Looking back I’ve probably had anxiety most of my life. I was very shy until high school and even then, pretty reserved. I’ve never felt comfortable in social situations and have always second-guessed my words and decisions. This has made for some emotional times. Roller coaster periods of depression and anxiety, and my behavior through them, have caused strains on my friendships and marriage over the years. As I approach 40, I feel like I have the best handle on who I am and how to be proactive when I begin to feel anxious or depressed. Now, I have a new challenge and it’s one that I’m not sure how to control or fix.
The hardest part of my anxiety is seeing that I’ve passed it on to my son. My oldest son was born strong-willed. I often say he gets the stubbornness from both of his parents so it’s doubled. He is the most intense person I have ever met. He loves with all he has and feels frustration and anger with every part of his being. He feels so deeply which can be both his strongest asset and biggest downfall. As a teacher, I worked through all sorts of strategies with him to chart the triggers and work on managing behaviors. Some things worked, others still leave me at a loss.
What I noticed was that all of his bad behaviors and really rough extreme moments centered around change. As he grew older, a change in the schedule such as a school delay or closing, a late night to bed, or even something as simple as a change to indoor recess, could completely set him off at some point in the day. He wakes up with a set plan in his mind for the day and anything that steers him from that can be the catalyst for a meltdown. The “unknown” in situations makes him extremely unsettled. We have him in therapy and are blessed with two therapists that really get him and he feels comfortable talking to.
So we work on him being in control of what he can control. This is the most difficult part. Life can’t be controlled, we can only control our reactions to the situations we face. This is a really hard lesson to teach an anxious, controlling third-grader, especially when I’m now finally getting the idea as I approach 40.
This year has been especially difficult. Our son switched schools, started a new sport, and as a third grader has a lot more responsibility. He also now has a toddler at home that is more mobile and a 5-year-old brother that wants to be his best friend. The stimulation can be overwhelming.
So we work through it. Each day we face the son that we get and love him through it, even if it is occasionally tough love. Sometimes it’s the boy that feels bad for a kid at school that he asked to include a recess, or starts to cry because he sees a homeless man on the street. It’s the boy that writes me a love note or gives me the biggest hug and tells me I’m the best mom. Other days, it’s the boy that punches a hole in the wall or says something so disturbing to get attention and cry out, that I won’t even type it here.
What I have learned is my son needs time outdoors, time to socialize and time to move. With current school parameters, expectations, and testing, his anxiety is at an all-time high. We are fortunate that he has continued to have teachers that understand this need and allow him breaks and movement as much as possible. Sometimes though, it’s not enough. So, many days, I pick him up and take him to the park or my husband immediately plays with him in the backyard. Sometimes, he has to play for an hour outside before school. While he needs social interaction and attention, there is a fine balance because he also needs alone time. I can remember when I was younger, one of the only times I would get mad was when I walked in the door and was asked how my day was. I needed time to decompress. Heck, I still need that time to reset when I walk in the door. So now, I have to learn to give my son that. He’s working on taking himself out of frustrating situations before he gets angry or upset. He is trying to let me know when he needs time alone to regroup with legos or reading a book. It’s a work in progress and I think most days we are moving forward.
To many on the outside, I know my son is sometimes the wild one or immature one. I even see him that way sometimes. What the lucky few see is a boy who will love and accept anyone, wants to be loved, has an enthusiasm and energy for life, and will be loyal to you to the end.
My son has taught me so many things. He has taught me a level of patience I never knew I had. He has taught me to see the behavior of children differently. Most of all, he is continuing to teach me to be more accepting and understanding of the reactions of others. We are all working on our toolset to control the emotions we can while letting go or accepting the situations and changes we can’t control.
He also teaches me to start each day new, sometimes each hour new. He reminds me that I need to take care of myself and my own anxiety so I can be better for our family. Our walks, talks, and notes often get me through. My hope is he is getting a better start on dealing with his anxiety than I had.
If you have a child with anxiety, it can manifest in different ways. Some are rude, some are emotional, some are shy. Some are more open about their feelings than others. As a parent, it can be exhausting, frustrating, embarrassing, and sometimes it can absolutely knock down your confidence as a parent. I write this because I want you to know that you are not alone. We are in this together and I firmly believe, and remind myself and you, that we were given these children for a reason and God thought we were the best parents for the job. Hug those kids tight tonight and remind them that, no matter what, they are loved.