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.”

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.

I’m so Uncool.

I thought I was a cool parent.  In fact I thought my son’s friends thought I was a cool parent.  Not a friend, but a cool parent. There is definitely a difference.  I have my rules and I don’t budge on those, but I also consider myself to have a good sense of humor and a young personality.  Well, over the past week I got a reality check.

For those of you that follow this blog you know that my son, CHASE, has a classmate that continues to pick on him, and being anxious, Chase needs coaching from time to time.  So the other day he told me that this classmate saw him going down the hall to the water fountain.  Knowing that  Chase has a fear of the dark, this boy and his “partner in crime” waited for Chase to get well inside the vacant hall on his way to the water fountain and then the boy turned out the light on Chase.  This caused Chase to slip and fall in the water that they had spilled in the hall and then Chase panicked. The two boys laughed and ran off.  He was so embarrassed that he yelled.  “I’m going to kill whoever did that!”

He told me about the incident and I said, “Part of the reason that the boy continues to pick on you is because you give him the reaction that he is looking for.  Remember bullies are looking for attention.  Why don’t you just say something like, “Whatever dude.” or “Yo, totally uncool.” ” He didn’t respond.  I thought he must be processing this and thinking about when he might use it.

A few days later he told me that another boy in his class told one of his good friends that he was a “know it all”.  His friend told Chase what the other boy said and so I replied, “Well at your age people get jealous of each other easily and maybe that boy is jealous because you are so smart.  If you want to make friends then tone it down a little and don’t always show how much you know.”  Then I said, “Why don’t you say, “Yo man, that’s what I’m good at. You’re probably good at basketball or something right?”  He was quiet again and again I thought I had done a good job and now he was processing what I said.  About thirty seconds went by and he looked at me and said,  “Mom, we don’t talk like that.”  I said, “What?” “You are talking like a surfer guy or something we don’t talk like that.”

I realized that I was out of my league and said, “Well, it’s just an example.  Put it in your own words.”  Later that night I had to laugh at myself.  “I’m not as cool as I thought.”

How to Respond to a Bully

I attended a “stop bullying” workshop this weekend with my eleven year old son and my eight year old daughter. In the class the leaders taught the children that there were all types of bullies. They said that there were fat bullies, thin bullies, tall bullies short bullies, girl bullies, boy bullies, adult bullies, and child bullies, but all bullies were insecure. The leaders also suggested that most bullies want attention, and that most bullies don’t feel good about themselves. Below are the tips that I learned from the workshop and that I thought were the most realistic for an anxious child to apply to their own situations.

1. Ignore the person who is bullying you.  This one was my favorite because this tactic takes the wind out of the bully’s sail. The leaders of the workshop acted out a possible bullying scenario and it was funny to watch what happens to the bully in a situation like this. The victim pretended not to hear the bully and walked away and all of a sudden the bully was the one that looked uncomfortable and insecure. This tactic works even better if there are people around because the other people will all be staring at the bully which will add to his or her discomfort.

2. Agree with the bully. If the bully tells you that your are fat agree with them by saying something like, “Yeah, I am getting fat I need to stop eating so many lucky charms.” The bully will be stumped and will learn that he can not bring you down.  Most bullies want you to feel as insecure as they do. When they realize that they can’t do that to you they will pick on someone else.

3. Laugh at yourself. If the bully laughs because you tripped, make fun of how you looked when you tripped. The bully doesn’t win.

4. Call out to a friend or an adult that you see. It brings attention to yourself and will cause the bully to stop.

5. At a last resort take a defensive stance and make a lot of noise about it. This will tell the bully that you mean business.

After the class my small fair-haired daughter wore her stop bullying t-shirt everywhere we went and I saw people read her shirt and smile. Even the biggest toughest looking boys looked at her with respect. She was oblivious to people’s reactions but I was not and I saw how much respect she got by wearing that opinionated shirt. She radiated confidence.

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.