Monday, January 27, 2014

Please Don't Touch Me! {Dealing with Anxiety in Kids}




As the holidays approached and we were getting ready to visit family and friends, I was tempted to create a festive and sparkly sign to hang around my daughter's neck.

As we visited a new-to-her preschool last week I wanted to do the same thing again. I wanted to create one that could be seen from the front and one that could be seen from the back.

The sign I wanted to make would've said, "Please don't touch me," "I am really overwhelmed right now" or "I am really nice if you give me some time to warm up." Another main sign that I'd love to hang on her neck would say, "Be kind. I'm trying to hold it together."

Do you have a child who experiences a lot of emotions and anxiety like I do?

Does spending time with family and friends and new people sometimes cause a lot of anxiety for you or your child?

How do you prepare for so many unfamiliar situations, people, and routine changes? How do you help alleviate your child's anxiety?


Here are a few things that I do to help alleviate my child's anxiety in new settings or in high stress one (lots of people)...


1. Stay in close proximity when around new people. 


I usually like to have 1:2 or 1:1 ratio with my child to give optimal attention when she is especially anxious... at least initially. My husband and I usually tag team so that if there is an event we are at (or hosting), one of us is with her while the other mans the other two kids. As she gets more comfortable, we can ease up.

2. Have low expectations and allow for choices... recognizing child is just trying to hold herself together. 


For example, I don't make what she eats for dinner also become a battle when we are in a stressful environment, I just let it go for that day.

3. Model appropriate language to use. 


When my daughter is stressed out she may cry and not communicate in helpful ways... like hiding behind me, yelling NO and GO AWAY or just screaming at other kids. I used to just say "use your words" but now I try to give her the words to say and that seems to help a lot. When she is stressed out her brain seems to shut off and she's unable to think of the right things to say to communicate what she wants effectively. I also talk to her in short phrases, not big long sentences and I keep the language positive. I also try and tell her what I WANT her to do, not what I want her to stop doing.

4. Recognize that the new faces, routines, situations can be uncomfortable/stressful/scary and acknowledge that verbally and offer emotional support. 


I give hugs, hold her hand, and say supportive things.

5. Be realistic with amount of time you spend with new people/new situations or in situations that cause anxiety.


This part is hard for me. My other two kids are super social and love new people and love spending time with family members and friends. I can't avoid situations that cause my daughter stress or else we might never leave the house or hang out with friends/family. I have to remind myself each time that it is going to require a lot of work to have a good time with friends/family. I do try and limit the time frames so that we don't stay in stressful situations for too long. I'd rather keep it short and positive... and increase the length over time than keep things super long and have it be a negative experience. 

6. Try and stick with bedtime/naptime routines


Kids who are already anxious will have an even harder time if they are overtired or off schedule. We try and stick to bedtime schedules when we are visiting family for this reason.

7. Bring a familiar object or find a comforting activity when you arrive at a new setting 


I love finding blocks, legos, little people, calico critters, or any other toys that we have at our house. They seem to be great calming activities for my daughter when we get to new places. Sometimes we'll even bring a toy with us that is a comforting object.

8. Encourage people to give child space and wait for him/her to come to them/initiate interactions with them.


This is super hard. Many adults touch kids without thinking and grab them for tickles, hugs, pats on the head, etc. Some just get too close for comfort and invade personal space too quickly. For my daughter this typically causes an immediate negative reaction which can lead to an hour of being upset and completely ruin a visit/social event. If my daughter is given space at the beginning of a stressful or new situation she will typically come around after a little bit and be totally ready for hugs, tickles, etc. 

9. Don't require expressions of affection- offer choices-- hug or high five, don't push it. Be respectful.


Many older adults can have a hard time with this. They get a little offended and feel that expressions of affection should always be given. I am of the camp that you have to earn those expressions of affection and kids have moods just like adults do. If my daughter is having a rough day, the last thing she wants to do is give her friend or grandma a good-bye hug. I definitely can see how it can be hurtful to ask for a hug and not get it. I always try to encourage my daughter to give some sort of expression of affection... but somedays it might just be a high five instead of a big hug. 

10. Prepare ahead of time.


Before we head to a social event (or have friends over) we try and talk about what is going to happen, who is going to be there, and appropriate ways to act/talk. Last week when we visited preschool we talked about how to greet the new teachers, how to take turns with toys, and what to do if she was feeling nervous. Talking about it helped alleviate a lot of anxiety! It wasn't perfect, she still was stressed out, but we had several positive interactions and experiences too.

