I’ve thought long and hard about writing this post, as it’s one that is still very personal to us at the moment and although things have got better it still very much lurks in the shadows, threatening to pop up at any moment. But I know how much other people’s advice and support has helped me when I needed it and I’m hoping that by sharing it, it may just help someone else when they’re at that point of despair.
I’m talking about…
It’s a nasty beast, creeping out at the worst times, gnawing away at the very depths of your stomach, making you feel sick, different and exposed to all that the world could possibly throw at you. But imagine if it wasn’t you trying to cope with these feelings, imagine if instead it was your child. Your child that you try so desperately to protect from the horrors of the world, but at the same time have the parental responsibility to release them into that very same world whilst teaching them to be strong, confident and to believe in themselves.
There will be tears!
Our youngest has always been a relatively confident child, I mean she likes to suss people and a situation out first before fully committing, but out of both of our children she was always the one that would initiate making new friends when we went on holiday, or who would lead the way when going to ask a waiter for the bill. She loved school and positively thrived with the learning process and having a place that was hers; a place that she felt comfortable, safe and happy in. So imagine our shock when she changed from this happy go lucky little girl to a child that cried and desperately clung onto me at the school door, who was filled with terror at bedtimes with ‘what if’ thoughts about drowning, falling from buildings and dying, who said ”I hate school mummy, I feel scared, I want to stay with you”.
It was a shock to all of us.
Of course we did what any parents would do, we spoke to the school (who have been amazing might I add!) and we spoke to her, listened to her and tried to help her make sense of what had changed, why she was feeling this way and what we could try and do to stop it. But it’s really, really hard to help someone when actually they can’t even quite understand why they are feeling that way; they aren’t able to vocalise the feelings, they just feel sad, scared, lonely and worried about…
I won’t go into masses of details about some of the things we established that was worrying her, as I feel it would be unfair to her and should certainly not be aired without her permission; it is something she may choose to write about herself when she is older. But what I will share with you are some of the techniques and tools we used to help her to understand her feelings and to, most importantly, make her realise that she is not alone and that it is perfectly normal to feel anxious sometimes.
I was recommended this book by a friend’s relative, who happens to be a child psychologist, and I’ve got to say it’s been great. The Huge Bag of Worries by Virginia Ironside tells the story of Jenny and her big blue worry bag that follows her everywhere. Aimed at children aged from as young as 3 and up to around about 8, the book helps children to understand how it can feel to carry the weight of worry around with them, how others also feel like that too and also enables them to help articulate how they are feeling. For us it worked by sharing the book together and talking about how Jenny must be feeling and translating it towards how my daughter felt. She now keeps it in her room and dips into it from time to time whenever she needs a reminder that perhaps things aren’t quite as bad as her active mind and imagination may first make out.
It’s the buzzword of the moment isn’t it, but mindfulness really is an essential tool in your child’s, and indeed your own, wellness toolkit. Self awareness, whether it be in the form of mediation, relaxation techniques, breathing, listening to calming music, massage, writing down any thoughts or feelings, or just generally being more mindful about your body are all helpful ways to control or ease the symptoms of anxiety. My daughter isn’t keen on hectic, loud environments, and I can see the anxiety creeping over her when she is faced with a situation like that. But of course we can’t go through life avoiding busy, noisy places so the secret is to learn how to cope with them. It’s something we are still working on and taking deep, slow breaths certainly helps her to calm down so that she can think things through reasonably. Now, although there is still the fear of being left in a place other than home and she still doesn’t like to be separated from us (me in particular), once she has crossed the threshold, she’s fine. This is progress, trust me. The next step, which we sometimes get glimpses of, is going somewhere like school, Brownies or a friends house and not panicking when it’s time for me to leave.
So obviously I don’t actually have access to real life fairy drops (although I have heard you can buy them on the fairy black market ;)) but what I do have is this specially blended flower essence from Natures Wish. Now, I’m still not sure what I feel about essences and the like, I totally get the idea behind them and believe me I know the power of nature, but there’s still a niggling doubt in my mind that it could just be placebo. What I do know is that, placebo or not, these drops helped her get out of the house of a morning, it made her feel special decorating the bottle to make it her own and it gave her some comfort and relief knowing that these drops would make her ‘better’. It helped her through her most anxious time and now she no longer feels as though she needs it, so yes I can honestly say that it did its job.
A good friend told me that the best thing you can do for your child is to let them experience new things, to open their eyes to the world around them and to show them just how fun and varied life is. What great advice, right!?! Because we all need to be reminded of the beauty of the world, the positive things, the (as clichéd as it sounds) true meaning of life. And in a world where it becomes more and more difficult to shield our children from the truly horrific events and tragedies that are broadcast on the TV, radio, newspapers, conversations etc. it’s no wonder their heads burst at the seams with worry come bedtime.
New experiences, whether it be joining new clubs, trying a different sport, having adventures in new places are all incredibly important for a child’s development. It helps them make sense of it all, make choices, learn a whole heap of new life skills and meet different people. Some of those people they won’t get on with (hey that’s life), some of those new experiences they won’t necessarily enjoy, but they won’t know unless they try.
