For people who struggle with anxiety, they can routinely experience what we refer to as “hair on fire” moments. This week at my social skills center, a little 6-year-old boy began to panic when the foam fort he was building was about to collapse.
I could hear the anxiety in his voice gaining steam. It was easy to see that without an intervention, this could escalate quickly into something behavioral. If his anxiety was allowed to grow into near panic, he would have lost all reasoning skills and the ability to solve the issue at hand.
In that moment, I said, “I see what’s happening here. What do you think we could do to solve this problem?” By getting him into problem-solving mode, my intent was to solve the problem, of course, but also to shift his thinking from the worry center of his brain to the logical center of his brain. He didn’t answer with a potential solution so I offered one. “If it falls, you know what we’ll do? We’ll just fix it! Easy peasy!” So we did. We secured the walls and put the fort right again. Afterward, we always want to “close the loop” so to speak. So I then pointed out, “it’s a good thing we didn’t get too upset over that. It made it so we could just fix it and keep playing and having fun.”
These short lessons, delivered in the exact moment when a problem occurs, are precisely what this little guy needs in order to feel like he’s in control of what goes on around him. He’s on his way to learning how to put out his own “hair on fire” moments.