11. Take breaks


If you are in a stressful social situation with your child and it is hard, take a break. My husband is great about taking my daughter off to a quiet room away from people and letting her play. Sometimes a few minutes of that is enough to help alleviate her anxiety so that she can return and interact more positively and happily. Over time she is learning to take breaks without one of us initiating it which I think is a great coping skill.

12. Change your attitude. 


As I mentioned before, I've had to change my attitude about social situations. For me they are events that give me energy, are fun, and make me happy. For my daughter they seem to cause anxiety and are draining for her. She loves friends and being social, but on a smaller scale. As I spend more time preparing her ahead of time and managing my own expectations about the events, I am able to have a better time too... and I dread social events less. I have also learned to keep events that I control smaller so that she can have more fun and be happier.


I have to remind myself that the work I am doing to help alleviate anxiety and help my child will help her feel secure enough to try hard situations in the future... and not just avoid or escape them. Sometimes I am even surprised by situations like the one below when she'll go on stage and dance her little heart out in front of other people... despite being nervous.




I am not a therapist or child psychologist or counselor. I am just learning along the way. I don't know if what I am doing is the best possible thing for my daughter... but I am trying. If you have any advice or are more experienced in this area, feel free to share your tips with me!

How do you help your kids in social situations where they feel anxious? Any tips for me?

97 comments:

  1. One thing that I've found helpful is to try to give them the schedule for the day/afternoon/event ahead of time as much as possible. My oldest son, at that age, used to need to know the plan from breakfast onwards or he lost it when a new activity was introduced, even one that he loved.

    I love that you give her words to help her express herself! In the heat of the moment it's probably very difficult to remember how to express herself kindly. You're doing a great job!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That is a great suggestion Erin D. I have been trying to do that since reading this and it has helped!

      Delete
    2. I am hoping you all check out my book ...trust me I've tried everything also and this seems to work www.missingmommycure.com

      Delete
    3. I also do this for my over anxious, highly emotional child and it works WONDERS. She is a creature of habit and scheduling and offering "the Plan" for her day makes her feel more comfortable in these overwhelming situations.

      Delete
  2. Something I've tried with my 5 and 2 year old who also have pretty intense anxiety, is an essential oil called wild orange. We do all the prepping and role playing prior to situations that I know will cause stress, which are different for my son than they are for my daughter, but the oil has really seemed to help them. Sometime I diffuse it, sometimes I rub it on them, and sometimes my son asks to just smell it when he feels himself getting anxious. I know not everyone believes in oils, and I was quite skeptical myself at first, but this one especially has really seemed to help my kids.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have never tried essential oils but may look into it Kensey. I have heard great things!

      Delete
    2. We use oils to including wild orange.

      For us, when it comes to going out, less is more in terms of talking about it. Just the facts. Turning it into an "event" makes it more stressful. Of course every child is different :)

      Delete
  3. Thank you for this! I thought I was in the extreme minority, as I rarely see other kids that experience anxiety the way my little guy does. He is my first, so it was so confusing about whether it is truly his personality or whether I parent in a way that causes/encourages him to feel or act that way. It actually helps now that I have an extremely "easy" baby girl. Anything goes with her. I see that he is who he is, and I am not wrong to do what I can to try to make things easier for him (versus steamrolling him like many others - especially in the older generation - suggest). Our main things are having a lot of talks about what is going to happen and what he can do if he's scared or if he misses me. I, like Erin D, try to tell him the order of how things will go and what he can expect. He knows that at preschool he will show up, take his coat off, play, etc., etc., the teacher will turn the lights down, then mommy comes. It really helps. And, like you said, a nap schedule is so critical. He needs his nap so much!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh I am so glad to we can relate. Your suggestions are wonderful and I am also so tired of the "suck it up" 'they need to get over it" mentality. Thanks for stopping by to leave a comment. Hugs!

      Delete
  4. One of my daughters really struggles with this. She is like a different person around other people. At home she is happy, outgoing and fun but she is very reserved in social situations and just overall an anxious kid. I think she might be something of an introvert which I get because I am too. I am not a fan of social events so I know where she gets it from. This helps me to have patience with her.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for sharing Vicky. I had no idea. Btw, we still need to get our kiddos together for a playdate :) We'll have to prep them a lot ahead of time.

