Reassurance seeking is a common anxiety symptom that both children and adults exhibit. When we feel anxious, it is a generally uncomfortable feeling, so we will want to try different things to alleviate the discomfort. One very common method is seeking reassurance to help calm the anxiety or worry.
Reassurance seeking can be done verbally or through physical behaviors.
Here are some verbal examples:
“Am I going to be ok?”
“Do you think she heard me?”
"Should I send this e-mail?”
“Do you think I sounded ok?”
“Are you sure you will be there to pick me up?”
Here are some behavioral examples:
Re-reading e-mails after they are sent
Replaying conversations in mind
Looking up health problems online
Checking to see if the door is locked
Seeking reassurance will help us feel better quickly if we receive the answer we want. How can this be a problem? Well, when we engage in seeking reassurance excessively (more than once), we are reinforcing anxiety.
There is a difference between reassurance seeking and information seeking. When we seek information, we are learning about a new topic, illness, schedule, plan, routine within an appropriate boundary.
For example, if your child is asking what time you will be picking them up from the birthday party because they forgot or they haven’t been told yet, this is not considered reassurance seeking. This is information seeking. If, however, your child presents with anxiety (possibly separation or social anxiety) and he/she is asking you what time they will be picked up multiple times and if you will remember to get them, this is reassurance seeking.
What do we do?
We limit seeking to information from approved and appropriate resources (e.g., avoiding misleading websites and forums). We limit re-playing conversations and re-reading messages, to once or not at all once originally checked. We stop asking others to participate in reinforcing our anxiety. For parents, make a plan with your child to discuss how the questions will be answered. We set a goal to answer each question only once so we can teach the child to learn to seek only information, but not extra reassurance.
There is so much to discuss around this topic. Let me know if you have questions or additional thoughts!