Anxiety is a demanding beast, with a long list of conditions that must be met to keep it at bay. It forces anxious children and their families to banish uncertainty, avoid surprises, cling to safety and security—the list could go on forever. Unfortunately, when anxiety is running the show in a child’s life, the family tends to become more and more inflexible.
Though rigid families may think their patterns of avoidance are helpful, the truth is just the reverse. Lynn Lyons, coauthor of Anxious Kids, Anxious Parents, has often observed that a rigid family dynamic typically fuels a child’s anxiety. In this brief video clip, she explains, “Anxious families tend to be very rigid with a lot of rules about getting homework done, a lot of worry about making mistakes.” The problem is that all those inflexible rules perpetuate an anxious child’s symptoms.
That’s why Lynn designed the “Wall of Flexibility,” a simple homework assignment that directs parents to reward their children for going with the flow—the exact opposite of what anxiety wants. When the child steps out of a comfort zone or works through some uncertainty, the parents write this on a sticky note and put it up on a designated wall. They eventually give the child a prize for reaching a certain number of sticky notes.
Richard Simon, PhD, founded Psychotherapy Networker and served as the editor for more than 40 years. He received every major magazine industry honor, including the National Magazine Award. Rich passed away November 2020, and we honor his memory and contributions to the field every day.
Lynn Lyons, LICSW, is a speaker, trainer, and practicing clinician specializing in the treatment of anxious families. She’s the coauthor of Anxious Kids, Anxious Parents and is the co-host of the podcast Flusterclux. Her latest book for adults is The Anxiety Audit.