      Delete
  5. Such a thoughtful and important post. Will be sharing on my FB page. As a mother of a child with anxiety I so appreciate your words.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Great post filled with excellent advice. My Grant and Sadie are very different in social situations, one an introvert, the other very outgoing. I've seen their parents use some of these techniques to help.
    Karee

    ReplyDelete
  7. I can so relate to this. My son sounds just like this and has been known to have anxious outbursts yelling "don't talk to me!" to strangers & even people he knows. It was really worrisome for a while, and I even sought out help with early intervention, but I've since realized it is within the range of normal and I just need to prepare him before social situations or events. I use many of the tips you've outlined, and learned a couple of new tips too! Thanks for sharing your experience.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I totally get the "don't talk to me!!" treatment too :) What did they say during early intervention? I have thought about going to check in with a child psychologist of something to see if I can get more tools to help her... If you think of any other tips that work for you, definitely share them!

      Delete
    2. My Six year old often yells "Don't LOOK at me"

      Delete
  8. Definitely have wanted to make that sign for my son!
    He usually sticks right by my side when faced with situations that include lots of people (especially lots of kids).

    Pinning this one!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you!! Someone needs to start a sign business, don't you think? :)

      Delete
  9. Great post. I had extreme anxiety as a kid and my mom was the only person I trusted most of the time. It's so encouraging to hear from a mother's perspective how hard you are working to help your daughter. I think something important to remember is that many people deal with anxiety. As a kid, I felt like such a weirdo that I was worried about things no one else seemed to care about. When I was a teenager, my mom confessed to me that she has anxiety, and so does my grandmother. Through my own study, I have learned that anxiety is oftentimes hereditary. For me, that was really helpful in learning that I wasn't alone.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is a relief knowing it is hereditary for me rather than feeling like it's my fault. My daughter has high levels of anxiety at times and learning how to manage both hers and my own is a life long learning.

      Delete
    2. That is a great point Stephanie!!

      Delete
  10. Such great tips here, Kristina! I have seen a lot of these same tips work with my own kids. I think the needs of kids who feel anxious can be easily overlooked, or the children can be mislabeled by the behaviors (oppositional, aggressive, etc.) that are actually just symptoms of the root. Thanks so much for sharing such a great resource!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Amanda! I totally agree with you. I think too often we jump so quickly to label kids that we ignore the characteristics that make up that label that we can actually help. I appreciate you stopping by to leave a comment!

      Delete
  11. What a lucky girl your daughter is to have such an understanding mom! In our case, I was the anxious child and these suggestions sound very helpful for a parent dealing with anxiety in a child. I especially like the idea to change your expectations.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are so sweet and made me tear up. :) Thank you!

      Delete
  12. Great post! It's so tempting to just push our children into social situations instead of letting them warm up to them. Your daughter is very lucky to have such an understanding Mom.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Thanks for this post, I'm going to pin it to my 'emotional literacy' board.

    ReplyDelete
  14. NASA sells tshirts that declare "I need my SPACE", but that may be too subtle for many people. Instead of wishing for a sign, maybe put some of your excellent words onto girly-cut pink tshirts via cafepress or other design-your-own site. Maybe "STOP! In the name of love! And let me warm up first!"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I TOTALLY need to buy that shirt Oh my goodness. Great suggestions :) You should start a company to sell these

      Delete
  15. Thank you For recognizing this about your daughter. I've dealt with anxiety my whole life, my first panic attack we can pinpoint when I was 5. Nobody recognized it as anxiety until I was in my teens. If it has been recognized and accepted as your daughter's is I would not have gone through many of the issues I did.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That is so sad that it took so long. I am so sorry that it took so long. That must've been so hard. Hugs! Thanks for talking a moment to leave such a supportive comment.

      Delete
  16. Thank you for sharing this! I am going to print it out and share it with all my family. My son has extreme anxiety and some of my family just don't get that they need to stop being so overwhelming and pushing him to give them hugs and kisses.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That is awesome. I need to do that too... I think I may just email it to any new teachers as well :) Yay for you for being an advocate for your son.

