Being the Parent of an Anxious Child is Tough

I didn’t realize how much it bothered me until my body could no longer hold the emotions inside. I was just washing the dishes and the thought popped into my head that I was unable to make my child’s life a brighter place. I felt so helpless and the tears came like waves down my cheeks. My chest welled up with the pressure that needed to be released. I had been holding on to the feelings for so long so that I could maintain a façade of normalcy. All the while feeling scared inside. Anticipating the day that would come when I would have to face the truth that our son was no longer able to live a normal life.

I’ve been acting strong, telling him things like, “Don’t let anyone else tell you things about yourself that are not true. We know what we’ve got and we’ve got a fantastic kid. We know that one day you are going to be happy and successful and I feel lucky everyday that I have a son like you.” But he still feels so inadequate. He still believes it when his friends tell him that he is terrible at basketball or that they don’t believe that he is cool enough to hang out with them. He tells us almost daily that the kids at school don’t like him. He is hanging on by a thread right now and I don’t know what else to do to help him.  The most frustrating part for me is that I know this is out of his control. He is actually a very handsome child who has just earned a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and is an honor student.  He should be feeling terrific about himself, but he is not able to. Why?

We’ve been to therapists and doctors and sleep studies, and tests and I still worry about him everyday. I just hope he will be able to hang on until he graduates from high school. To me he is such a sweet, kind and funny child.  I get so angry that his mind tells him a different story!

It is so draining on me to have to work so hard to help him to live a normal life.

All that said, “I am grateful for the challenge of raising such a complex child. I am grateful for every day that he is in my life.”

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Childhood Phobia Confronted

Anxiety disorders can be mild, moderate or severe.  Some people have a mild form of anxiety called social anxiety and they are called shy by most people.  Other people have a moderate form of anxiety and they ruminate about things, occasionally lose sleep due to worries or lose their appetite due to worries.  Then there’s Chase. He has the type of anxiety called a phobia.  Phobias are usually a severe form of anxiety in which a person has an irrational fear of something, someone or some place.  Because of their fear, they either avoid people places or things associated with that thing or they try to get something such as comfort or security from other people to help them deal with it.

Chase has Phasmophobia, which is a fear of ghosts and Achluophobia, which is a fear of darkness. In addition Chase has a sleep disorder in which he falls asleep but doesn’t stay asleep.  When I started to recognize that Chase had these problems we sought counseling to help him.  Over the years, we tried moving his sleeping bag out of our room bit by bit, redecorating his room so that it looked really soothing and happy, trying to motivate him with a reward system, taking away nintendos or t.v. time, and more.  He continues to sneak in our room once we are asleep and lay on the floor until he falls asleep. When he was younger he had asthma so bad that our doctor told us that we couldn’t force him to stay in his room because he would scream and cry so bad that it would trigger his asthma to the point that he couldn’t breath.

Well, we brought in the back up troops a few weeks ago.  We found out about a terrific counselor, named David Shobe, who works out of people’s homes with families.  Kind of like “The Nanny”, but no television crews and no British accent. After gathering enough information from us, David determined that Chase copes with his fear by avoiding the dark and avoiding things that cause him to think about ghosts. He then taught us that in order for Chase to cope with his phobia on his own he would have to confront the thing that he is afraid of on a regular basis until he is able to feel comfortable being face to face with them.  It wasn’t something that we hadn’t thought of but David’s support and coaching was invaluable in this case.  He asked Chase to explain to him what happens when he jumps into a pool full of cold water and Chase told him that his body acclimated to the temperature of the pool after he had been in it for a while.  Then David, asked Chase what happened to his body when he got out of the pool and then jumped back in and Chase again explained the process of acclamation.  This proved to be invaluable in Chase’s ability to interpret his behavior and in his ability to change his behavior.  He was able to make the connection that the longer he could stay in his room the more acclimated he would become and eventually he would not mind sleeping in his room.

David advised us to come up with a reward chart to help Chase to reach his goals.  He told us to start out asking Chase to stay in his room for ten minutes four or five times a day. He also told us that instant gratification and praise was critical to Chase’s success.  He reminded us that criticism and yelling were only going to produce more anxiety in Chase and so it was counterproductive to do these things.  We were supposed to sit down with Chase and come up with a reward that he could achieve after he earned nine stickers on his chart.  For every ten minutes he spent in his room with the door shut he would get a sticker and once he earned nine stickers he would get a reward.  For his reward Chase decided that he wanted scary Halloween decorations.

We set off on our new project with Chase.  I made a chart and bought some stickers and as soon as I got it set up, Chase’s younger sister Mary saw it and said, “I want to play too.”  I knew we had to make a chart for her also.  Mary is the child that really doesn’t have anything that she really needs to improve so it took us a while to come up with a plan for her to exercise for five minutes and that would earn her a sticker. The reward that she wanted was a new pair of TOMS. Now this was getting expensive, but I knew we needed to help our son because he told us that he thought it would help his self-esteem if he learned how to sleep in his own room.

