Raising a child with anxiety can be a challenge, especially when it is something that you suffer from yourself. How do you teach a toddler to make friends and join in groups when you can’t do it? How do you volunteer for a school trip to make your child feel more secure, when the idea of having to supervise other children creates a panic deep within?
The one benefit I’ve found with having anxiety myself is that I can relate to my child on a level that other parents may not be able to. I understand the thoughts and feelings that she has and when I express my own experiences it makes her feel free to open up about her own.
We work together to make each other better.
My daughter is turning 14 this week. Wow. When they say that time flies they aren’t kidding. We were walking to the store the other night and she playfully got on my back for me to carry her, which I used to do on a regular basis. The last time was a few years ago but it seems like yesterday to me. As we got about one block from the house I realized how big she has gotten. And how out of shape I am. I had to put her down. But we laughed.
When she was a baby and it was time to enroll her into a daycare program, there was a day that parents were allowed to come in with their child to see them interact with the other children. I sat on one side of the room and I didn’t interact with anyone except my own child. All of the other parents were chatting with each other and exchanging stories and I just wanted to leave.
My own issues
It is this feeling that I have dealt with for most of my life. My mother had suffered from a mild social anxiety as well and now it is something that I have passed on to my own daughter.
In her early years she would need me to stay with her in new situations, or around new people. We had registered her for different activities including gymnastics, and karate but I would end up staying with her during the entire class or else she would get scared and start crying.
As she got a little older, things slowly got better. School helped a lot. She has a great group of friends who are really good kids and very supportive of each other. Even in the early grades they were there for her when she was worried or scared.
There were still times when I would have to attend sports practices or school trips to put her mind at ease and allow her to enjoy the experience, but it was good for me to go as well.
How to help
Through my own therapy I have learned how to talk things out and adapt to certain situations so that I can still feel calm amid chaos. It doesn’t always work but it is good to have coping tools. And the fact that I can share them with my daughter to help her learn and grow is priceless.
At least once a week we sit in her room and just talk about what is going on in our lives and in the world that makes us nervous or makes us happy, because we can’t always focus on the negative. When she tells me that a situation makes her nervous or uncomfortable, we discuss different ways that she can deal with it. Sometimes it is as simple as avoidance, which isn’t always the recommended route but you have to pick your battles. She has learned to cope with conflict between her friends and even when she herself is involved she manages to find a way to stay calm.
There are times when she can’t manage and will break down but that is understandable. She’s only 14. I’m 43 and I still have moments that I can’t handle. But I have to say that I think she is coping with her anxiety much better than I ever have. I’m so incredibly proud of the improvements she has made. There has been lots of help in dealing with this as well.
It takes a village
As I said before, my own therapy has helped me deal with my anxiety and I have been able to attend many of her school activities. And I have to mention how great her school is. It is designated as a sports and wellness academy which focuses on healthy living, physical activity and mental wellness. I had never told Sheala that she had anxiety. She came home one day in grade 4 and with complete seriousness said to me “Mom, I have a mental disability”
I kind of laughed at first but then she continued to explain that they were learning about mental wellness and she learned that if you get nervous in new situations, around new people, and feel scared or panic then that is called anxiety. I had already been informing the teachers that she had it, but now she was coming home and telling me that she is now aware of what it is and that is why she is so nervous all the time.
Chris thinks that telling her she has anxiety makes it worse. But the one thing that I found is that it seemed to make her feel better about it. She knew that it had a name and there was a reason for her feeling the way she did.
Take the help that is offered
Her teachers were very encouraging and were able to adapt to her personality when it would come to learning and participating in various events. Her Kindergarten teacher Ms Kostiuk, was able to arrange a meeting with the grade one teacher a week before school started so that Sheala could meet him, see her new classroom and also find out who her classmates would be.
The biggest help was once she got into middle school and the phys-ed teacher noticed that she did have some issues. He met with me privately and we discussed what the problems were and offered any help he could give. He kept an eye on her and would sometimes pull her aside to check in and make sure everything was going ok. Mr. Barnes wasn’t actually her teacher until this year but he has been a huge part of her progress for the last 3 years. For that I am extremely grateful.
The next step now is high school. Sheala has been going to James S Bell since Junior Kindergarten all the way to grade 8. This will be her first experience of changing schools.
It’s lucky that a lot of her very close friends are all going to the same school and will be in some of the same classes as almost all of them are taking Pre-AP. The only difference is that there will be a lot more new kids that she doesn’t know yet and the school has a bit of a rough reputation. But it is the same high school that I went to and I turned out ok.
Well, at least the high school wasn’t the reason for my own issues.
I’m excited for her to begin her high school journey soon. I can’t wait to see how the change will improve her independence, her confidence and open up the possibilities for her future.
I asked her last night if she thinks that she will go away for University. With no hesitation, she said yes. Other times when I would ask it was always a “no way”, but now it’s a yes.
That makes me happy. Sad in knowing that in just over 4 years she may be leaving home, but so happy that she knows that she is capable of doing it.
Leave a comment below if you have a child with a challenging personality and how you help them manage through life.