      Delete
  17. Thank you for this post. I am a daycare provider and have new little girl attending who has extreme anxiety. Of the 10 hours she is here, she has cried for 6 of them (the other 4 are made up of meals and nap times). While it's exhausting for me, I have to remind myself how she may feel. Being in daycare for the first time is certainly a big change and can be very scary. Any advice for how to make this transition easier for the parents, children and provider?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The fact that you are asking just makes me want to cry. What a lucky girl to have someone like you wanting to help make her transition easier. I will think about what has worked for us (or not worked :) since a lot hasn't worked) and will come back and share with you.

      Delete
    2. Something that has helped my anxious kids when I have to be away are 1. Something comforting and familiar. I try to find them a lovey (stuffed animal, blanket) very early in their lives and they use it to comfort themselves. They can bring their lovey when we're going into a possibly stressful situation. 2. Practice. I practice leaving them. We have the discussion about where I'm going and when I'll be back, and then I leave them with Grandma (or someone they know well) for 5 minutes at first, gradually working up to longer times. When I get back, we have the conversation about how I came back, just like I said I would. Daniel Tiger has a great episode where he sings "Grown-ups come back." We've watched that a few times too. My four year old now recognizes when she's feeling overwhelmed and will hold her lovey and sit somewhere quiet to calm herself down. My two year old has discovered that counting to ten helps her calm down. Perhaps these ideas might spark some ideas for what would work for you?

      Delete
  18. Something that really helped me was the book The Child Whisperer by Carol Tuttle. It really helped me understand my little girl better, and so now I can be more supportive of her in these types of situations, and that has made all the difference.

    ReplyDelete
  19. This is a wonderful article - you are right on with all of your points! Having been an anxious child, having my own anxious child and teaching many an anxious child over the years... I know it well and you have "hit the nail on the head"! Giving children gentle help and tools to deal with their anxious feelings, being respectful of what they are feeling and accepting who they are is so important. The same goes for quiet children! The biggest blessing I ever have been given is going through this myself and dealing with my own child... I have been able to help many parents with their questions and concerns.
    (p.s. I am not a quiet adult and anxiety does not stifle me and get in the way of living - I had some great parents and people in my life who gave me tools and accepted who I was!!!)

    ReplyDelete
  20. This really speaks to me for my almost 3-yr old daughter. She is smart, funny, and sweet until stressed with too many (or unfamiliar) people. It takes her a while to warm up, and she will hide under tables to avoid the situation. Thanks for some great ideas to help us both!

    ReplyDelete
  21. I have a child who does not have "performance based anxiety" but who has a lot of "interaction based anxiety" even though, he is extremely social one-on-one. Check out this website, and start now even though it is geared for older kids - figure out how to adapt to younger kids or at least start knowing the strategies for yourself - don't wait for them to grow out of it, or do be able to deal with it when they get to school...despite the huge amount of anxiety, schools are not prepared to deal with it - especially if it's severe.
    http://www.anxietybc.com/parenting/home-management-strategies-social-anxiety-disorder

    Keep a positive relationship with your child - Love wins!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I work in mental health and the anxietybc.com website is one we give out to parents a lot - they have some great strategies. Kudos to all of you for being such great allies to your little folk :)

      Delete
  22. Something that works for us is to give them control of some things and talk about the things that we CAN control- what we wear, what we eat, what colors we use to color, etc. and teaching them that it's okay not to give people hugs or kisses when we leave or to look people in the eyes when first meeting them is okay! Teaching them manners that also allow them personal boundaries and the ability to say no is perfectly acceptable as long as they aren't being rude.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Thank you for this. I have always thought our daughter was quite headstrong and demanding but having read through this I think she may actually be slightly anxious and her outbursts/tantrums could be a coping mechanism. I was an extremely shy child and still struggle occasionally with new situations/meeting new people. I am going to re read through this post next time she has a wobbly and just see if it is related.

    ReplyDelete
  24. I love this post! I agree with all of your tips. Pinned this to my Raising Children board - a great read for anyone who interacts with children.

    ReplyDelete
  25. I'm one of the admins Amanda from A happy home if filled with love and laughter. I have a 6 year old with sensory processing disorder we have Ot appointments and pt appointments every Thursday. Your little one is so adorable. I wanted to say hi and your not alone. massage me any time.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Thank you. My two year old at home is loving and happy but when we're in social situations with other kids he starts pushing and hitting other kids. It has even caused contention with extended family members because they view it as my lack of parenting. I'm grateful to know that others face this same issue and that I'm not alone.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Fabulous tips!