The first few times that we asked Chase to go to his room with the door shut he was reluctant but he did it and he was pleased when he got a sticker.  We purposely started in the morning when it was light outside so that he could build some confidence in himself that he could indeed stay in his room with the door shut.

Well, the day did turn into night just like usual and Chase began to get nervous going places without his sister or another person in the house near him.  I began to wonder how he was going to react to being shut in his room while it was dark outside.  After pizza, homework and a shower it was time to test out the night-time shut in.

When I told him that it was time to do his ten minutes in his room he said,  “No way, I’m not doing that! I hate this rule.  This is a stupid rule.”  Thank goodness we had David to blame.  We told him that it was part of our plan with David and that he was going to have to do it or else he would get something taken away.  After a lot of encouragement he finally conceded, but once he was inside his room and the door was shut the drama began.  He started escalating, which we were warned about and prepared for. He started yelling that we were stupid, that we didn’t love him, that we were traumatizing him, that we were the meanest parents ever, and on and on. Then he began to throw things at the door. I don’t know what they were but they were heavy things.  I continued to keep the door locked and at the end of the ten minutes his dad and I praised him and gave him a sticker and he pouted and ignored us.

The next day we did the whole routine again and when night-time came he protested a little bit but he took some things into his room to comfort himself and he lasted the whole ten minutes without escalating.  We have been doing this for about three weeks and he is already able to spend thirty minutes in his room with the door shut before bedtime!  Our house is going to be the spookiest Halloween house in the neighborhood but it will be worth it when he is able to sleep through the night in his own bed.

I hope this will help anyone else out there that has a child with a phobia.

Celebrating Our Children’s Accomplishments!

I must admit I’ve been taking a break from blogging in order to celebrate!  My eleven year son who has a lot of anxiety was able to go on a camping trip with his class and spend two nights and three days! This was a huge accomplishment for Chase, who has a phobia of sleeping, and it warmed my heart to see how proud he was of himself after he did it. It was not easy and it took the help of some very compassionate and dedicated school advisors to help him or should I say exhaust him. He called me twice the first night telling me how scared he was because the other boys had been telling scary stories. Then at eleven p.m. he told me he wanted me to pick him up and bring him home. After he realized that his plight was futile I tried to help him relax for the next hour.

The next day I talked to the chaperone, Mr. Andrews, who told me that Chase didn’t sleep all night and that he paced the floors, but Mr. Andrews said “I am confident that I will be able to wear him down today!” I wasn’t quite sure what to make of that comment but I was hopeful that he knew what he was doing because what I had been doing sure wasn’t working. Just as I expected I got another phone call that night from Chase begging me to come pick him up. I reassured him that he was going to be able to sleep because I knew deep down inside Chase wanted to be able to sleep at camp. I told him that he was so tired that he was going to lay down in bed and fall asleep in a second and that is exactly what ended up happening.  He even slept through his roommates screaming in the middle of the night because they thought a wolf spider was in the cabin.

I don’t know if there are other parents out there that feel the way that I do (exhausted by the end of the day), but if you are like me you probably invest a lot of your life helping your children to grow, learn, build self-esteem, make new friends, and SLEEP through the night. At the end of the day I usually feel like if one more hand tugs on my shirt, one more voice asks for help, one more scream needs attention or one more pet paw steps on my foot I’m going to sit in the time out chair and stay there.  On the other hand I don’t know what is more rewarding than seeing that my efforts have paid off! I sometimes forget to be so grateful for the things that are right in front of me because I’m so busy trying to take care of someone or something. I see other kids doing something terrific and say “why don’t my kids do that?” Then when it’s quiet in the morning and I’m the only one awake and I’m waiting to hear the footsteps of little feet coming down the stairs, I remember how grateful I am of the family that I’ve been given and the opportunity that I have to celebrate their accomplishments with them. The quiet mornings help me to remember how different we all are as human beings and one person’s accomplishment is just as great as the next.  After all life is so short that it can pass us by while we are busy trying to get it right.  I have to remind myself to live life sometimes instead of work it. I remember that saying “Life is what happens when your busy making plans.”  I think it also applies to making promises, making goals, and making expectations.   So as a part of my celebration I did nothing! I realized that by watching my family I didn’t need to take care of anything or anyone. They are quite capable of finding their own happiness. They are also quite capable of finding their shoes, pouring their own lemonade, fixing their own snack and organizing their own life. I’m sure I’ll forget this tomorrow, but today I’m celebrating.

Should Children With Anxiety go to Camp?

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!