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.
Your child can’t wear certain clothes. They have to walk in certain patterns. They touch here. They touch there. All in an effort to ward off something bad from happening. Are they crazy? Psychotic. Absolutely not. They know these behaviors are irrational. They get that wearing a shirt isn’t going to ward off bad luck. And yet, they feel an intense urge to do it anyway. This is the trap child OCD sets for our kids. This is the prison our children live in.
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.
Parenting is a hard enough gig. But when you add your own anxiety to the mix it can be an uphill battle. I spend much of my time talking to you about how to help your kids with anxiety and OCD, but what about you? As parents we often put our needs last. This is unfortunate because parenting will take every ounce of your strength and of your sanity. You will need to be at your best. So how can you do that? By taking care of yourself and your needs – including your own anxiety. Parenting with anxiety can feel like parenting with one arm tied behind your back.
Your child is bombarded with “bad thoughts.” They are asking you bizarre questions that are stopping you dead in your tracks. What if I hurt myself? What if I hurt you? What if I set the house on fire? What if I jump in front of a train? What if I left a scratch on your car? They riddle every conversation with apologies and more questions. They are consumed with worry. They don’t want to have these thoughts. They don’t want to hurt themselves or other people. But they can’t make these thoughts stop. These thoughts scare you. These thoughts scare them. Welcome to the world of Harm OCD. Harm OCD is often misunderstood and misdiagnosed.
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?
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.