    My anxious child is ten now, and many of these things still apply, though in a more grown up way. For us allowing extra time is one of the best strategies... if it is a situation I know she is anxious about (like a new activity or a birthday party) making sure we arrive with a little extra time so no one is rushed and she has time to go through all her self talk and strategies before she dives in.

    ReplyDelete
  28. I have a 6 year old who is funny & witty at home but very anxious and shy whenever we are out. She has always been this way. The rest of the family is energized by having lots of people around, she gets drained. Over the years we have talked and I use lots of compliments and try not to emphasize her anxiety. Instead of asking if she played with anyone in Sunday school, I asked if she played with something and if anyone else played with that thing as well. I found out by changing how I asked about things that 1. She doesn't like Babies and dolls even if other girls are playing them, she would rather build with blocks, draw and watch people even if that means only playing with boys. 2. She makes really great friends. Her friends are kind and sweet, they are goofy and fun and they are good kids to be around. She takes her time and finds quality friends. 3. She likes herself and is happy doing things by herself amongst everybody. 4 She does request friends to come over so I know she doesn't always want to be by herself. And 5. I love her and how she has taught her outgoing mama to look at the world and all the people in it through a different lense.

    ReplyDelete
  29. some really great tips on here. my son isn't the anxious type, just very subdued at first, so some of these work for us. shared and pinned!

    ReplyDelete
  30. I love your post! My oldest son has social anxiety. I haven't finished the book yet, but so far, I really like "Freeing Your Child from Anxiety" by Tamar Chansky, Phd. It was recommended by the counselor at my nephew's school. She also recommended a workbook called, "What to do when you worry too much", but I am still undecided on that. It looks like there are really valuable tools, but I don't like the title at all. I don't want my children to worry about worrying! I might put a book cover over that part! And lastly, all 3 of my kids love the book, called, "Don't Feed the Worrybug!" Even though it's not 100% targeted to social anxiety, I think it is a good concept and very understandable for kids. We have talked about other types of bugs we don't want to feed, (because when you feed them, they grow). Therapy has also been amazing! He went in Kindergarten, and then again this year at the start of 2nd grade. Play therapy & some CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy). I love the high-five vs hug idea!

    ReplyDelete
  31. My son can be a bit nervous at loud/busy events like parties. I try to arrive early so he is there as the room fills up gradually rather than walking in to a sea of people. Same with preschool, if we get there early and read a story together he is much happier when I leave.

    Also I give him a high 5 when I leave him instead of a hug and kiss because he used to cling on to me when I broke the hug off and get upset, whereas a high 5 he is much more relaxed with, then we have big hugs when I collect him later. Obviously if he asked for a hug I wouldn't deny him one but he never does!

    ReplyDelete
  32. This is a great, welcome post on a difficult topic. Children need to be accepted for how they are!! Sounds like my seven year old who is a highly sensitive child. I have written lots (and plan to write lots more) on being a hsc - it's been a long journey, a frustrating one but also highly rewarding! You can read lots more on my blog: http://lifewithadoublebuggy.blogspot.nl/p/highly-sensitive-children.html

    ReplyDelete
  33. Great post! I would add, since it works for my son, holding his hand or sitting him on my lap, but without paying too much attention to him. I usually do that while I am talking to someone else, checking my email, ...

    ReplyDelete
  34. You sound like a very caring mother. As a teacher, I taught many students who had anxieties. Some parents were so hard on their children it made want to cry.i have never liked to be around crowds of people and when I was it was very difficult. As I have aged.(58-) I learned to cope. Still don't enjoy it but I can do it. Your daughter is blessed with a compassionate mother. With your help she will be fine. However, some teachers are not willing to put out the effort to help children with anxiety issues. If this happens, my advice to you is request a parent-teacher conference and insist an administrator is included. This should ensure compliance on the teachers part. Also a p.e. teacher should be included and you may have to be hard-nosed with them. My experience with coaches and my children when they were in school was not good. Not all but many coaches have no concern for issues like this. Good luck. Again, I applaud you.

