Tips & Advice On How To Manage An Anxious Child
While a lot of the older generation don’t believe a child can suffer from anxiety, it is something I have a lot of experience in. My son started showing signs around the age of four so raising a child with anxiety is something I have a fair bit of experience in.
I myself suffer from anxiety. It is inevitable then that my son would end up with it also. This still doesn’t stop you feeling saddened and somewhat guilty when your child starts displaying the symptoms of it. Anxiety is a condition that is hard to understand, but far more common than you may realise. According to YouthBeyondBlue.com 1 in 14 children aged 4 – 17 experienced anxiety disorder in 2015.
WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE
For my son, it manifests itself as tantrums, fits of crying and hissy fits. Secondary to this is negative thoughts and fear of trying something new in case he fails.
It has taken me a long time to learn how to deal with it. I googled the shit out childhood anxiety to find out causes (aside from genetics), treatments, supplements…anything that might help alleviate his suffering.
Having suffered from anxiety my whole life I know all too well the fear, confusion and crippling negative thoughts that come with the condition.
At one stage my son’s anxiety was so bad, he cried and told me that he wanted to die. I was heart-broken and at a loss. I never in a million years thought that I would be dealing with this so young. So, I did what I always do and researched, researched and researched.
Research taught me that responding to these negative comments “I’m not good enough” “I’m so dumb” “I can’t do anything right” “I’m such a bad kid” and the like actually makes it worse. It feeds into the child’s attempts to get attention.
The best way to tackle it is to ignore it completely. Easier said than done when your 5-year-old child says he would be better off not being alive, right? I can vouch for it and say however that it works. The more you ignore it, the less they will say these things in order to get a response from you.
FINDING SOMETHING TO HELP
So, more research on the google machine on raising a child with anxiety and I found a supplement, L-Theanine. Even better, I found it in a relatively inexpensive and nicely flavoured dinosaur tablet making it easy for kids to think it was nothing more than a lolly. Although, I explained it to my son that it wasn’t a lolly, but a multi-vitamin to help his brain. No need to make the kid feel like something was wrong with him, he has adult years ahead of him for that.
My ever sceptical hubby said I was insane, that something so cheap and inexpensive wouldn’t work. I doubted it too but had to try as I was in tears at work, losing sleep at night and feeling like a was a failure. I constantly felt the overwhelming burden of guilt that I had caused my son to be like this purely through genetics or my behaviour.
However, I felt like after a month or so he improved. It could’ve been a coincidence, yes. But after running out of the product and waiting for the next shipment to arrive, I noticed him regress somewhat. I pointed it out to my hubby who agreed they must be having some effect.
Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t a miracle cure but it’s definitely tamed the tiger to a degree. So, I ordered buckets of it. I would’ve cleared the shelf of their product to ensure we didn’t run out. And things seemed better. The negative thoughts almost disappeared. His anxiety was ever-present but at bay. He seemed happier within himself, happier at school and a more well-balanced kid. Yay. A win to mom.
Fast forward six or so months and life being life, I began to slip. I was incredibly busy at work. The general business that comes with being a working mom with two kids, I became very slack at giving these tablets. It started to show. He started to act out and become aggressive. He was easily annoyed and clearly unable to handle his emotions. I didn’t twig, instead of thinking it was just his age or a phase.
Then one weekend, one of Master L’s best mates wanted a play-date. We owed them one, it was our turn. With hubby working the weekend, I thought this would be the perfect Saturday to arrange a play-date.
So, they chose Inflatable World and off we went. All started well but about an hour in, cracks began to show. Nothing major, just disagreements and general sooky-ness. I started to ask myself why I had even agreed to the play date. Bad idea. Little did I know.
Back home and everything seemed to be travelling along nicely, barring the usual bickering. So they head outside to the trampoline (thank christ I think, peace at last!)
But soon after the boys end up in a bit of a scuffle and my son punches his mate in the arm. I witnessed the whole thing and dished out the appropriate punishment and send his mate home.
About ten minutes later, my son comes out of the shower and tells me he’s a “bad kid and doesn’t want to be alive anymore.” As shocking as this sounds coming from the mouth of a six-year-old, I’ve heard these words before.
In my research on raising a child with anxiety, I learned that this can be an attention-seeking mechanism. It can also be overwhelming anxiety, so much that his young brain cannot comprehend how he is feeling and doesn’t know how to express it.
At that point, I chose to ignore it, but once he had calmed down I sat down and had a heart to heart with him. I asked him what it meant to die to him. His response was “you become a person who floats in the sky and does nothing”. I explained in terms of my mother’s death what it actually meant. Knowing, at 6 years old, he could not possibly understand the finality of death nor the impact it has on those left behind.
I told him how much I loved him and how it broke my heart hearing him say he no longer wanted to be alive. This made me burst into tears. His little face twisted in shock as he asked me if I was crying because of him. His deeper level of thinking and understanding was so evident, it is no surprise the little bugger suffers from anxiety.
WAYS TO MANAGE IT
Ignore the negative talk: You are only feeding into it if you give it any attention. As hard as it may seem, the more you acknowledge it the more your child will do it and the negative talk cycle will continue.
Talk To Your Child & Listen To Them: Let the meltdown moment pass, then sit down and talk to your child, ask them why they are so upset. This shows them you care and allows them to vent. We, as adults do it all the time right? So why can’t our kids? The issues might seem trivial to you, but they could be a massive deal for your child.
Talking to your child and helping them to understand their big emotions goes a long way to teaching emotional intelligence. Children are not developed enough to understand why they feel a certain way. But through guidance, you can teach your child better awareness and in turn raise an emotionally intelligent child. This is also discussed in my article “My Emotionally Intelligent Child Is A Handful – 5 Ways to Raise An Emotionally Intelligent Child”
Try supplements: They worked for me so they may work for you too! It’s worth a shot. There are plenty of natural remedies out there to try, as for my child a simple L-Theanine tablet for my son helped settle his out of control emotions. It may or may not work for your child but there are plenty of other options available.
Research. Read. Understand the condition: Especially if you have never experienced it yourself, trust me it’s terrifying at times and I’m an adult. It would be 100 times scarier for a child to try to comprehend. Research helped me to understand behaviours in my son which were frightening and confronting, it gave me a lot of comfort to understand that it was all part of the condition.
Talk to your doctor: Tell them your concerns. They may think that seeing a child psychologist would be beneficial. We are in that process now, to address it further before habits become ingrained.
DON’T bury your head in the sand: Do not think if you ignore it, it will just go away. It won’t. If you leave it until your child is a teenager to address, it may be too late. Patterns and behaviours can already be ingrained by this age, so the earlier you address it the better.
Most of all know you are not alone when raising a child with anxiety. Be there for your child and be the best mother you can be, having a mother who is their rock is the best therapy a child could ask for.