Anxiety likes victims. It likes followers. Anxiety likes to bully, dictate and control every thought, action and decision. Anxiety… completely sucks. So how do you help your child who is genetically doomed to live life in the shadows of anxiety? How do you teach them that there are other options – that being a victim isn’t the only choice. How do you empower your child to fight anxiety?
As parents, we have a big role in empowering our children to fight anxiety. We can inadvertently teach them how to be anxiety’s victim or how to be anxiety’s slayer. I opt for the latter. How about you?
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.
“Mom I need to talk to you,” you hear your son whisper again. “I’m having bad thoughts.” You know where this is headed. This is the tenth time today he’s pulled you aside to talk. “Two years ago, I think I did something bad,” he confesses. His voice trails off as your mind starts to wonder. What is going on? Why does my son have to confess every thought, behavior and memory he thinks is bad? Why don’t my reassurances make him feel better? You remember once reading something about scrupulosity OCD, could that be what is going on?
“No!” He screams at the top of his lungs. “I’m not doing it!” You look at his red, sweaty face and you know what is about to come. You have seen that lost look many times before. You hold your breath and wait for the inevitable. He rages. He destroys. He brings chaos to the entire family. And then…he is done. Exhausted, no more fight left in him. A wake of destruction left in his path. Everybody wants to tell you your son has issues with oppositional defiance, but you know under all that rage is an anxious, scared boy.
You stare as your daughter lines up her toys, first by color and then by size. You’ve long ago ignored the well-intentioned friends and family who told you her behaviors were “typical.” There was nothing typical about it. You spend most of your morning sitting where she wants you to sit, following her very specific demands. Demands that if not followed to the letter, will result in a catastrophic meltdown that can go on for hours. You are pretty sure your child is showing early signs of OCD. That is not rocket science to you. But what you really want to know is how to deal with OCD – especially in a child this young.
Your child clings to you for dear life when anyone even glances her way. Trying something new is a major event. Your shadow is 3 ft tall and calls you mama. People tell you she’ll grow out of it. Your relatives whisper in silent judgment. But your gut instinct is telling you this isn’t your fault. Your gut instinct is telling you this isn’t right. Should you turn a blind eye and hope for the best or should you face this problem head on? What can be done for anxiety in young children? Can young kids even get anxious?
Yes, they can. Anxiety doesn’t have to be about life events. Sometimes it is about genetics. Anxiety is thought to have a strong genetic basis and can be passed along, just like blue eyes and blonde hair.
“You’re going to be okay honey,” you say for the hundredth time that hour. Your words drip off her deaf ears. Why won’t she believe you? She asks you to tell her again. You take a deep breath and offer her more reassurance. It is like pouring water into a bucket that can never be filled up. Is this how you are supposed to help children with anxiety and OCD?
You would think that offering reassurance would help anxious children, but in reality it isn’t helpful at all. Sorry to burst your bubble. But parenting children with anxiety or OCD is like trying to write with the wrong hand. Everything you typically do as a parent just won’t work. Reassurance is the enemy of anxiety and OCD and instead of putting out the fire it is like pouring gasoline on a blaze. It’s just not a good idea.
It’s dinner time. You prepare for battle. You put the spaghetti down and find yourself tensing up. It doesn’t take long. One slurp. One fork scraping teeth. The screaming begins. The doors get slammed. Dinner is over. This happens every night. But, it’s not just dinner. There are many other sounds that cause your child to rage out of control. Misophonia has been destroying the peace in your house. Misophonia triggers are everywhere.
Misophonia triggers aren’t about noises being perceived as too loud (hyperacusis), it is about pattern-based noises triggering the limbic system, causing suffers to instantly feel rage, disgust and anxiety when exposed to certain noises.
Your child is doing another “quirky” behavior. It seems like it is always something. You remember the time she had to twirl as she entered a room. And then there was the time that she had to blow on her fingers. You stare as your daughter is tapping the kitchen table four times with each finger. What do these behaviors mean? Once a well-intentioned friend suggested it was child OCD. You had scoffed at the idea. She obviously didn’t know your daughter. Her room looks like a bomb hit it and don’t even get you started on her hygiene. But if it isn’t child OCD, what is it?
So many parents dismiss the possibility of childhood OCD because they don’t understand it. OCD isn’t just about germs. OCD isn’t about being neat and orderly. Sure, those are two components in some OCD themes, but what about the thousands of other themes?
The hair on the back of her neck is standing up. Her stomach feels weird. She doesn’t like how he is staring at her. She has a weird gut feeling, but she doesn’t know what it is. “Go hug your Uncle Victor,” her mom says. She nervously shakes her head no. “Don’t be rude! Go hug him!” her mom demands.
Your child is imploding. You stand there in disbelief. What happened? You run through the last ten minutes in your head looking for the trigger, the spark that lit this fiery storm. Like a needle in a haystack, your mental search is futile. You come up empty handed – again. Meltdowns and poor behavior are becoming par for the course in your home.
You want to throw the parenting rule book at him. You want to strip him of every privilege and shut this nasty party down. But this isn’t your first rodeo. You’ve been here many times before and you know how it goes. This isn’t your ordinary, run of the mill poor behavior. These aren’t your typical meltdowns. These meltdowns are born from a build up of anxiety. A build up a stress. A build up of such strong emotion there should have been an emergency alert before it hit your home.
“Oh no,” her mom says. “There is no way she’s an introvert. She isn’t afraid to talk to people.” I think to myself, another person who doesn’t get introverts. Sometimes I feel like introverts are the most misunderstood people on this planet. Reserved kids aren’t necessarily shy kids. I know that those two words may seem synonymous, but they aren’t. Introverted or reserved kids aren’t always shy. They aren’t always afraid to interact with people. Some kids just prefer one-on-one interactions. Some kids just prefer less environmental chaos.
I get introverts. I get reserved kids. They are my people. Let me help you get them as well.
You tell your child to pick up their clothes and they crumble to the ground. “Why are you shouting at me!” They exclaim. Seriously? You just asked them to pick up their clothes. It seems like you can’t even redirect your anxious kid without them imploding. So what are you supposed to do? Not discipline? Walk on eggshells? Is that helpful or hurtful to them long-term?
Your child is begging you for reassurance. This is the tenth time in less than fifteen minutes. Do you give it to them again? And again? When does it end? Are you helping them when you get sucked into their OCD compulsions? No one ever tells you how to parent children with OCD!