    ReplyDelete
  35. My daughter is extremely anxious particularly over noise and personal space, she used to spend parties screaming under the table or sitting outside. I got so fed up with sitting in the corridor with her that we just stopped going places which didn't help, I suppose, but I have difficulties with the same things (although I generally don't hide under tables). The solution was a pair of ear defenders; they seemed to give her a sense of space and protection while still being in the room and sort of joining in. She's gradually needing them less and less, but she likes to know I've got them in my bag just in case :-) Thanks for posting this, it can be very isolating as a parent, especially if you're not socially confident yourself x

    ReplyDelete
  36. That is so interesting Jan, as I experienced this with my eldest child, who from birth would scream if in a room alone (she was in NICU and separated from me initially, which may be significant). At toddler groups she would cry and not integrate.. I had to take her to the toilet with me! as she would sob until she was sick if not. When she started pre-school, she had a fantastic keyworker, but even she said (after 6 months of her crying ALL session) she was at a loss as she had never known a child like it. I felt I must be doing something wrong, but we tried absolutely everything!

    My breakthrough came when I read 'The Highly Sensitive Child' by Elaine N. Aron. It described her to a tee. By changing my prespective to see how she felt (rather than being cross and embarrased by her!) I realised that the best way to help her was to make sure she was in control to some extent. Like your daughter Jan, noise upset her, so we agreed she could put her hands over her ears and had a quiet corner to go to. Within 4 weeks, she had short periods of joining in and progressed from there. She was never an outgoing child through infant school, parties were impossible to attend or leave her still, but as she grew she became less scared of the world.

    Now 12 years old, she has breezed through the transistion to high school as a confident independent young lady with her own mind and lots of friends (and whom I am immensly proud of!).. so my advice would be:

    1) It does get better!
    2) Put yourself in their shoes and give them strategies to help them to 'escape' (not literally!) from situations when overwhelmed.
    3) Be kind to yourself, it is nothing you are doing and do not listen to others who say you should just 'leave them to get on with it'
    4) Let your child know that you are there for them for whatever they need... and provide that safety net.
    5) Try to appear confident (even when you don't necessarily feel it!)
    5) Encourage and congratulate tiny steps of independence (even going to get a toy and then coming back to your lap at the toddler group)

    I agree, having a child like this is SO isolating and you feel all the other parents are judging you (chances are they're just feeling sorry for you as they wouldn't know what to do either!).... it is an experience which undermined what little confidence I had as a parent.. so i wish I'd seen this thread then! But as I said it does get easier.. good luck to all those going through this and hope this thread really helps :) x

    ReplyDelete
  37. I was that kid (and now have one of my own), so I think it's great that you're taking the time she needs to help her process these events. It's so hard to tell introversion from social anxiety at a young age (and I'm no psychologist either) because young children who are introverted don't have the coping mechanisms that adults develop over time and get stressed by events that an adult introvert can handle.

    Your list is great, especially in how you're teaching her to handle her stress by preparing ahead of time, taking breaks, and interacting on her terms. My only suggestion is from my experience; when I was a kid, my mom would remind me before we arrived that the social interaction was temporary and we would be home eventually, where I could curl up with a book. Once I got old enough to tell time, she could actually give me the amount of time we would stay or what time we would leave, which helped. To this day, it helps me to know how long a social event will be and to remember that I can come home and recharge afterwards.

    Thanks for reaffirming some of how I help help my son and for giving me a couple new tools as well.

