I would like to state here at the beginning that EVERYONE gets anxious sometimes. It’s completely normal to be worried before a test, or to be upset by situations at school. A child is diagnosed as having Generalized Anxiety disorder when its excessive or when it happens without reason or explanation.
**When you see the Blue font, those are comments made by Ethan, my 11 yr old son who is learning to live with Anxiety**
My oldest child Ethan is an amazing little boy. I should really start by saying that, because its totally true! He has been my easiest child from the beginning and I am so blessed to have the opportunity to be his mom. From the beginning though, he has had some very interesting quirks that we dismissed for many years. He would get very upset at little things that didn’t seem important to me, he would have random spurts of anger that just seemed completely unprovoked and he would worry. ABOUT EVERYTHING.
Let me give you a couple of examples. At 6 years old he would OBSESS about writing his letters, needing them to be perfect to the point that he would cry the whole time he was doing his homework (just copying letters). I thought that I had to get them PERFECT. He would say “Its not going to be good enough for my teacher”. He would not read aloud. EVER. Even reading sight words, that had to be memorized, to me was a cause for tears and fighting.
One day I was dropping him off at Karate and he was about 5 at the time. He saw another kid go in without his uniform and began to freak out. He was literally hiding in the backseat crying that he couldn’t go in because he was wearing his uniform and they must not have been supposed to wear them today. For 15 minutes I couldn’t pry him out of the car. It took seeing another kid go in dressed in uniform before he would stop crying and go in. This kind of thing would happen a LOT. (When she means a lot, she means almost EVERYWHERE we went.) Mom here again- I have a different perception than Ethan- and feel like it was frequently enough that I noticed it as a quirk- but not really something we dealt with on a daily basis like he remembers.
Most of the time he was fine, with no issues, and I had never really even heard of Generalized Anxiety Disorder, or Childhood Anxiety. I really thought anxiety was just something for adults. It wasn’t until my son broke out in full body hives about a year ago that we got a diagnosis and some answers to questions I didn’t even know I had.
We thought the hives were from an allergic reaction. When I say full body, I’m not exaggerating, they were from his head to his toes- and they were flaming red. They hurt so bad that I was literally bawling my eyes out. (P.S. Never take a hot bath or shower while you have hives. It makes them worse…) It started with just a few bumps here and there for a few days and by the time I took him to the doctor they were everywhere. The doctor listened to us explain what was going on and surprisingly said skin testing wasn’t necessary, and that it wasn’t an allergy…but anxiety. I was shocked! I went home and started doing some research about school-age anxiety and it was like a light bulb went on. They were describing him to a precise level I couldn’t have imagined.
Understanding what was wrong was the beginning of what has become a journey for us, together. Learning he has anxiety explained how he behaved, but not how to help him cope with it. This was important for me, because I didn’t want him to go on medication. I wanted him to be able to learn to handle it and live his life happy and successful without doping him up. **I DO understand that medication is necessary for some people, and I’m not doubting that- I just wanted it to be a last resort for us. I DO NOT like medication so it’s a good thing I don’t need it. I usually do fine without it.
Some signs of Childhood Anxiety COULD include:
- Rapid heartrate and feeling like their stomach has dropped- like a roller coaster dip
- Trouble sleeping
- Muscle tension
- Frequent Headaches
- Upset stomach including nausea, or the need to go to the bathroom
- Irritability and irrational responses to normal everyday things
- Incessant worrying, and perfectionism
- Bursts of Anger
- Inability to concentrate
- Worrying…I know I said this again. But its kind of a big one, so it deserves another spot. Ethan worrys about EVERYTHING. Being late, what he’s wearing, whether his food is healthy, whether his homework is done correctly, etc. etc. etc
This list could go on, but I don’t want you to focus on specific symptoms, since they can be different for differnt people. I just want to get you thinking and talking to your child if they exhibit any of the above, or if you are worried. Understanding what is causing the problem, can go a long way towards learning to cope.
Here are some things we do to help him to cope. I use all of these methods and they really help like if I need to calm down.
- Enough sleep. This is crucial. Its easier to cope with the anxiety when it happens, if he is well rested.
