I ran into a friend today who told me that her daughter was having a hard time adjusting to a new school. Her daughter went from a sheltered private school to a diverse charter school and felt like a fish out of water to say the least. Her outgoing, fun-loving daughter had turned into a nervous wreck. She couldn’t eat breakfast or lunch and she was not wanting to go back to school. Knowing what it was like to have an anxious child, I could understand my friends concern for her daughter.
When you have a child with anxiety it can be hard to know if they are just going through a phase or if they have serious condition that needs professional help. The symptoms can be ambiguous and a lot of parents are wary of medications. If your child is adjusting to a new environment your child most likely just needs time to meet new friends, or learn new rules. If your child developes a fear of a specific thing or situation out of the blue then your child might have a phobia and meeting with a therapist can be helpful. If your child is not eating at all you will need to see a doctor to make sure that your child is getting the right vitamins and if it goes on for longer than a few days you need to make an appointment with a therapist. If your child continues to feel so anxious that she/he can not eat you will need to see a psychiatrist to talk about starting your child on medications and/or vitamins. The bottom line is that if your child is not able to function like other children his/her age then you need to pay attention to your child and address that issue appropriately (through therapy or a psychiatrist).
There are medications that are specifically for anxiety and there are medications that are specifically for depression and there are medications to treat both anxiety and depression. I strongly recommend that you take your child to see a psychiatrist and not a primary care doctor because a psychiatrist is a specialist who treats mood disorders. A specialist knows all of the details about specific medications for specific symptoms. When you are trying medicine for your child you have to keep an open mind and remember that all children are different so sometimes you will have to try several different medications to get the right effect. Be patient and keep an open dialogue about medications and symptoms with your child. Some side effects are stomach aches, headaches, low blood pressure, dizziness. You want to pay attention to any symptoms that your child has and discuss those with the doctor.
Another possibility is alternative medicine. There is evidence that certain vitamins will help with moods. You will need to talk to your doctor about the dosages that are appropriate, but some vitamins that help lift moods are vitamin B12, vitamin D, SAME, and St. John’s Wort to name a few.
A lot of anxiety symptoms in children can be treated with therapy, but when that doesn’t help it’s time to seek other solutions to help your child feel better. A Child Psychiatrist is the best fit for this situation.
I’ve read several different opinions today from different doctors and then tried to apply them to my situation with my son. The doctors agreed that overall sending your anxious child to camp was a good idea, but they had different approaches to this situation. First it was recommended that you check your own anxiety level about your child going to camp. If you notice that you seem to be anxious and worried about it the doctor recommends that you hide this emotion or try to talk yourself out of it. The reason for this is that our children pick up on our emotions. If they can tell that we are anxious they will feel like they should be anxious. So try to relax and convince yourself first that your child might be uncomfortable at camp but that he is probably not going to be hurt at camp. Second, it was recommended that you cut your goodbyes short. It was implied that if you stay around for a while when your child is leaving it can send mixed messages to your child that you are worried about them. If your child calls you from camp and is expressing anxiety, find out if there is anything besides usual childhood fears that are upsetting him. For example is there another child that is picking on him? Does your child like their camp counselor? Apparently the consensus from the doctors is that it is healthy to send your child to camp because the separation helps them to become more independent and to trust themselves. They learn that they can work out differences on their own and that they can trust others to help them when they need help. Going to camp can help your child’s self-confidence and can prove to them that they can be away from home and nothing bad happens.
Ofcourse there are always exceptions to the rule. Even though the general consensus is that sending your child to camp is a good thing to do, if your child has phobias or has been sexually abused it changes the rules a little bit. Pay attention to your child. If your child can not sleep in his own bed and he has panic attacks when he has to sleep with the lights out then camp might only make his anxiety worse. He could be a target of bullying if other kids find him to be different and scared. If your child has real phobias and believes that bad things will happen in the dark even after you have tried all of your blue ribbon comfort talks, then he might not be the camping type. Children can learn to grow from other experiences in their lives besides camp so don’t beat yourself up about it if all of your friends are sending their kids to camp and you are not. You are building trust and security in your child by listening to them and trying to do what is best for them.
Today I sent my son to camp with his class. I was so worried about it that I could not sleep last night. He really wanted to go and told me that he was so excited. He told me that he was worried that he would not be able to sleep but he was anticipating having a great time. We went to Barnes and Nobles to pick out a book for him to read under the covers if he couldn’t sleep. He was confident that he was going to be able to read and keep himself from getting scared.
