When children experience anxiety they can quickly start to avoid activities, not wanting to aggravate the uncomfortable feelings. This leads to a situation where their world becomes smaller and smaller, whilst their worries when they need to step out of it grow bigger and bigger.
Whilst allowing them to avoid things can feel the best option, as watching them navigate distressing or uncomfortable feelings is unpleasant, restricting the size of their comfort zone can have longer term consequences, particularly when they come across situations that they cannot avoid.
This concept can be referred to as a ‘window of tolerance‘. A window of tolerance is a child’s comfortable state of being able to function. The wider the window of tolerance, the more a child can cope with and maintain normal functioning. The smaller the window of tolerance, the harder a child will find it to manage situations as they see the world as being more unpredictable and unsafe. A child with anxiety frequently has a smaller zone of tolerance. When a child experiences a situation which is not in their comfort zone the reaction takes them outside of their zone of tolerance and creates anxiety symptoms.
Therefore, supporting a child to increase their window of tolerance allows them to experience wider opportunities without become dis-regulated. Whilst this can take time, supporting children to stretch their window of tolerance means:
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