Anxiety and Our Kids
It’s painful watching children dealing with complicated feelings and emotions. As a parent you want to release them from their suffering and smooth the cracks and the tornadoes that well, build character, through experiencing darkness.
Mostly we think if their pain stops then ours will and nobody willingly wants to go through pain. So we fuss and we tell them it will be fine and as their hands twitch, their tears fall and pain is etched on their face, our hearts break and it feels like our own.
9 times out of 10 if I see an anxious child, there is some kind of legacy of anxiety within the household and it isn’t just down to the child’s genetic makeup. That means there’s hope! It mean’s that a household can work together to create a less anxious environment.
My daughter is 9 and was having a fabulous Sunday playing scrabble with us and reading the latest Jaqueline Wilson novel while watching lazy TV on an otherwise non-eventful day. When it was bedtime she went up to brush her teeth becoming very upset and tearful when I urged her to hurry herself and get to bed. This wasn’t an I-don’t-want-to-go-to-bed strop (trust me, I know what those are like!) but it was a crumbling, a shutting the eyes tight and opening them wide in a hopes that her crinkly thoughts would go away, it was a holding onto my neck begging me not to leave her with her thoughts moment and if I’m honest, it broke my heart. It’s the start of half term and she said ‘I don’t want it to be holiday’. I recognised this pattern in me, when I’m in routine and busy everything is fine. It’s when I stop that the panic and over-thinking sets in.
It brought me back to the time when I first noticed she was anxious and I struggled with every feeling this brought up for me. She’s going to be anxious like me, she’s not going to get this, she’ll struggle forever, she’s in pain and I can’t fix it and on and on the list goes. The things I did that have helped are:
· Help children interpret their feelings: this means learning to understand what our own mean and how they can impact those around us.
· Comfort them – cuddles, physical contact, noticing what's going on for them i.e. I can see this is confusing or difficult for you, I'm right here if you would like to talk things through.
· Let them know that you get anxious too and sometimes it’s difficult to know what to do. Let them know whats worked for you i.e. When I say what’s bothering me out loud the thought can lose it’s magical power.
· Reassure them by saying you’ll check in on them in a few minutes. After checking on them once make sure you don't keep coming back because of your anxiety not theirs.
· Ultimately let them learn to self-soothe and come to an understanding of what’s happened: this may be that sometimes we get funny feelings that we don’t understand, this is a reassuring enough explanation. They are not alone. Check in with them the next day - casually - to see if they're ok now. If they are, help them notice that it's interesting how feelings do pass over time, however distressing they might feel. This is something they'll be more likely to remember the next time they are distressed.
While I did the right things on the outside, on the inside however, I spiralled into self-pity and pain triggered from all the things I had ever been through: being left, being hurt, hurting myself, feeling like a bad person.
I cried later, when I left the room, I cried because it was a terrible thing that I’d done, having a child, only to bring her to a world of pain and anxiety. I should have known better than let my genetics get passed on to an innocent being. I felt my pain and then I read a book titled Late Fragments by Kate Gross. She’s dying of cancer knowing she’ll leave her twin boys and husband soon. She says:
The tough bit is not the start, it’s the bit where you have to just put your head down and keep going; it’s an endurance sport. Living with the after-effects of the quake is much harder than surviving the initial impact. There is a point when everyone has gone back to their normal life, when the spotlight isn’t on you and your crisis anymore, and it is then that things are at their toughest.
It goes without saying that Kate’s story puts my feeble problems into perspective, but no matter what the story, the sentiment felt real. Parenting is an endurance test. It isn’t just about the big moments, the proud moments, it’s about every time you’re authentic and you work with the new information that you have. I realised that I wasn’t reacting in the moment; I was projecting my fear of all my flaws emerging in my daughter. The same daughter who will light up a room with her laughter, has a wonderful social group of friends and who feels pain intensely but also joy. If she is like me then she’ll continue with these extremes but I hope I can help her see her choice:
· To figure out how to channel her sensitivity to looking after her world
· To become her individual self
· To understand that feelings are messy and she isn’t perfect but that she is loved and can love herself for it all.
The lesson for me is to connect with the present moment again.
In this moment I can be the best mother I can even if I fell apart before.
In this moment I can feel pain, pleasure or joy, without judgement, it is part of being human.
In this moment I am just me and she is just she.
At least I have time. Time to make up for it, to figure it out, to see opportunity in endurance.