Neurofeedback and Anxiety

Neurofeedback has shown to be effective in reducing anxiety in children – not only in adults. It retrains the brain in a passive, non-invasive way and calms the nervous system. It teaches the brain to remain in an optimal zone. The American Pediatric Association recognizes neurofeedback as effective for children on the Autism Spectrum for the same reason that it is effective for dealing with anxiety; it keeps the brain working in an optimal zone. Neurofeedback training helps the brain create new neuropathways, bypassing those that no longer work.

Let me take you through an example. Sally, an eight year old was brought in to see me because she had a lot of trouble separating from her mother. She couldn’t go off to school without a lot of crying and clinging to mom nor could she be left at a friend’s birthday party and sleepovers at friend’s house; impossible. This behaviour is not typical of an eight year old and this anxiety was causing Sally distress and was interfering with many areas of her life.

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In he diagram above, the green wave shows brain activity that it is in the “optimal” zone. The waves lie within a certain range. The mauve wave has large fluctuations and shows the brain that is outside of the optimal range. In the case of Sally the mauve wave would indicate her “anxious” brain. What happens during neurofeedback, is that whenever Sally’s brainwaves go beyond the optimal level, the brain receives a signal (a slight interruption in the music that Sally is listening too) that tells the brain to return to the optimal range. This is creating a new neuropathway, letting the brain know that it needs to remain in the optimal zone. Each time that the brain is signaled to return to the optimal zone, the neuropathway is strengthened so that it learns to stay in this optimal zone on its own.

Imagine standing in a field of freshly fallen snow. The first time you make a path in snow, it is slow going and the path is just defined. You can see your footprints but the snow between each footprint is still in tact. Each time you pass over this same path, the snow gets more and more compact and the individual footprints eventually disappear. All that you see is a compact path through the snow. This is a similar to what happens in neurofeedback training.

During the neurofeedback sessions, each lasting 33 1/2 minutes, the child can read a book, or play a game on the computer while listening to music. The child can even watch a movie. The neurofeedback program does the rest. The child has 2 sensors attached to the head, which are used to read the signals on the surface of the brain. This information is processed through the neurofeedback system and the system sends signals back as it needs to. At no time are there any electrical impulses or any other signals going into the brain through the sensors. The only signal that the brain receives is in the interruption of the music or audio that the child is listening to.

I know that is sounds almost to good to be true but I have seen the results for myself. Neurofeedback works!

T’is the Season!

The holiday season is a time when families, relatives and friends gather to celebrate together, some from different parts of the world.  It can be an exhausting time as you try to fit it all into your already hectic schedule.

Ten tips for keeping your sanity during the holiday season:

  1. P, P and P.  Prepare, plan ahead and pace yourself.
  2. Keep plans simple: one or two activities per week.  It’s about QUALITY NOT QUANTITY. Make a family “downtime” part of the plans.  This might be the time to watch a holiday movie at home.
  3. Include everyone in the preparations and planning of activities.  Use family meetings as a way of enlisting everyone’s help, yes, even your pre-schooler’s.
  4. Stick to the regular routine as much as possible i.e. nap times, meal times, etc.
  5. Keep the little ones nourished to avoid meltdowns.  We often get so caught up in what we’re doing that we overlook meals and snacks.  Keep snacks healthy as the season provides lots of other opportunities for treats.
  6. Having out-of-town guests?  Have kids decide who will have to give up their room to the guest (if you don’t have a guest room) and have the kids get the guest room ready (tidy, put out towels, strip the bed, etc.).
  7. Get out of the house.  Go for walking tours together to see decorated houses or store fronts or take in some free events in the neighbourhood or the city.
  8. Gift giving:  Keep it simple (tip #2, QUALITY NOT QUANTITY).  Model the gift of giving to those less fortunate than us: Look online or in the local newspaper to find a charitable organization that the family decides to contribute to (Xmas hamper, food bank, toy drives etc.).
  9. Accept a less than perfect contribution from your pre-schooler – remember you are creating memories not competing for a spot in the Martha Stewart magazine!
  10. Take care of yourself!  Hire a babysitter, for some downtime, even if it’s just to go to the local coffee shop, alone or with your partner.
  11. One last one: ENJOY and Happy Holidays! 


Remember when you first rode your bike without training wheels? You were taught, you practiced, you watched others, you fell down and brushed yourself off but eventually you         did it.  You were wobbly at first, but with practice, it became second nature.

