I have parented two children who both had their own experiences with different levels of anxiety but managed to adjust their lives in a way that addresses their specific challenges. Looking back on the journey, here is my advice to other parents:
First, it feels like a parenting failure when you realize your child can’t do what seems “normal” for every other child in the neighborhood because of their anxiety. However, it is not a failure of parenting. It is a challenge to which you must rise and support your child so that they will become their best selves. I think it is a necessity to consult your primary care physician regarding the “symptoms” you are seeing to get the best care for them.
My daughter was unable to attend school for weeks with such anxiety that it made her physically sick to her stomach. I spent days pushing her to continue to confront her fears and physical symptoms that came from her Separation Anxiety in 5th grade (as recommended by her therapist and doctor). I worked with the school nurse and psychologist to gradually adjust her from a day spent at home, to the nurse’s office, to the hallway of her classroom, to just inside her classroom doorway to finally back to the class group. It was hard not to give in to her pleading to stay home, but avoiding what causes them anxiety does not make it better!! It just delays the anxiousness and prevents them from learning how to deal with it. As we know, never completely goes away in adulthood, and there will always be the need to be able to handle anxious moments.
In the beginning, both of my children fought the idea of talking to others about their anxiety, at first, because it directly fueled their most significant issue of ANXIETY. It made them MORE anxious to speak with someone about it.
The best thing I ever did was continue getting medical advice; First, through counseling for them and also counseling for myself. Speaking with a counselor gave both of my children calming behavior methods to deal with their symptoms.
Eventually, through continued care with their physicians and counselors, we also turned to a low level of medication, which allowed both children to return to a manageable level of anxiety and functionality. I wasn’t overly excited about adding medication to their care, but now that years have passed, I realize it was one of the best modes of treatment for them. It has had a very positive outcome for them both!
I found it quite overwhelming when my children first got diagnosed with anxiety, and as many do, I didn’t want to share their diagnosis with my friends or family. But what I soon realized was that my children were just two of many who suffer from anxiety. One of the best things I did as a parent was to reach out to friends and family because I learned that a large number of families in my circle were dealing with the same issues as me.
Sharing stories and especially solutions were helpful, therapeutic, and hopeful for me. It strengthened us as parents and provided solutions for our children.
Lastly, I think it’s important to remember that this type of challenge is not one that ever completely goes away. Adjustments may need to happen over the years with medication or continued therapy, but like all challenges, it makes us stronger if we deal with them head-on.
Anxiety can make us more driven to succeed if we use it as a motivation and not a handicap.