The stress of school is finally over! No more homework battles, no more school refusal! Just pure relaxation. But summer isn’t always as easy as it seems for kids with anxiety and OCD.
When a child is not busy with after school activities, projects and huge assignments, their mind is available for other things. And more often than not those “other things” aren’t pretty. New anxiety themes pop up. New compulsions surface. Old What Ifs take hold. When there are no distractions anxiety and OCD can take center stage. So how can you save their summer and your sanity?
The only constant in life is change. That’s not good news for our anxious kids. Even small changes can cause anxious children to go into a tailspin. So how can you help anxious kids deal with all the changes life will throw at them?
Often when I ask kids what they do to beat anxiety they will say things like…
I try to get my mind off it
I distract myself
I take deep breaths (honestly I think they just say that because they think that is the “right” answer)
The one thing I almost never hear is…
I beat anxiety by changing my thoughts.
Now I know that isn’t earth shattering information, and yet most kids aren’t doing this one powerful, but simple thing.
There is nothing worse than watching your child starve to death. It can creep up slowly or happen overnight. Meals are missed. Favorite foods are no longer favored. Plate after plate, meal after meal goes untouched. Perhaps initially you chalk it up to “picky eating” but then you realize it is something much more. Welcome to the world of Avoidant/ Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, also known as ARFID.
One of the most frustrating aspects of raising an anxious child is the lack of understanding other people have for your struggles. Insensitive comments, criticisms or “helpful” advice can leave you feeling inadequate and insecure. Bringing up an anxious child takes a unique set of skills and a completely different parenting style.
You look over at your daughter and she is pulling her hair out one by one. Your son picks his scabs until they bleed. How are you supposed to stop a child who pulls hair or picks skin? You can’t be with them twenty-four hours a day. You’ve tried every approach, and nothing is working. Join the club. Hair pulling (Trichotillomania) and skin picking (Excoriation Disorder) are two very difficult Body Focused Repetitive Behaviors (BFRBs) that are hard to stop.
Clinical Separation anxiety is not about age. It isn’t a baby thing – it is an anxiety thing. In fact many kids with separation anxiety don’t develop this issue until they are past puberty. Imagine if your mind told you that any separation, distance or lack of communication can put you and the person you love in jeopardy. Imagine if every time you couldn’t reach your loved one you wholeheartedly believed they were dead. Imagine if every time you weren’t with the one you loved you believed you weren’t safe. Separation anxiety can cause palatable fear within a child. It can make a child feel insecure and vulnerable. It can hold a child back and stagnant any emotional growth.
“How did it go?” You ask your child after yet another therapy session. “Fine.” Your child flatly replies. It’s been months and it is always the same thing. No reaction after therapy. No behavioral changes at home. Is your child’s therapy working? Are there goals? What is going on in there?
Anxiety and OCD fill your child’s mind with lies and games. It will often tell your child that no one will understand. That no one will help. That parents, relatives, therapists and friends can’t help – won’t help. That they are not on the child’s “side.” It is “us against them” anxiety and OCD will whisper. Keep it to yourself. No one will understand. People will think you are crazy, weird, disturbed. These OCD and anxiety games, tricks and lies will deflate kids and suck out any trace of motivation they might have had to crush these issues.
You’ve identified your child’s issue. They have anxiety. Maybe they have OCD. You’ve soaked up every article, book and podcast on the topic. You painstakingly located a therapist to work with your child. Everything is in place – except your child’s motivation. Why doesn’t your child want to work on their issues? How do you get them motivated to crush anxiety or OCD?
One of the hardest decisions for a parent is whether or not to medicate a child with anxiety or OCD. For many parents who aren’t raising a child with anxiety or OCD this may be a no brainer. But when your child is paralyzed with fear, unable to eat, unable to go to school, is scrubbing their hands until they bleed – you might have a different perspective on medicating kids with anxiety or OCD.
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.