 The principle of practice makes perfect is just as true for parents as it is for beginning bikers.  Most parents come with parenting “training wheels:” our innate ability to care for a child’s basic needs.  But what about when the four-year-old stomps his foot and shouts “NO!” when it’s time to leave the park, or when you constantly have to remind the older child to pick up her toys, or when the teen breaks curfew?  Where does that fine parenting balance between kindness (which shows respect for the child) and firmness (which shows respect for ourselves) lie?  How can a parent learn to go on without their training wheels?

Attending parenting groups are a great way to learn to lose those extra wheels. They provide consistent information and step-by-step guidance for parents wanting to learn more effective ways of raising responsible, respectful, independent children.  Participating in these groups not only acknowledges the skills parents already possess, but provides them with additional parenting tools.  These tools include: understanding the child’s temperament, personality and behaviour, using encouragement instead of praise, effective communication, how and when to use consequences and so on.

Equally valuable is the experience of meeting and connecting with other parents who face similar challenges.  Where better to talk about your six-year-old’s bedtime struggles than with a group of parents who’re going through the same thing? Facilitated by trained, experienced parenting educators, parenting classes provide non-judgmental, inclusive group settings that offer not only education, but solidarity, too.  In response to the question “What was especially helpful or meaningful to you?” One course evaluation given out at the end of a parenting series found that what the majority of parents found most ‘helpful or meaningful’ was this opportunity for talking with other parents with similar challenges.

Each class in a series is designed to address specific topics: language of encouragement, communication, goals of behaviour, routines/chores, consequences, sibling rivalry and more.   The facilitators send parents home at the end of each class with new tools to use and try out. When parents return the following week, they can share their successes or challenges with other parents in the group. As they gain new tools each week, parents often notice how the increase in the number of tools actually makes the job easier, rather than more overwhelming!   After the first week of one series, a father of a ten-year old told the class that after learning about temperament and personality and how they relate to behaviour, he recognized how similar his and his daughter’s temperaments were. “We both dig our heels in when we’re feeling upset.  I’m less quick to anger when she has her stubborn moments now; I know what it feels like.”  During the opening exercise in week three, a single mother told the group how intrigued her seven-year-old daughter appeared to be by the changes in this mother’s approach toward her.  “I don’t know what you’re learning at those classes,” said the seven-year-old, “but you’re different.  We don’t fight now.”  Another mother shared a tale of newfound parenting and culinary success: “When my 12 year-old son asked me if he could bake cookies for his class, I cringed at first.  I could see it all now!  My kitchen would never be the same.  I took a deep breath and told my son that I had confidence in him to bake cookies on his own and to also put the kitchen back as he found it.  To my surprise and delight he succeeded in both tasks and I didn’t have to remind him at all!”  These parents’ experiences show that by taking parenting classes and learning new, efficient ways of dealing with children and their behaviours, children flourish.  The more parents practice and refine their skills, the more confidently they can set reasonable boundaries and limits, and the more effective they can be at encouraging their children to be responsible, respectful, independent and contributing members of the family. These courses are an investment into one of the most important things in our lives: our children.  Why stay dependent on only the training wheels?  Venture out on two wheels, refine your skills and feel the excitement and joy of navigating the road with confidence and ease.  Feel the wind in your hair!  Experience the joy in parenting!


A Is For Anger or Anxiety

Let’s talk a bit about the cycle of anger or anxiety because both react in much the same way.  The way I think about the reaction of these emotions is on an increasing scale of o to 10, with 10 being full blown anxiety or anger (rage).  Once it gets to this point there is no use in trying to have any conversation with your child, or anyone else for that matter.  They cannot process anything as they are operating at this point from a very primitive place in their brain (flight or fight).  Once a level 10 has been reached, it takes about 45 minutes for the whole system to calm down and get back down to a 0.

Look at the “A” below and notice that between 1 and 2 there is a “crossing” to get from one side of the “A” to the other.  If we can catch our anger/anxiety at this point, we can walk across this crossing or bridge to get to the other side and from here it is a short distance back to 0.  This is why it is important to recognize the signs in our bodies that tell us that we are getting mad or that our anxiety is rising.  We feel many of the same sensations in our bodies, clenching and tightening, butterflies in our stomachs, feeling hot or cold, energy in our legs (to flee or to fight).  With anxiety we may also feel a shortness of breath, our hearts racing, a tightness in our chests and/or sweaty palms.

If we can recognize these signs within our bodies, then we can take action before our level reaches 2.  There are a few suggestions listed on the “A” which allow us to then walk across the bridge and stop the anger/anxiety from reaching a 10 and then having a long, long way back.  Also to note is that it is a very quick climb to 10 once we’ve hit the 2.

So, teach your children how to notice the signs in their bodies and what to do when they start so that they can take control of these emotions and keep them at a level where they are still useful energy.

See the article Angrrrrr! for more information about anger.