I am a great believer in the power of positivity, and as such have been using positive affirmation cards to help with my own self belief for a while now. I use the cards from yesmum, who also do a range of yesmum mini cards for children that I gave each of my children for Christmas. My daughter in particular has used these to great effect, taking one to school with her to keep in her pocket, reading one first thing in the morning to set her up for the day or sharing them as a family to make us all feel good about ourselves. As you can tell from the picture she’s got a LOT of use of them!
We were also fortunate enough to be sent a tween subscription box from Baebox a company which is all about reminding girls just how awesome they are, something I am a huge advocate of. I’m not saying you’ve got to rush out and buy either of these products, the point I’m making is that sometimes children need a bit of a confidence boost and this can be more easily understood and taken on board when it comes in the form of something material; something solid and readable. Because if you can read it, if you can see it, if you can hold it with your own two hands, then it must be true.
Positive Role Model
It’s a huge responsibility being a parent, so much pressure to raise a child when you barely feel as though you’re doing a good enough job raising yourself! But if you expect your child to be positive, then it is essential that you are their positive role model. Children literally idolise their parents when they’re young, they want to be like them; they mimic behaviours. If they see a parent moaning about everything, worried about trying new things, fretting about their weight, what they look like etc. how on earth can we expect them to be any different? Let them see you trying new things, taking on new challenges, getting worried about things but doing them regardless. Let them see you eating cream cakes, fruit salad, biscuits and vegetables…they’ll want to eat them too. Dance like nobody’s watching, talk in silly voices, laugh until your sides hurt, roll down hills, splash in puddles and have fun. Let them copy that person!
It can reach a point, and it definitely did for us, that you need to seek help. And that’s a huge thing to accept because it feels as if you have failed your child, you’ve failed as a parent, which is crappy. But what you have to remember is that ultimately it’s not about you, it’s about doing what’s best for your child and if that means asking for help, then you are seriously the BEST parent your child could have.
We took the decision to raise our concerns with the school, as this seemed to be where most of her anxiety was centred around and this turned out to be the best thing we could have done. Just the act of talking about it helped put things into perspective for us and certainly helped lift what had become an increasing weight bearing down upon us. A plan of action was established and I am pleased to say that although there are still separation issues, through the care and consideration of the teachers, she is now a lot more settled.
Anxiety in children is an increasing problem, I’m no psychologist so I couldn’t begin to tell you why that is, but schools are seeing it more and more and are having to focus more on wellbeing. Which on the one hand is absolutely fantastic, we could all do with some added wellness in our lives, but what a shame that children today, for whatever reason, are more stressed than they have ever been. One way that the school have helped with anxious children is by setting up a series of nurture groups to help them realise that they are not alone, and this was a key thing for my daughter…she needed to feel normal. Through a variety of creative exercises, she was able to draw, write and read about negative emotions in order to externalise her own thoughts and feelings. And yes, when your child brings home a drawing like the one below, it is utterly heartbreaking and yes I did cry, but how much better it is to get those feelings out and onto paper, than stored away inside causing those butterflies of tummy pains!?!
Trust Your Gut
Instinct, it’s a powerful thing, and one that can often be overlooked, but I can guarantee that 9 times out of 10 it’s the right thing to do, so I’m telling you now…trust your gut. You’ll get a lot, and I mean a LOT, of advice, all well-intentioned, well-meant advice, but if you listened to everything you would drive yourself even more mad with worry.
My best advice?
Do what feels right for your child.
I was talking to someone about how my daughter likes to choose one of her teddies for me to sleep with each night and I’d never really thought much of it. Until it was suggested to me that it sounded as though she’d formed an unhealthy habit, a kind of tic or OCD type behaviour if you like. And that was it, it sent me off into a spiral of worry about how I’d been making it worse by letting her do it (can you see where she might get her worry from!?!). But do you know what, once I’d stressed out and got it out of my system, once I was thinking rationally again I realised that it was a complete mountain out of a molehill moment. She doesn’t have OCD, or any other behavioural problem, she just wants a tiny bit of comfort each night, and if that comes from me taking a teddy to bed with me each night, then so be it. You’ve got to pick your battles, and that ain’t one of them!
This one’s easy…the most important thing you can do for your child is to listen, talk, let them know that they are safe and to be there when they need you. Plus a big old mummy cuddle makes everything better, right!?!
Trust me when I say, that I am far from an expert on any of this, I’m just like any regular mum completely making it up as I go along and ultimately trying to do the best for my child. And we’re deffo not out of the woods yet, what with the end of the school holidays looming and the start of a new school (she’s moving from infants up to a junior school), I’m fairly certain we’re going to have some trying times ahead of us. But having gone through what we have already, I certainly feel more equipped to deal with it and now know what my daughter needs when the anxiety takes over. I have no doubt she’ll beat it, with time, and yes as some people have told me it probably is ‘just a phase’, but it’s a phase that needs dealing with sensitively so as to ensure she develops into a self-assured, self-loving, self-believing young lady. We’re both still learning to deal with this wall that she can’t yet break down, but she’s getting there and we’re working on it together.
Does Your Child Suffer With Anxiety?
What techniques and tools do you use to help your child? Perhaps your child has now grown up and learnt how to handle their anxiety effectively, or do you feel as though they will always struggle with coping?
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