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…
Parenting a child with anxiety or OCD can be confusing, overwhelming and lonely. If you have a child struggling with anxiety or OCD, you most likely have read one of Dawn Huebner’s books. Dawn Huebner is an anxiety expert and best selling author of What to Do When You Worry Too Much and What to Do When Your Brain Gets Stuck. Her new book Outsmarting Worry offers kids a wonderfully in-depth approach on how to beat their anxiety and/or OCD. Listen in as I talk to Dawn Huebner about her insights on how to parent kids with anxiety and OCD.
Your child is standing there, white-knuckled and pale as a ghost. “I can’t do it,” they whisper. “I’m scared.” You are about to offer words of encouragement when your partner chimes in. “Stop playing games and just do it!” You feel your stomach drop. You give your partner the death glare, but it has little effect as the tirade continues. “I’m tired of this! Just do it or you are grounded.” You stare at your child, wide-eyed and paralyzed with fear. You have two problems. A child with debilitating anxiety and a partner who doesn’t believe in anxiety disorders. What are you supposed to do with that?!
There were three words that would stop me dead in my tracks as a kid – We. Are. Moving. I didn’t handle change well and unfortunately my parents didn’t handle stability well. It was a bad combination for an anxious kid like me. I also felt silently overwhelmed when our family dog died, when I changed schools, when my parents got divorced and all the life that happened in between. So, how should parents help anxious kids deal with such big life changes? I can tell you what I tell parents in my therapy practice and privately what I wish my own parents would have done as well.
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…
She’s been in school for two hours. An hour longer than yesterday. I reluctantly answer my phone. “Mom,” I hear her say. “I’m feeling really sick. Can you pick me up?” My daughter doesn’t have the stomach flu. She doesn’t have the latest virus. She has emetophobia, a phobia so intense it is actually making her sick.
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.