How to help your kid who has your anxiety gene
Anxiety. Do you have it? If you do, likely your kid does too. So how do you help your kid cope?
Yesterday at school, my son was accidentally hit in the face by the sharp side of a water container when a friend threw it towards him.
Blood was gushing out, but he didn't cry. The nurse couldn't reach me, but he didn't get upset. My husband didn't answer his phone either, so the school called my friend, who promptly texted me and went to pick him up. By the time she was on her way to the school, I had got the message. I told her I'd meet her and my son at my house. When I got home, he was in good spirits. Looking at the cut, it was apparent he needed stitches. We went to urgent care. He remained calm.
He was a bit nervous in the waiting room about the stitches hurting, but no more nervous than any kid would be. He was just as concerned as his friend was feeling bad about hitting him in the face. And he was worried he wouldn't be able to get his backpack from school (the nurse said it would be brought from the classroom to the front office).
My son ended up with one deep stitch (in the fat layer due to the depth of the cut) and five superficial stitches on the side of his forehead. He was a champ the whole time and endearing to the doctor and medical assistants who took care of him.
We rushed over before the 4 pm office closing time to grab his backpack. When we got there at 3:50, the doors were locked.
The moment he realized he couldn't get his backpack was when he panicked.
My Kid's Anxiety
"Mom! The door is locked!"
"They must have left early. It’s OK. You'll have to pick it up tomorrow morning."
"No! I need you to call the school and tell them to open the door! I will get a missed homework stamp! Call them and tell them I need my backpack!"
"I can't call them. The school people left for the day. You will not get a missed homework stamp, I promise."
"I need to go through the back of the school and get my backpack! I need my work for my test on Friday! I have to get my backpack! Why did they say they would be there until four but then leave early? Didn't they know I was coming to get my backpack?!"
"Calm down. The front desk must not have known we were coming to get it today. Sometimes people leave early. There is nothing we can do, and we'll get it tomorrow. I will email your teacher tonight about the homework stamp."
"Isn't there SOMEONE we can call who is still at school?!"
"No. There isn't. Stop. Let it go."
"I SAID STOP! YOU CANNOT GET YOUR BACKPACK TODAY! YOU DRIVE ME CRAZY WITH YOUR QUESTIONS OVER AND OVER AGAIN!"
"Geez, why do you have to get so mad? I didn't do anything wrong. I just got stitches!" Then the tears.
I'm the Mother of the Year.
I Describe This Story for 3 Reasons:
- Anxiety comes in different forms and at random times. It isn't necessarily consistent or predictable.
- If you as a parent have anxiety, it's likely your child will cause YOU anxiety when they exhibit stress.
- As parents, we need to be self-reflective of our "poor parenting moments" to effectively raise our kids.
My son is a little me. My Korean name is Ji Won. My husband calls him "Ji Two." Our personalities are very similar.
He doesn't react emotionally at the typical times one would expect, and I am the same.
He didn't cry when he saw blood dripping down his face and felt the sting of the deep cut. I didn't shed a tear as a 6-year-old kid after landing on my chin from turning too fast as I flew down a steep hill on my bike, causing a bloody, gaping hole in my face.
Sometimes we don't react, but it doesn't mean we aren't processing. We are still reacting. It's just only in our heads, and you can't see.
Being so similar to my kid should mean I'm better equipped to handle him, right? It's just the opposite.
I am not good at handling my son when he exhibits negative behaviors I struggle with, myself. And when his behavior triggers my anxiety, I am a big FAIL.
But I think half the battle is recognizing this. In doing so, I can work on giving myself better tools to handle my son during HIS moments of anxiety.
Once I have the tools, I can then teach HIM tools to help him manage his feelings rather than contributing to the vicious cycle.
The vicious cycle occurs with so many relationships and families in many forms because we are not able to identify and self-reflect on the causes and how we are contributing to the negativity of the situation. I mean, isn't this emotional life in a nutshell?
How I Should Have Handled My Son’s Anxiety:
- Identified the anxious feeling while it was building up inside. In my head, I should have said, "Jake has been calm for the past 3 hours since getting cut. His anxiety is coming out now with the backpack."
- Shown empathy. "I wish the office wouldn't have closed early. It sucks we can't get it when you wanted it today, and they said it would be there. I wish there were someone we could call. I understand why you are upset because you wanted your homework."
- Had a counter conversation. What is your brain telling you? Is this reality? Is it the truth or a bully trying to make you worry? Counter the belief with thoughts of reality. So if one bubble (like in a cartoon) from your head has the feelings of worry and fear, what would the other bubble say to counter the anxious belief? "Why do you think you will get a missing homework stamp when you had to leave school injured and didn't have a chance to get your backpack? Do you think your teacher would punish you for getting hit in the face and the office closing early? Do you think if we explain what happened, she would understand?"
- Played out examples of worry and things that could happen to demonstrate that the reality isn't so worrisome. "Let's say you get the missing homework stamp. We can talk to your teacher afterward. And regardless of what happens, mom and dad will know you shouldn't have gotten the stamp. We'll know the truth."
And after the moment has passed, when your kid isn't anxious anymore,
Have a conversation about how to:
- Identify the anxiety when it comes.
- Be an observer of the anxiety. Give it a name like it's a bully trying to get you in a bad mood. Encourage your kid to stand up to the bully.
- Calm themselves down. Take deep breaths, distract themselves with other thoughts, play a game, etc.
As I write this, it all seems like common sense. When things are spelled out to us, they become so apparent. But sometimes things are foggy, and we need help to see the view.
These are tools that will also help adults with anxiety. I know I will utilize them for myself, in addition to using them for my son.