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How To Be A Secure Anchor For A Child During Turmoil

Advice From A Psychotherapist

Turmoil in childhood, especially if it is repetitive, can deeply affect a person for life. Often, it is an adult’s response to seeing a child in turmoil that makes the difference in how a child will persevere. So, as an adult seeing a child in turmoil, how can you help them through and help them persevere?

In order to get a better understanding of the answer, I spoke with Nicole Vykoual, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, therapist and yoga instructor. She believes that during times of turmoil you can help by being a secure anchor. You can be a secure anchor by doing the following three things:

1.) Be empathetic: Show a child experiencing turmoil empathy and validate their emotions and experience. Empathy is not the same as sympathy – you’re not feeling sorry for the child, but instead intently listening and showing that you care and want to understand how they are feeling.

2.) Manage Your Own Adult Anxiety: Nicole acknowledges it can be difficult to compassionately bear witness to another’s struggle and focus on validating their emotions while not prematurely jumping into problem-solving, but an anchored adult is one who listens to the child while managing their own anxiety and desire to fix the emotional pain.

3.) Have an attuned presence: Work to separate your emotions from the child’s but remain attuned to the child. An attuned presence allows the child to mirror your regulated nervous system and feel heard, seen, and understood. The child feels less alone and can face the turmoil, knowing he or she has a trusted adult to work through the process with.

These emotional regulation skills acquired by being empathized with and emotionally validated are critical to growing up to be a well-adjusted adult and living the human experience, which can be full of adversity.

Lastly, be sure to anchor yourself through the process. If you begin to feel too overwhelmed or saddened, know that it’s okay to reach out for support from others. Sometimes, that means professional support, for the child and/or yourself. 

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