My husband and I looked at one another in disbelief.
We both realized how far our son had come in eight years. It may sound like a short amount of time to some, but parenting a child that deals with anxiety or another behavioral limitation can seem like an eternity. Ever since our third born child came out of my womb, he’s been an intense personality. His first year of life was quite frankly my hardest year ever as a human being. He was extremely colicky, had a lot of reflux issues, and did not sleep well at all! He was inconsolable at times and it threw this type-A control freak of a mom for a loop!
When he was six months old, I had just got him to sleep for naptime. It was quite an accomplishment, and I had just sat down and breathed a sigh of relief. It was then that I heard my older two children’s stomping feet running up to the bathroom, fighting over who was going to use the bathroom first. My heart skipped a beat, heart pounding with adrenaline as I heard my baby cry in his crib. I ran upstairs, and without thinking, kicked the wall! My foot went through the drywall, and my children’s jaws dropped. As I stared at the hole in the wall, with my two children wide-eyed in disbelief, and my 6-month-old baby crying in the next room, I realize how sleep-deprived and stressed I really was. Throughout his toddler years, he continued to be a difficult child. Meltdown after meltdown and endless fits, unlike anything I’d seen from our previous two children.
All the books and all the parenting methods can’t prepare you for an unpredictable child of this nature.
If you have a child like this, you know exactly what I’m talking about. We found things that helped prevent these meltdowns like removing synthetic dyes from his diet. Although this helped a lot, he still suffered from sleepless nights from waking up anxious and afraid. By the age of six, it was so bad that my other two children asked if we were going to get help for their brother. When my whole family was on board, I knew it was time to seek professional help. We went to a local branch of a hospital that specialized in children with behavioral challenges. After extensive testing, they determined that he had what was called generalized anxiety disorder. They gave us coping methods to use with him, and we put a biblical spin on then. One example was helping him fall asleep at night. They suggested giving him a “magical hat” where he would let all his worries go up into the hat from inside his head. Then we would take off the hat and give it to God. This helped a lot.
Perhaps you have a child or know a child with anxiety. Here are some suggestions that I have as a mom of a child with anxiety that has helped me the most.
Stay in Control – Don’t Worry About What Others Think
One of the hardest things to do is not worry about what others think when it comes to parenting your child with anxiety! Out of fear of what others were thinking, I would pacify my child and give in to them in public. This created a bigger problem at home. Remember, you are the adult! Make a decision, give your child healthy boundaries, and wade through the meltdowns (even if it means embarrassment for you).
Attempt to identify the trigger and name the emotion
Many times, you won’t know the trigger that is causing your child to become anxious. If they are very young, they may not be able to verbalize how they are feeling. In the case of our child, he would go into a panic episode where he would clam up and not be able to verbalize or name his emotions. He would point, and grunt, even when we asked him to please use his words. One thing you can do as a parent is acknowledging that they are feeling strong emotions. Try to label their emotion for them, telling them you understand they are feeling ____________. Don’t be afraid of guessing the wrong emotion. By trying your best to identify your child’s emotions, they may correct you and actually realize what they are feeling a certain way.
Endure over avoidance
It’s important that your child feel the anxiety! Without feeling the fight or flight symptoms and knowing how to react to it, they are left vulnerable and stuck. Give them a safe place to express how they are feeling and brainstorm strategies to help them overcome it! Take baby steps if you need to, but make sure you allow them to endure versus avoid! Give them a safe place to unravel.
Stop trying to fix your child
It is very difficult to watch your child struggle and suffer! It is natural to want to fix them and make the problem suddenly go away. We can actually end up hurting our children when we shield them from these negative emotions. When we pacify them and remove them from an anxious situation, they aren’t learning to cope within a safe place. While It helps children calm down in the short-term, it can escalate their fears over time! It takes time and practice! It’s a marathon, and most definitely not a sprint!
Empower them through positive thinking
Anxious children often feel helpless in their cycle of fearful thinking! They can feel powerless to change. Help them retrain their thinking by memorizing scripture together. You can also have them redirect their thoughts by thinking of a favorite place in their mind, or naming animals alphabetically. A simple changing of thinking can help your child redirect their thoughts and calm down.
Examples of coping mechanisms
Here are some examples of tried and true coping mechanisms that might help your child.
- Blowing on a feather
- Write out your fears and rip up the paper
- Blow invisible bubbles with your mouth
- Run around, jump, move!
- Imagine a fun place and watch yourself visit it in your mind
- Find a safe place (under something, in a corner, etc)
- Watching a favorite show or YouTube Channel
- Name your feelings out loud
- Squeeze a stress ball
- Breath deeply, count to ten, then exhale slowly
- Draw how you’re feeling on a sheet of paper
- Put on a worry hat – let all your worries out and take off the hat
- Pray with your child
- Memorize scripture
- Listen to soothing music
- Cover yourself with a heavy blanket
- Do a handstand upside down against a wall
- Jump on a mini-trampoline
One of the best things you can do as a parent is to be consistent with love, boundaries, and disciple.
A child that knows what to expect, understands what is right and wrong, will feel safe and secure. Even if they may not like a rule, of having to do something that makes them feel anxious, it will help them in the long run when they feel safe and secure in your home. have learned just as much as my child along this journey!
For many years I walked around on eggshells, worried that my child was going to have a melt-down or be anxious in a situation. Looking back, I was not in a healthy place because of this. After taking our child to counseling, it helped me more than anything to be able to have the tools to help him! I learned I was not a bad mom and really chilled out when it came to my child’s behavior. I kept reminding myself that just because my child was acting out, it was not a reflection on my parenting! Staying calm, giving my child tools to cope during anxious moments, and stopping the pattern of worrying about what others were thinking really helped me move forward in helping him heal and grow!
Today he is a confident eight-year-old who is flourishing in school, a great friend, brave in his activities and willing to try new and scary things! One of the biggest things he’s recently started to do is verbalize his emotions out loud. I want to give hope to parents who may feel hopeless, frustrated and burnt out! Stay the course! I promise you will see positive growth in your child over time!