We had a lot of reasons to keep him home. After all the child that had sexually offended him was going on the same trip. We talked to the advisor of the trip, the coordinator of the trip, the head of the middle school and the school counselor to let them know that these two children had to be separated at all times. The school officials seemed to be very reassuring and accommodating. We explained to them that our son had been sexually abused by another child in the class and that he didn’t want to share the same bathroom or the same bedroom with the other child. I made a special notebook for him to read at night. In it was affirmations, breathing exercises, meditation suggestions and other words of encouragement. I told him that he could pull it out and read it as a last resort and if he had tried everything else to help him sleep. I put it in his bag along with a flashlight and I sit here at 9:36 waiting for the phone to ring any minute.
When we arrived at school it was a hot morning already. Most of the kids seemed apprehensive about going on the trip, but excited. I saw my child’s offender and my stomach started to churn. I didn’t follow the doctors suggestion above and I waited around to watch the bus leave. I immediately regreted it when my son requested one last hug before the bus left. I was afraid the other kids would call him a baby but he insisted and I did it anyway. I was worried but kept smiling and giving him the thumbs up. As the bus was pulling away he said, “Mom, did you pack my book?” I couldn’t believe it. I had asked him to pack three things, one of them his book, and he forgot. I shrugged and said, “That was your responsibility, but you’ll be alright.” I pitied the teacher that was going to be in his cabin that night. When the bus pulled away to leave the parking lot, I saw my sons medium sized hand waving out of the window I felt my heart become heavy and I reminded myself that there is so little in life that we really have control over. I had to just wait until I saw him again to know that he was o.k. and if he is able to stay at camp for two nights and three days I will celebrate!
Three months had passed since we had to call the police to remove the mother of our child’s predator from our house. She had come to punish us for reporting the sex abuse to social services. She yelled at me in front of my son and my daughter and said very mean things about my children in front of them. Now it was time for Chase to go back to school. I could tell he was anxious about going back to the same school where he would at times be face to face with his predator, who was also a classmate. I had to keep reminding myself that he wanted to go back to this school because he didn’t want to leave his other friends. His counselor recommended that we let him return to the same school if he wanted to go back and he explained to us that Chase might feel punished for something that he didn’t do if we pulled him out of the school that he loved. The morning was rough. Everytime I mentioned that Chase needed to get dressed to go to school he would shout, “I hate school!” “School shouldn’t even exist. It’s stupid.” He then proceeded to stall at every task he was supposed to accomplish before walking out the door to go to school. On the way to the school this middle schoolers buttons were easily pushed by his sister who was completely oblivious to his anxiety. Once we entered the parking lot where I was to drop him off he said, “You’re walking me to the door aren’t you?’ To which I replied, “I think you can handle it.” He walked into the classroom and I felt my stomach ache. I began to frantically hum a song that I had heard earlier that morning and then pulled out of the parking lot. Mary, my perceptive eight year old daughter said, “Mom are you worried about how Chase is going to do in middle school.” I said, “Yes.” I worried the rest of the day. I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. I was definately anxious about how Chase was going to feel after his first day back to school. When I went to pick him up he was sitting with one of his best friends and he was happy and relaxed. He was fine. On the way home he did talk about Zack’s presence being hard for him because he still felt so much hate for him, but he was cracking jokes which made me relax and realize that he was going to find new ways to cope with the situation.
I can tell you from first hand experience that it was not easy to make a report to child protective services about a child predator. Adding to the emotional ambivalence was the fact that the predator’s mother was a very good friend of mine. After my son, who was struggling with anxiety, reported that his best friend sexually abused him it took me five months to muster up the courage to make a report. I wrestled with the idea not knowing what all of the consequences were going to be. I was afraid that Child Protective Services would be too punitive to a ten year old boy and I was afraid that the boy and his mother would deny that it ever happened. I was also afraid that the other family would try to hurt us. What made me turn the corner was the day that I watched a mother talk to a reporter about Jerry Sandusky. She told the reporter that he had been acused of sexually molesting someone in high school and nothing was done about it. It registered with me how many children had to be victimized before something was done about it. I knew I had a responsibility not just to my son who was psychologically scared, but to the other faceless boys like Chase who could easily be victims too. Chase needed to know that there was a system that could keep him safe from having to experience abuse again. He had been told by his predator to keep everything a secret or else everyone would hate him. Inspite of his anxiety, he stood up for what he knew in his heart was right and then I had to do the same thing. Child Protective Services handled the case very well and the other child got the help he needed. The detective reassured my son that he did the right thing which helped my son tremendously. I did have serious consequences after reporting the abuse. I was afraid for my life on several occassions when confronted by the other child’s mother. So put on your armor if you are going to make a report and have the confidence to know that you are helping your child heal and you are preventing many children from having to go through the self hatred, the shame, the anger, the insecurities that are a result of being sexually abused. You can read more in the book CHASE, by Vivian Sharpe.