Coping with Anxious Kids
This past school year has been a challenging one for our family. Our 9-year old son was anxious about starting the third grade last fall. We were proactive and thought that an extra tour of the school, a meet-and-greet with the teacher, and a few playdates with a classmate would smooth the transition, no problem. Well, after a shaky summer (he hated the disruption of moving to a new house, albeit in the same town!) and a tough first week of school, his anxiety skyrocketed and has persisted through the year.
It's been incredibly challenging to cope with a child with extreme anxiety. Many a morning I have left him a nervous wreck, crying, and so literally paralyzed by his own anxiety that physically getting him into the building was an issue. And many a morning I've had to hold back my own tears until I was out of the school parking lot.
Well, fast forward to today, and we've made progress. But it's still a daily battle of patience (one that I still periodically lose) to manage his anxiety and the by-products (anger, moodiness) and household disruption that comes along with it. I am still learning. I am still very much entrenched in it. But I do know there are few things that have helped me that I can share.
1. Talk it out. Talk to your guidance counselors, friends/colleagues that have had this experience, your pediatrician, outside counselors, and online with other parents. There are so many smart, experienced, and loving people that can give you perspective when you are so worried and upset you have none.
2. Work(book) it out. What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid's Guide to Overcoming Anxiety by Dawn Huebner, Ph.D. was recommended to me by several parties, and it's really helped. It's an active workbook that I swear was written for my boy.
3. Ignore those who judge. If other parents judge you (e.g., commenting about how you baby your kid too much because you stay with them at the drop-off birthday party), ignore it. They don't know what's going on behind the scenes. Focus on what's the right decision at that time for your child. Besides, maybe you'll get to sit and chill out and have a cupcake.
4. Look for tools, not a quick fix. Anxiety is not a broken arm, or strep throat or something that will respond to a quick fix. It's complex and tricky. And there are many layers to figuring it out, diminishing it, and giving your child (and yourself!) the tools to deal with it. Work on building that tool box. Find and test strategies for the day to day; I have found professionals very helpful in offering advice here. For instance, my husband now has the job of getting my son out of bed and downstairs to breakfast each morning (not a pleasant task) while I have 15 extra minutes to have my coffee and get my game on. It's a small tweak, but has been enormously helpful for me to negotiate the dreaded morning routine.
5. Give yourself a break. Since I have been on the frontlines helping my son with this situation, it's created anxiety for me that has permeated our whole household (you know the saying, "If momma ain't happy..."). I had to make some decisions about work and life balance because frankly, I'm fried. My tank of patience is, at many times, low or empty. So I cut back on work and I've tried to surround myself with positive energy situations and people, and keep my health in check (sleep, eating right, and the gym...anything for extra endorphins!).
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