One of our children has anxiety, which is difficult for any family to manage, especially a blended-family with it’s mix of different personalities. It’s more challenging for our daughter. I am trying to help her to better understand her mind. We want her to cope as issues come up, so she understands how to face challenges head-on, rather than to run from them. I started reading an anxiety book–a guide for parents, Helping Your Anxious Child, A Step-by-Step Guide for Parents by Ronald M. Rapee, PH.D., Ann Wignall, D, Psych, Susan H. Spence, PH. D., Vanessa Cobham, PH.D., and Heidi Lyneham, PH.D.
I also ordered I Bet I Won’t Fret-A Workbook to Help Children with Generalized Anxiety Disorder by Timothy A. Sisemore, PH.D.
Anxious children’s brains work differently. My daughter, for example, has a higher non-verbal IQ than her verbal IQ. This a significant difference. The evaluation showed this was part of the reason she had such a difficult time relating when she was younger. She could comprehend what was happening around her, but when it was tougher to convey aloud. She is also more observant than the average person. It was described to me as my daughter has a giant antenna, making her more sensitive to everything around her. Most of us only notice a few of our surroundings upon entering a room, while my daughter notices twice as many. If there are too many things going on at once, like at school, she becomes distracted and gets frazzled. It would be similar to one of us walking into a crowded room, with the music turned up really loud, and multiple people trying to get your attention, all while your thoughts are racing.
Things which seem small to other children are huge ordeals to my daughter, like if a minor detail was left out of a plan for the next day she will worry about what will happen. Any change in her routine can send her into a tailspin, although she has been improving. We have been working on this behavior. She is also extremely sensitive to what others think and say about her and negative feedback or criticism is often an anxiety trigger. If she overhears one of us discussing anything sounding remotely like it could be something bad she will worry about it for days. Firsts are difficult for her, like the first day of school, the first time back after being ill, or the first time meeting a new person. During extremely anxious times she sometimes wakes us in the night with worries, which she usually forgets the next morning. She is getting better at meeting new people. My daughter is remarkably bright, creative, talented, and hilarious! Although her anxiety is a challenge, she has never allowed it to stop her from being her authentic little self and I couldn’t be more proud of her for that! She also has a very unique view of the world, which she would never have without her anxiety.
All four of us as parents have to continuously communicate to parent an anxious child. There is really no other way. As her mother, I don’t feel it is my job to coddle her anxiety, I feel it is my job to show her how to learn to live with it–build upon it even. It can be a struggle, but eventually I know she will thrive. She is already an exemplary student.
Anxious children believe the world is a dangerous place. Because of this belief, they often interoperate innocent daily events as evidence of danger. Parents often allow the child to avoid the thing which causes anxiety, which maintains the anxiety and reinforces the fear.
Anxiety can effect the body in multiple ways:
- Tense muscles
- Rapid breathing
- Bouts of crying
- Tense muscles
- Frequently needing to go to the bathroom
- Feeling hot
- Increased heart rate
Anxiety can also dramatically affect your child’s thoughts and behavior. An important part of parenting an anxious child is to help them become aware of their thoughts and feelings.
One useful tool for identifying how anxious your child is in anxiety-producing situations is the worry scale. The scale is from 0-10 with 0 being very relaxed to 10 extremely worried. Describe it to them as similar to a thermometer, only to measure their worries. Explain the different types of worries, silly, small such as The number will be different for each situation, and will vary for each child/person who uses it. Teaching your child the worry-scale, along with the above symptoms of anxiety can help you to better check-in with them in a situation to be able to see how they are doing. Another great way to describe physical symptoms of anxiety to a child is in animal behavior. Ask what happens if you were to frighten a sleeping cat (large eyes, raised fur, arched back, puffed tail, stiff muscles, pinned ears.)
I have read overly reassuring anxious children can backfire, causing them to become more anxious, reinforcing their anxiety. The book I mentioned earlier gives many parenting suggestions that are helpful tools. Detective thinking is one of the other more useful strategies in the book. Anxious children often overestimate the probability of bad or dangerous things happening to them, and looking at only the facts can help them to see for themselves what they were worried about was not as scary as they thought.
Detective thinking Questions:
- What has happened before in this situation? Have you been in a situation like this before? Did anything bad happen? Did something bad happen every time you were in this situation?
- What background information do I know about this situation? Is this a really bad situation?
- What else could happen in this situation? Could there be another reason for this happening?
- What is more likely to happen? Might something else happen?
- What has happened to other people? Have any of your friends or people you know had anything like this happen?
One question not included is: what if it did happen? The reason for this, is young children especially tend to have a lot of trouble with that question, creating an unrealistic overestimation of what could happen and then dwelling on it. The book explains it is best to have them focus on the evidence to show them what they fear will most likely not happen.
Some additional questions:
- Are there other explanations for how that other person reacted?
- What will this look like in two weeks, a month, or a year’s time?
- Are you jumping to a conclusion that this will happen?
- Are your thoughts sensible?
- Is this your responsibility?
- Are you trying to read someone else’s mind?
Our other biggest lifelines has always been excellent teachers we have been blessed with over the years. Without their endless dedication, support, and hard work, we know things would be much harder.
I also whole-heartedly suggest therapy for children with anxiety issues, books on the subject for both parents and the children, support groups, and a great support system from family, friends, and community is wonderful as well.
Trish Eklund is taking a nontraditional approach to parenting children after divorce and remarriage. Raising her two daughters of eleven and fifteen with her husband, ex-husband, and his wife, they consult one another on all parenting decisions. Trish is the owner and founder of Family Fusion Community. Trish has been featured on www.playground-magazine.com, and www.bigblendedfamily.com. She is a regular writer on www.herviewfromhome.com, writer and co-editor for Her View From Omaha. Follow her on Twitter: @trishiewriter, Google +, and Pinterest.