Do you struggle with people who don’t get your anxious child?
“You just need to stop babying him!” “She’ll grow out of it. My kids did that too.” “She just needs a good spanking!” Sound familiar? These comments can make your blood boil – and they should! Unsolicited opinions are the worst. But sometimes they aren’t from strangers. Sometimes these comments can come from your closest friends, your aging parents or even your partner. Just because you are related, doesn’t mean they are instantly going to get your anxious child.
So you have two options. Get furious and distance yourself from that person (super tempting) or put your anger in check and attempt to educate the ignorant. Sometimes you’ll spread a sprinkle of knowledge around and other times you’ll want to hit your head against the wall (Just keeping it real people). For those closest to your family, especially those that happened to be married to you, your anxious child deserves to be understood.
So how do you explain your child’s anxiety to address those annoying questions and put people in check? Here is a good place to start:
#1 Explain that Generalized Anxiety Disorder in Children has a Genetic Component
People don’t get that child anxiety has a strong genetic component. They whisper among themselves, why won’t her kid sleep on his own? Why does her kid cry all the way to school? Why does her kid have to know exactly what is happening every moment of the day?
The answer is, there is no answer. Child anxiety can be physiological, which means there doesn’t have to be a why, and often there isn’t one.
No one questions why a child has Diabetes or Asthma – and they shouldn’t question why a child has anxiety either.
#2 Explain the Anxiety Symptoms Behind the Behavior
Often people will see the negative or odd behavior, but won’t realize that the child’s anxiety is causing that behavior.
Shed some light and understanding by decoding symptoms of anxiety in children for those who don’t get it. Most people don’t have anxiety on their radar and are shocked and apologetic when you explain your child’s behavior for what it is – anxious behavior.
I find myself doing this often for both my children and the children I treat in my practice. Recently I met with my youngest daughter’s teacher for a parent-teacher conference. She commented how cute it was that my daughter always wore this bowler hat to school. I explained to her that although it was a cute hat, she wore it because she is having social anxiety and it helps make her feel secure around her peers. This was eye opening for her teacher, as her anxiety is very subtle and her teacher had no idea that innocent behavior had anything to do with my child’s anxiety. By letting her know about the anxiety behind the behavior, she was able to see my daughter’s behavior in a new light and offer her more help.
#3 Explain that an Anxious Child Can’t be “Cured” with Discipline
People who are clueless about anxiety will often think it is a discipline problem. This has got to be one of the most frustrating assumptions people make about anxious kids.
If my child is having an anxiety attack because they don’t want to be at the doctor’s office, my threatening to spank them isn’t going to help much at all. In fact, it will make it worse. Anxious kids need child anxiety treatment, not discipline.
If you are afraid to fly would it be helpful if the flight attendant came by and told you that they would be fining you every time they saw a nervous look on your face? I think not. Explain that to those loving, but ignorant friends and family members of yours.
#4 You Don’t Have to Force Your Anxious Child to Do Things to Make Others Happy
Do you cringe when you are at family gatherings? Do you feel like you have to force your socially anxious child to give hugs, make small talk and say a million thank you’s? You don’t.
Don’t ignore your child’s anxiety to make other people happy. Beating anxiety takes time and your anxious child may not be up to the task of being fully submerged into an anxiety-producing situation.
Even though it can be mortifying to have a child who won’t say “hi” back or won’t say a “thank you,” forcing them to say those things will make the situation so much worse.
You can teach your child to smile or wave. You can have your child write a thank you card when they leave. You can give your child skills to handle those situations one step at a time. If you throw them into the water and just expect them to swim, they’ll drown – and they’ll want to avoid water for the rest of their lives. And my bet is there will probably be more family gatherings, right?
Some People Just Aren’t Going to Get It or Your Anxious Child!
Unfortunately, you’ll have to realize that some people just aren’t going to get it. It sucks, it really does, but it is true. Developing some tough skin seems to be par for the course when you have an anxious child.
My children have had many teachers who have not gotten them or their anxiety. I have had to educate far too many pediatricians about behaviors that were part of anxiety. I have sat across the couch from many couples where one partner did not get their own child’s anxiety and had no learning curve on the matter.
You can only do your part. Just like it will take time to defeat your child’s anxiety, it will take time for those around you to understand it. Hang in there.
How do you handle people who don’t understand your child’s anxiety? Have you had a situation like that happen to you? What did you do? Leave a comment below.
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