- A balanced diet. This will obviously be different for different people, but for us it has meant eliminating food dyes (particularly yellow dye #5 which contains a known stimulant)(It also can make me CRAZY!, mad, and on rare occasions…tired. zzzzzzz) and excess SUGAR! We have cut out as much processed food as possible, and try to eat fresh foods. It also means eating a GOOD breakfast full of protein, not a bowl of cereal. This makes a big difference in how he copes throughout the day.
- Deep Breathing. This irritates him at first, but I count and he breathes, and things calm down much faster.
- Having and understanding a schedule. My son writes everything down, and even though sometimes his schedule changes, he is much better at handling it when he has a schedule he understands.
- Natural Remedies for Anxiety. We have an essential oil blend called Balance sold by DoTerra Essential Oils that is AMAZING. HE rubs it on when he begins to feel anxious, and it helps to level out his mood and calm him down. I’ve made him a little roller bottle with the oil in it and he takes it to school to use before a test, or when he’s stressed out. It makes him feel better. Seriously in less than 5 minutes! Some of my friends and family theorize that its a placebo effect, but I don’t think so. It lasts for a few hours and I can almost always tell when it has worn off, as can he. I feel like I get a new fresh start! I am a Wellness Advocate for DoTerra and would love to tell you more about this particular oil, and some of the other blends we use if you are interested in trying it. Or you can just purchase it here
- Having a sense of purpose for life, and understanding the bigger picture. For us, this comes through religion and family. We belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and there is a strong focus in our religion on knowing yourself and your purpose in life. Its hard to really know who you are at 11 years old (or even 33) but I think it helps to be on that path, and working towards it. He prays and finds comfort in a relationship with God. I’m still figuring out what she means by some of this, but when I pray and we read scriptures together, it does helps my day go better.
- We talk. A LOT. He will come to me and tell me he needs to talk, and its not always a convenient time for me, but I have learned how much he needs this and we make time. Sometimes he just wants to talk about my day, and we have to chat for a bit before he can bring up whats really bothering him. I will say it’s CRUCIAL that he feels “safe” in these conversations, so that he knows he won’t be criticized for things he says. Sometimes we are up WAY past his bedtime talking. Sometimes I suspect he just likes the 1 on 1, and I can’t really complain that he wants to spend time with me, and talk to me about his life and problems so I let him get away with it.
- Understand Childhood Anxiety. An article I read recently has really helped me understand the science behind Childhood Anxiety and that goes a long way towards helping me help Ethan more. Which is a win/win for me! Speaking about science…it’s my favorite subject in school and it’s really fun and interesting. You can read that article here.
- Don’t dismiss their feelings. When you DO #8 and really understand whats going on, then you will realize that they are having an actual physical response. Sometimes its based on an emotional reaction, sometimes it isn’t. So saying “Everything’s fine, just get over it- really doesn’t help” Not true! it just makes me mad or sad and I don’t want to listen when people say this to me.
- Plan ahead. This is a tough one for me. I am always running a little bit late, and “figuring things out as I go”. This is toxic for Ethan. Worrying about being late is always a trigger for him, and sets a precedent for the rest of the day. It REALLY helps when we leave the house with plenty of time to spare and he doesn’t have to worry about being late. Also planning ahead means thinking your plans through and making sure you know where you need to be, and what might be expected of your child. And talk to them about it, or not. Sometimes for a worrier its better NOT to know something is going to happen- so they don’t have to stress about it. For example, Ethan went to the doctor recently and I wanted him to have a flu shot. We did NOT talk about it in advance and he had no idea it was coming. When the time came, the nurse just pulled the needle out and Ethan had no time to worry or stress about it. And it was over before he knew it. He was MAD at me- I was SO mad that I wouldn’t talk to her for a few minutes. But I knew how sick at his stomach he would have been for hours if he had known it was coming. He understood after I explained why I didn’t tell him in advance. Yeah but next time, she should tell me. I will tell him, but probably when we are in the waiting room. That way he has less time to stress, but some time to adapt to the idea. See? Constant readjusting of plans
I hope we have given you a few ideas and things to think about if you suspect your child may be struggling with childhood anxiety. Feel free to ask me or Ethan any questions- just be sure to notate if your question is for Ethan. He would love it! And as always, if you are really concerned about your child, please see a Dr. They are amazing at helping you to determine what’s going on and help you make decisions about how to treat it. For us, using the above coping techniques and Doterra Essential Oils, has been enough to keep Ethan from needing medication. I won’t like, every day is NOT a good day, but we are working on it together. And its getting better.