The Anxious Child
WARNING: the following post is NOT yet another reason to feel like a bad parent. No need to grit your teeth in anguish as you anticipate being shown yet another error in your ways. If your child is fed, deflead and relatively clean, had a real vegetable at some point this week – you are in the minority. If the last stand (of the desperate parent) for punishment is a screen ban, if you can admit that joy is sometimes measured in televised episodes, if McDonald’s is a guilty ‘treat’ you swear blind you’d never feed your offspring, if playing a board game (with actual CONSENT from the child) is achievable…you are ROCKING this parenting lark.
Round about now kids are working themselves up into an exhausted frenzy to make it to the Christmas holidays to witness the obscene lengths we will go to in order to express ourselves through materialism. And to think we only just survived Black Friday. Not enough just to have kept our children (and ourselves) ALIVE…we parents are frayed and unravelled. We talked about date-night but dreamed about sleep. All year we earned money to pay for the holiday in order to rest from earning the money. We fight to deny the cliché that we too want promotions, praise, prosecco, planning permission and a pension. That excruciating moment we wonder; that despite how many tigers we sponsor in the Amazon, the organic milk in the Smeg and our donations to Unicef…are we just the same as everyone else?
Push that undermining nonsense out of your mind! There’s always next year to go vegan. In truth, we parents are frikkin superheroes! Our days heave with screens, dials, buttons, notifications and price tags, alongside the undercurrent of terror we manage for every mini loved one out of sight and fending for itself…especially if their lunchbox is discovered on the front seat of the car at 2:17pm. The god that is time takes everything we have and just as a day might end, there is a parent consultation evening and a surprise round of nits to nuke. We take this in our stride ‘like a boss’ (in the words of my eleven year old) and get up the next day to do it all again on half the budget and twice the caffeine. WE ARE LEGENDS. WE KNOW HOW TO LOVE.
And our love is not gift-wrapped under a tree on a set date dammit! Real love seeps through the cracks all year round in the form of tidying, taxiing, telling-off, tactical play-dates to grow friendships and tolerance of tedious fad collectable sets made in China. Love is in the overpriced trading card that loses appeal the minute you might be closing in on the most highly prized 3-pack for an almost bearable buy-it-now price on ebay. Love is in the laundry pile, in the favourite dish that is suddenly hated when served more than three times. It is in the nocturnal checking and rechecking at the bedroom door for the soothing sound of the sleeping breath of the beings we made. Love is caked in mud in football studs and the comb of tears untangling ballet hair. Love is in vomit and poop and tears and under couches covered in cat hair. Love is in lost tempers and leaked swear words and angry sulks and heartfelt apologies.
And love is noticing that something is wrong.
Despite our incredibleness as modern first world parents (displayed predominantly in our ability to embrace our flaws) something feels wrong. More and more we see, hear of and read about a mysterious affliction among us…unsettling, frightening and in ever increasing numbers; the anxious child. For some of us this has breached the high wall of home. No longer is our child merely the barer of the old chestnut that is lower than average self-esteem. Our child carries a far greater burden. Displayed in a plethora of ways that encompasses nail biting, sleep and eating issues, bedwetting, bullying (either administering or receiving), aggression, irritability, insurmountable shyness, fearful anticipation of everyday events and seemingly unrealistic phobias. Every child displays some of these from time to time in what tend to be natural and often age or developmentally relevant ways. ‘Anxious behaviour’, however, is redefined as ‘anxious child’ when these day-to-day issues become problematic. When occasional unsettling behaviours are no longer short-term but begin to define, become habitual and create a barrier to contentment that unencumbered childhood should provide. Anxiety begins to sabotage wellbeing. That moment when a parent’s heart breaks and the words “my child needs help I can’t give” painfully leave the lips. We enter the terrifying unchartered waters of our child’s ‘mental health’ – a term finally shaking off the stigma but not the panic.
Take a breath dear superhero. We live in a world where we have forgotten how to model calm. We are honourably dedicated to teaching the heirs to our thrones how to achieve, how to learn, how to thrive, how to win…how to manage software and status updates. A 100% Attendance certificate from school has become a reflection of our parenting instead of our child’s immune system. We have lost our way despite doing our absolute best. Amidst all this chaos we expect our children to know how to self soothe. We expect them to consistently be something WE ARE NOT; calm, relaxed, fulfilled and without fear.
If you’re heading towards “it’s my fault, I’m a bad parent”…STOP THAT, it’s not helpful. What is helpful; is getting help. Maybe instead of thinking, it’s time to FEEL:
- Freeze — pause and take some deep breaths with your child. Deep breathing can help reverse the nervous system response.
- Empathize — anxiety is scary. Your child wants to know that you get it.
- Evaluate — once your child is calm, it’s time to figure out possible solutions.
- Let Go – Let go of your guilt; you are an amazing parent giving your child the tools to manage their worry.
(Renee Jain, Anxiety Relief Programs for Kids)
There is many a pathway out of the maze of anxiety. Your child can overcome feeling anxious. You can overcome feeling anxious for your child. One significant pathway is counselling, with many possibilities for healing.
As parents we are so quick to blame ourselves for every blip on the map of our child’s life – in stark contrast to the pride we take in the good stuff we do for them daily. Anxiety is an ageless, genderless affliction that very often grows in response to our modern way of life. How about taking some of that energy you are pouring into worry – and ask for help.