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?
Kids birthday parties. Play dates. Mommy groups. If those words create a small knot in your stomach you are not alone. Social anxiety is a major struggle, but when you add parenthood to the mix you can suddenly find yourself walking in a social minefield. Being a mom with social anxiety catapults you into a sea of social interaction that is hard to avoid. The guilt of not being social is now not only about you, but about your kids. Ouch. That makes it even harder to deal with it.
Your daughter comes home from school and half her eyebrows are gone. You are giving your son a bath and you notice a patch of hair missing from the back of his head. Your teenager picks at her skin until she creates scabs. This behavior can freak parents out! I know – it freaked me out. When scabs started showing up on my daughter’s forehead I didn’t know what to think. Why does she keep getting scabs in that one area? Then one day I saw her little hand digging deep into her skin. My heart sank. “What?”She said staring at me with big eyes. “I like to pick.” She said simply. She is not alone. Many of us have a child who pulls hair or picks skin. And many of us feel desperate to make them stop.
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.
I’m embarrassed. I’m weird. I’m crazy. These are statements I hear every week from kids with OCD. Kids who think they are alone. Kids who don’t understand their disorder. Kids who don’t realize that there are kids all over the world, just like them. Chris Baier understands this struggle all too well. When his daughter Vanessa was just nine she changed from a happy-go-lucky child to a child filled with worries and compulsions. Vanessa also felt alone. She felt like no one else understood what she was going through.
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.
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.
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.
Having OCD is hard enough, but being a kid or teenager with OCD is even harder. Many children with OCD think they are the only ones suffering with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. They don’t realize that OCD in kids is much more common than they think! They struggle alone and many wonder how on earth they are supposed to beat OCD.
Kids can’t fight anxiety until they understand anxiety. Parents often skip this step and wonder why their child’s anxiety never gets better. The best way to help kids with anxiety is to take the time to explain how anxiety works. So how do you explain anxiety to them in a way where they’ll not only get it, but be motivated to work on it?
Have them watch my YouTube video made just for anxious kids to watch. In this short video I explain what anxiety is, why kids get it and how it works. Subscribe to my YouTube channel for new videos every week created just for kids with anxiety and OCD.
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.