Your child is refusing to go to school, but you don’t know why. Your child is up all night in a perpetual state of panic, but nothing seems to calm them down. Your child is tapping things and turning the light switch on and off three times, but you have no idea why. Knowing your child has anxiety or OCD is different from knowing what is behind your child’s anxiety or OCD.
On a random sick day, my youngest anxious child loomed in my office as I prepared to record my latest podcast. “What are you doing?” She asked. I told her I’m going to be on the “radio” teaching parents how to help their anxious kids. My six year old’s eyes widen and she said, “Maybe they would like to hear from a kid instead?” I agreed. She pulled up a stool next to me. Her little feed dangling as she spoke in the big microphone. I listened in awe as my daughter talked about her battle with her “worry cloud.” She talked about what helps and what doesn’t. And once again the student was the teacher.
“I had the worst day ever!” My child screams. Thirty minutes ago everything was going well. He had a good day at school and he was excited to go play. While doing homework he shouts “I’m the dumbest kid ever!” Who is this kid and where did my child go? This is a kid who gets straight As. So what is going on? Anxiety. Anxiety doesn’t always look like anxiety. Sometimes it looks like aggression. Sometimes it looks like opposition. And sometimes…it makes a child very negative. So how do you help a child who oozes negative thoughts?
You can try with some of these approaches…
For some reason as parents we tend to feel this unrealistic weight and responsibility for everything that happens to our children. They got sick? What did we do to not keep them healthy? They got in a fight? Why didn’t we teach them how to solve their problems better? They are struggling in school? Why didn’t we enroll them in pre-school when they were in utero? So, I guess it makes sense that when our kids get anxiety and OCD we throw ourselves under the bus for that as well.
Sadly though, all this self-depreciation not only makes us less effective as a parent, but it hurts our kids with anxiety and OCD as well.
Anxiety is not always visible. It is not always obvious. Sometimes it is silently attacking your child from the inside out. It makes itself cozy in a child’s mind that is already filled with doubt and insecurity. Intrusive thoughts are confusing to kids. They are scary to kids. Heck, they are scary for parents. So how do you help your child deal with them? It is the opposite of what you may think…
Do you feel like you are bossed around by your child’s OCD? Do you find yourself doing things a particular way, so as not to upset your child? Most kids will involve their parents in their rituals. So what are you supposed to do?
There are ways to empower your child, without empowering your child’s OCD. Here’s how….
It is past midnight. Your child is still refusing to go to sleep. “What are you scared of?” You ask impatiently. Your child just shrugs. “I don’t know.” You child refuses to go to school. “Why don’t you like going to school?” You ask for the hundredth time. Your child stares at you blankly. You know your child is feeling anxious, but you don’t have any clue as to why.
Unfortunately, it is hard to beat anxiety when you don’t know exactly what you are trying to beat. The thoughts behind feeling anxious are critical in arming your child with the necessary tools to overcome their anxiety. So how do you even begin to unravel this mystery of what causes your child’s anxiety? You can start by asking them these questions…
Raising a child with OCD can be incredibly difficult. After seeing children with OCD in my practice for so many years, there are three things I wish every parent would do.
I wake up and reach for my phone. Breaking news headlines scream for my attention. Not again, I think. How many tragedies do we need to witness? How many mass shootings and bombings do my children need to live through? It doesn’t help that I have three anxious kids. Anxiety feeds off these headlines. Thrives off these dark moments of time. It has the power to ruin any progress a child has made crushing their anxiety .So how do we handle the situation? Do we tell our anxious kids what has happened? How do we minimize the impact it has on their already fragile view of life’s dangers?
We can’t ignore these life events, but we can frame it in a way that minimizes the long-term impact. Here’s how…
“He’s really oppositional!” The mom vents. “Honestly it takes a miracle to get him to do anything. Don’t even get me started on how long it takes him to get out of the house in the morning.” She takes a breath and continues, “And no one can go into his room. One time I entered his room without his permission and he had a complete meltdown.” This is often my initial introduction to a teen whose main issue isn’t opposition, but rather OCD. OCD symptoms in teens are often misconstrued as oppositional or quirky behavior.
Your son peeks his head out the window. His face pales. “Mom, is it supposed to rain today?” You look out the window. You see only one lonely cloud in the sky. “I don’t think so.” You respond. But you realize too late that your answer only fueled his concern. “You’re not sure?” He whines. You take a deep breath and prepare for the unraveling to begin. He does not disappoint. You know lots of kids are afraid of storms, but your child takes his fear to another level.
Your child is balled up on the floor – again. She has been like this for hours. Nothing you do or say seems to penetrate her wall of pure terror. You remind her of all the tools she’s learned in therapy, but the words just drip off her limp body. It looks like another school day will be passing her by. How long can this go on? When should you start considering anxiety and OCD medication for her?
It seems like just yesterday you were wiping her bottom and picking up Cheerios off the floor. And now you are scrolling down the grocery aisle going through the list of school supplies, trying to find an 8 pack of washable markers. When did this happen? When you look at your daughter she still looks so young. Is she ready for the stream of kids and chaos school will bring? Is there anything you should be doing to prepare her for the first day of kindergarten?
It’s bedtime and instead of winding down, your house is winding up. “I’m scared,” you hear. “I’m too scared to sleep!” You hear over and over again. Your child pleads. Can they sleep with you? Can you sleep with them? Can they sleep on the couch next to you? You’ve tried everything. Threatening, negotiating, sympathizing…nothing works. Are you doomed to a life of sleepless nights or can this be fixed?