an attention deficit disorder with or without hyperactivity. He lives may be anxiety. The school must put in place the elements that will help the child succeed. ”

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Apprendre à dompter le mammouth

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Apprendre à dompter le mammouth

Learn to tame the mammoth

Manage anxiety involves helping the child to tame his fears, rather than avoid them.