I know what you are thinking “Laura, you write a business blog and bang on about content – where has this come from?”. Well I will tell you. If you have known me for a while you maybe familiar with a post I wrote years ago for my party blog entitled “The Shy Party Child” (You can of course check it out here) or my other post “Running a business when you suffer with anxiety”.
Both posts were inspired by, well, my life. This one is also – mainly recent events of said life and facing huge fears. Although it seems far removed from the usual business world I promise I felt compelled to write it – but firstly I would like to offer the following disclaimer…..
***I am not a child psychologist. This advice is derived from my own experience (and my teaching experience/working life). It is not there to offer an answer, nor is it there to patronise you or your child. It is there to offer an insight into the world I lived and live in and if it offers you help along the way and effective strategies – brilliant!***
I am currently writing this post from Australia (Tasmania to be specific). Australia is a place I have always wanted to visit and most definitely a bucket list tick for me (even though we will probably only have covered a pin head amount of the amazing things here).
Now anyone who has known me either my entire life or even the majority of it I would like to think would never have imagined the child/teenager/if I’m honest probably 20 odd year old – being here and doing this. I was never formally diagnosed with anxiety as a child or as an adult – it was not in the time when schools focused upon those things. I was instead “a worrier” or “The child who is always sick in the bin” – either name pretty much summed it up. In fact I said to my Mum the night before I left (mid-way through my anxious panic – I do not like flying) that I never would have dreamed I would ever be where I am now when I was a child.
Let me paint the picture for you…
- I couldn’t go anywhere without my Mum – I couldn’t go to kids parties (the irony does not escape me) and if I did I couldn’t be left and if I was left well…pass the bin.
- I couldn’t be left anywhere full stop – I would cry and scream and often (unbeknownst to me) have a full anxiety attack. These are some of my earliest memories – some kids have Disney – I have screaming at not wanting to attend a ballet class…what can I say?
- I panicked if my Mum left the house and I had to stay behind
- Hated social situations and couldn’t deal with everyone there – I hated crowds and lots of grown ups.
- Didn’t go on school trips, sleepovers – even to clubs.
- Worried about school, exams, friends – everything. My world as a child revolved around worry and stress. My brothers and sisters didn’t but I did. (I would say this is interesting but I find much more entertaining that I have a brother who is something of a Bear Grylls and a sister who is Vegan – I don’t think Mum could have raised for more unique children if she tried).
Was there a magic cure?
No. However what I want to offer you in the rest of this post are things I have come to realise work and did work for me all of those years ago – hopefully they may help you or your child if you suffer like I did.
Firstly I was not crazy, really I wasn’t. The more I have learnt as I have grown up has just reinforced this. I was simply a child with anxiety, I was not broken, I was not strange. I just needed control.
Yes I was a control freak
Maybe I still am (I say maybe – definitely – I definitely still am). Anxiety revolves so much around control and control the situation in front of us. As a child you have no control at all and that can make you feel vulnerable. Remember this. Although we shouldn’t give children the control we need to explain to them that things can’t be controlled and that, that is okay. Then when there is the chance to offer some control give it to them – likewise with some responsibility, grow their resilience. Giving children a set structure and understanding of events that are coming and what will be happening can offer the much needed reassurance.
Nothing is tangible.
This is aren’t always tangible to children. We are all familiar with the “are we there yet?” question. This is the perfect example. If you tell a child that you will be back in 30 minutes or you will see them a little later they may not really understand when that is (I’m talking little ones now). With older ones they may need a clear cut set of events between when you leave to when you pick them up. A “party” is not tangible however “from 11am – 11.30am you will do XYZ and then from 11.30am to 12.00pm you will do ABC” this offers them tangibility – that is very important. I liked knowing what was coming and when my Mum would be back – also where she was going. Just these few things can alleviate a great deal of anxiety.
It’s not your fault.
Again I am generalising however for me much of my anxiety came from and still comes from carrying everything on my shoulders. Feeling like anything that happens is in directly my fault. You need to reassure children that what happens in day to day life they have no responsibility for – except for their own actions. We don’t always realise how much children want to protect the people they love and they can carry that with them. You need to help take this off their shoulders. Offer them real perspective and have them write down the things that they are carrying with them. Discuss them and work through them if you need. Just as we do as adults children too can spin an unsubstantiated story out of a single worry and before you know it – they are sick in a bin.
Live in the moment
I wish someone had encouraged this within me – to live in the moment. That whatever happens can’t be foreseen. This is the biggest gift we can give children teaching them to enjoy what is happening right now. There is plenty of time to worry about what will and won’t work in the future, right now let them enjoy the present.
Mind your language
We all know children pick up everything, so be aware of that. I have so many worry memories from other family members – they didn’t realise they were paying that forward to me. I had coffee with a wonderful lady the other month and we were discussing this subject. She made one of the most fantastic points. “When you say to someone – drive safe you are implying danger is involved – you are implying it is a high risk activity” (I have always worried about people and cars). “It isn’t without risk but to alleviate the link between anxiety and the road you should simply say – have a good journey – this takes away the fear and anxiety from the sentence” Just something to think about. Likewise with superstitions – they can carry more weight than we realise.
Push them and don’t feel you should over protect them
Children do need our protection but at the same time you have to let them go through this and face their fears. Teach them that they can not control it and work with them on their worries around it. Try and involve them in something that builds confidence – climbing is a fantastic example – something that offers them the opportunity to challenge themselves and in turn offers them the satisfaction of over-coming something.
Use other parents
I had three friends parents who knew all about how bad my anxiety was. They were the only people I trusted. Why? Because they knew and they offered support. If I started to worry they would understand, talk me through it, reassure me and if I needed to go home they would always take me. In the end I got good at being around these parents and would go to clubs with them. I trusted the three Mums and that was a huge turning point for me.
There are so many things written around this subject and they won’t all work of suit your child. As I say – I am simply offering my experience. I am also offering you this. Please support them and don’t worry about them. They maybe different now and they may carry this for a long time but empower them to move through it. I am sat here now and still can’t believe it. I can’t believe how far I have come – even as an adult with anxiety. So whether you are reading this as a parent or a fellow anxious adult please remember you can do it. Although it may forever be the invisible friend you or your child really don’t want to hang out with but can’t quite shake somewhere within you there is the power to challenge it.
With love from Aus,