You like quiet. You like calm. You like a slow pace. Enter parenthood. Screaming children. Play dates. Birthday parties. Constant interaction. This can be beyond overwhelming for an introverted parent. But what if that was just the beginning? What if that little bundle of joy was an extroverted bundle of friendliness? What if your introverted self gave birth to a foreign species. A species you know nothing about?
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.
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.
“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?
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 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.
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.
Children will have a hard time getting anxiety relief if they don’t understand how anxiety works. Karen Young, the creator HeySigmund.com teaches us how to talk to our kids.
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.