Your daughter clutches her chest. She is struggling to breath. She is looking pale. Sweat gathers on her forehead. Her eyes fill with fear. You have seen this look before. In fact you see it multiple times a week. Your daughter isn’t having a medical emergency, she is having a panic attack. Having a child with panic attacks can leave you feeling powerless. How are you supposed to help a child who feels like they are dying?
Imagine you are in a room full of snakes. You are told to go to the other side of the room to take the trash out. You might be pretty oppositional about the request. You might shout back. You might even go ballistic. Anxiety or OCD can feel the same way. Our kids are under an enormous amount of invisible pressure. They are often going through their school day full of metaphorical land mines. All too often they take this built up stress with them and explode in the comfort of their own home.
When I stare at my son spit a mouthful of food out and discretely tuck it under his plate my heart stops. When I spot my youngest daughter picking at her skin until it bleeds my stomach starts to hurt. When my kids stay up late at night because they are fearful they will be killed if they fall sleep my heart sinks. Anxiety and OCD are hard to stomach. It is hard to watch our children struggle and not allow it to be OUR struggle. To not allow it to be our defeat. How can it not be? But if you want to survive this whole business of raising kids with anxiety and OCD, perspective and separation are key.
Anxiety loves to bother kids at bedtime. No matter what age or what type of anxiety a child has, bedtime is universally a struggle for anxious kids. Why is that? It is quiet. It is dark. All activities and distractions are turned off. Minds want to review the day. Ears want to analyze strange sounds. Eyes want to figure out mysterious shadows. Hearts want to be “kept safe.” When your child is scared to sleep, it impacts the whole family. Anxious kids don’t get a fitful rest. Parents don’t get a fitful rest – and the mood and irritability is set for destruction the next day.
Much of what we’ve learned about parenting comes from our own childhood. Good, bad or ugly – it is often what we know. We are also surrounded by people who are quick to share all their parenting wins and strategies. So what happens when typical parenting approaches don’t work for our anxious kids? Helping kids with anxiety often requires a unique set of parenting approaches that can feel counterintuitive.
I had the pleasure of discussing these issues with Dr. Kaylene Henderson, a Child Health Specialist who offers her knowledge and expertise in workshops as well as on her site A Dose of Awesomeness.
We talked about parenting approaches that help anxious kids and discussed aligning with our kids to problem-solve. We talked about doing “just enough” to teach our children self-reliance and self-confidence. She discussed how our own childhood impacts our perspective on parenting, and the interesting science behind it. And lastly we talked about the importance of believing in our children’s abilities.
Anxiety loves avoidance. It feeds off avoidance. It grows bigger, strong and more ferocious with avoidance. So it is no wonder that anxiety will make going to school one of the most difficult things an anxious child can do. The sad reality is – the more a child avoids school, the more they will fear going to school. It is a vicious cycle that many anxious kids can’t seem to stop. So how do you help when a child refuses to go to school? The key is in explaining how anxiety works. Explaining what feeds anxiety. Teaching them how anxiety grows bigger and stronger when it is fed delicious avoidance.
It might seem like your child is nauseous every waking moment. They are getting ready for school – they feel sick. It is time for bed – they feel sick. You might have dragged them to every stomach specialist in town, only to hear those dreaded words, “I think you should take her to a therapist.” Relax, your child isn’t making it up. They aren’t trying to manipulate you either. Yes, they are doubled over in pain before school. And yes, they seem to be completely fine after you let them stay home. But…anxiety can look that way. The fear of throwing up and the nausea that goes with it is very real. It is just caused by anxiety, not some stomach bug.
Kids with anxiety and OCD often have an intimate connection with technology. It is where they go to distract themselves from their scary thoughts. It is where their obsessive nature takes over. It is the cause of huge meltdowns. It is the platform for google searches and rumination. It is the arena for bullying and low self-esteem.
What’s your child’s relationship with technology? Do you know how to harness its power for good? Technology is not the enemy. In fact, it can be a great resource if you know how to use it. Join me for an insightful discussion with Dr. Adam Pletter, a psychologist and national expert in technology.
The hardest part about having anxiety is the onslaught of anxious thoughts day after day after day. Now imagine you are just a kid. A kid who is learning how to tie his shoes. To multiply and divide. To make friends and keep friends. The constant flood of anxious thoughts is enough to make a child stop dead in their tracks. It is enough to make them want to retreat, to not get out of bed. It can derail their education and their ability to socialize.
Do you know why child OCD and anxiety can be so hard to get rid of typically? Because most kids subscribe to the OCD and anxiety channel in their brain. It is playing 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. You can’t compete with that. A therapist can’t compete with that. Until your child learns how to change the channel in their brain or at least not subscribe to the OCD and anxiety network, little progress can be made.
So how do you get kids to change the channel? It is actually a hard skill for all of us, not just kids. But, it can be done! This week on Ask the Child Therapist Kids Edition I am talking to kids about how to pay attention to what is playing in their head and how to have some say in the programming.
So maybe you’ve heard about Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP), but the ideas of how to do exposures are just not flowing? Developing exposures require a deep understanding of your child’s core fears, while being creative and thinking out of the box.
Anxiety and OCD love to hide. They love when kids deny they exist. They love when you can’t see them. They love when they are missed. So it makes sense that the first line of defense in your child’s battle with anxiety or OCD should be communication. When your child learns how to talk about anxiety and OCD – the problems can no longer hide.
So you might be saying, yeah that’s great, but how exactly do I get my kid to talk? Well that might be a bit tricky. Some kids don’t like to talk about anxiety or OCD. Some kids want to deny they are having issues right up until they implode. And some kids just need a little help with how to communicate such overwhelming and often embarrassing feelings.
If you want some creative ideas on how to get kids to talk about anxiety and OCD, have them watch this YouTube video I created just for them. I talk about why it is important that they communicate with you about their struggles and some out of the box ideas on how to do it!
When children are afraid or obsessed with a horrible thought you might think that the best way to help them is to teach them to get their mind “off of it.” Not only is this not effective, it can actually make anxiety and OCD worse. ERP for OCD and anxiety, also known as Exposure and Response Prevention is a counterintuitive therapy that has some parents running in the opposite direction.
But let me tell you why this wacky approach not only works, but is the gold standard for treatment.
Is anxiety and OCD bullying your child? Do you find your child spends much of their time avoiding fears and giving in to their anxiety or OCD bully? Families can feel like they are held hostage by anxiety and OCD. It can feel like every decision, every activity is controlled by this outside force.
It doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, it is important that your child can see that taking back power is the way to emotional freedom! So how do you do that? Especially if your child is paralyzed with fear or shutdown and won’t talk about it?
This site is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the guidance of a qualified professional. This page may contain affiliate links. I receive a small commission for items purchased. I would never endorse any product I didn't recommend. Click here for my full disclosure statement.
Welcome to AT Parenting Survival for All Ages! My name is Natasha Daniels and I created AT to offer support and guidance to parents raising kids with anxiety and OCD. I am a Child Therapist who has dedicated my career to writing, advocating and teaching all things anxiety & OCD.When I am not in my practice, I am soaking up my three children, who teach me more about life and parenting than anyone else. To read more about me and the site click here.