When you have an anxious child, life changes. It changes from the first time they become anxious. It changes for them as much as it does for everyone else around them.
True anxiety is more than a simple worry, something that niggles at you. I don’t think I really understood what real anxiety was until I experienced it with my son. I might have even smiled when someone talked about it. Oh yes, anxiety, worrying. Nothing to get too worked up about it.
It is likely that I still don’t really fully grasp what it feels like to have anxiety. I have worries, I have concerns about things, but I can express my feelings, I can do things to get it out of my system. But my son can’t.
His anxiety changes him. It controls him. It makes him angry, it makes him sad. It causes him to swear incessantly. It makes him say the most terrible things.
We have learned to live with his anxiety now. It is part of him. We still love him, we know he doesn’t mean it when he says terrible things. He doesn’t mean to swear at us. We have learnt to read the signals, see the triggers. We have all adapted.
When you have an anxious child, it is hard to relax. You never know from one day, hour, minute to the next when the anxiety will strike. One minute all is calm and well in the world and the next, all hell breaks loose. It might be a comment in school, something someone said, a comment on the Xbox, something not going well. Sometimes the triggers are really insignificant to anyone else, but to a child, with anxiety, it can be the end of the world.
Often it is the build-up of many things all seemingly small and significant. I describe it to my other two children as the lemonade bottle effect. The bottle gets gently shaken throughout the day and when you take off the lid, it explodes. Add in a few hormones and it is the perfect recipe for a meltdown.
It has been hard on his siblings as they don’t really understand and they just want their brother to be happy, to be able to relax around him and not feel on edge wondering what sort of mood he is.
When you have an anxious child, they need lots of love and understanding, they need to be constantly reassured. They also need their own space, time to reflect and calm down. It is a balancing act.
Your instinct as a parent is to react. If your child is angry, you want to calm them down, if they are upset, placate them, if they are irrational you want to reason with them. That is normal, but sometimes when anxiety takes hold, there is no reasoning, no calming, no placating. A full-on meltdown means that they are out of control and you need to make sure they are safe but they need space.
They also need routine and boundaries, they need time to think things through, so you need to plan ahead, talk things through with them, warn them in advance about any changes. This helps them to manage their anxiety and even when the reaction might not be a positive one, to begin with, more often than not, that will change when they have time to process.
When you have an anxious child, however hard it can be at times, and I know how hard it can be, you have to remind yourself that it is harder for them. They are so young and to feel the pressure and anger that they feel at such a young age, is devastating to watch.
Imagine how it must feel to have to work tirelessly to control your emotions in public and social situations when your head is screaming as it needs space and time to cool down and process.
When you have an anxious child, prepare to be judged. People might look at me and think that I let my son get away with murder, that I should be doing more to help him, that I shouldn’t let him get away with the things he says and does. But they don’t understand. They don’t see how vulnerable he is. They don’t see how desperate he is to fit in and be happy. They don’t understand what he goes through on a daily basis and how hard it is sometimes for him to just get through a day in school.
I do and as exhausting as it is being his mum, I am determined that he will get through it and be the most amazing young man. Because even though I do have an anxious child, I see past the anxiety and I see a brave, amazing young man who has to deal with more than most boys his age, yet he still gets up and gets on with things every day and that makes me incredibly proud of him.