    ReplyDelete
  38. Your images of your sweet little girl look just like my daughter at that age. It's heart breaking to think of the mistakes I made. The biggest mistake I made was letting everyone call her "shy." Everyone started calling her shy, even her kindergarten teacher. This cemented in her mind the fact that she was shy. She is 9 now and we went to a car dealership a few days ago. The salesman tried to reach out and shake her hand. She looked horrified and just stood there. He said, "Oh, You're just shy!" I saw her eyes well up with tears and realized again how much this label has been hurtful to her. As soon as he walked away, I pulled her aside and immediately talked to her about it. I said, "Did that hurt your feelings when he said that." She shook her head and I said, "Don't let it bother you. He's just shy around little girls because he works with grown ups all day and doesn't know what to say to kids." I just kept my arm around her shoulder and let her know she didn't have to talk to him. Things like that are still a constant struggle. Birthday parties with kids screaming and jumping around are still very very stressful. She doesn't even want to go to them now that she is getting older. She does enjoy get togethers that are one on one or just a few girls. I finally just accepted the fact that it's just going to take a lot more work on my end, like inviting her friend over and supervising them every few weeks so that she has social interactions. There has been improvement, but it is still difficult at times. Another mistake I made when she was younger was not speaking up for her more with teachers. I was a public school teacher before she was born, so I was trying to not be a parent that was too demanding. I kind of wanted to see if she would grow out of it. But, I realized when she went to prek and kindergarten that teachers were not equipped to deal with a high anxiety child. Her kindergarten teacher was really sweet and would help her in many ways, but she also called her "shy" at the end of the year in front of all of the other children and parents, to my horror. I realized I should have provided the teacher with a book like, Freeing Your Child From Anxiety, and asked her to read it and let her know my expectations on the best way to deal with my child (like not calling her shy in front of the whole school!) One thing that helped me a lot was something that a friend said to me... she has a high anxiety daughter too that won't talk to anyone but my daughter or her own family. She said, "I realized one day that it bothers me a lot more than it bothers other people." I thought, "Oh my goodness, you're right." It didn't bother me at all that her daughter didn't want to talk to me. Why did I think it bothered other grown ups when my daughter wouldn't talk to them. Of course some adults are pushy and children can be cruel. But, I learned to help the situation a lot by not reacting when people tried to talk to her and she wouldn't talk back. It happens still and I just completely change the subject. I don't apologize for her or acknowledge it. People may think I'm rude, but it is just so hurtful and difficult for my daughter, that I need her to know that she can trust me. I also want to keep the lines of communication open with her (especially now that she is getting older) so that she continues to tell me when this sort of thing happens or something bothers her and not just deal with it alone. I do make her say "thank you" and "goodbye" to friends and family. But, I don't make her say it to strangers.

    ReplyDelete
  39. A great book to pick up is " The highly sensitive child". I recently discovered the term 'hsp' (highly sensitive person) in myself. The book helped me as an adult. I haven't read the child version but I'm sure it would at least be informative.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I would second reading Elaine Aron's books on highly sensitive children and people - books full of light bulb moments for any parent of a highly sensitive child, or highly sensitive parents. More books to get hold of: http://lifewithadoublebuggy.blogspot.nl/2013/09/9-great-reads-for-parents-of-highly.html

      Delete
  40. There are programs available with professional help. Have a look at this one. http://www.accessmq.com.au/AnxietyInterventionPrograms

    ReplyDelete
  41. Hi, I am a Naturopathic Doctor in Ottawa. One of the patterns that I have noticed (pattern...so not with every child with anxiety) is the presence of food allergies. If the nervous system is reacting around the clock to something that is irritating the body, then it is working on a level that is already fired up. Add this to a new situation, one that requires the nervous system to quite normally and naturally fire off in a "fight or flight" mode and the poor little systems are quite overwhelmed. It's good to look at all of the things that could be potentially stressing their bodies and then remove the ones that we can and help them manage the ones that we can't change. Dr.Vivienne Guy, ND. Ottawa Canada

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This is so fascinating that you post this and I'm reading it now. I have a daughter who seemed fairly outgoing as a baby and young toddler, but then seemed to be plagued with anxiety. While I can attribute this somewhat to a traumatizing event, I have suspected for a time that she has food sensitivities (specifically lactose and gluten seem to provoke both physical and emotional symptoms) and wondered if there might be a link to her social behavior and what she's eating. I actually have an appointment with a naturopath next week to explore this idea and see if they might have some helpful suggestions. *Crossing fingers!

      Delete
  42. Thank you. I have read about not calling your child shy and not trying to reason with a toddler like an adult, but I hadn't read much of what TO do. My daughter isn't really that anxious, but she definitely takes a long time to warm up - she's always the last one in a group to play. I have a hard time not calling her shy as I want to explain her unfriendly behavior to adults and older kids. I guess I'm just going to have to assume they can figure it out for themselves :)

    ReplyDelete
  43. The part where you said her brain shuts off and she doesn't communicate effectively....1000x YES. I'm off to buy Raising Your Spirited Child this afternoon (it's been recommended). My daughter has been so challenging--sandwiched between two easy-going, smiley boys--and I'm sometimes completely unsure what to do with her. She is very angry with me lately but there's also a lot going on (new baby last year, leaving her school, getting ready to move). It's all very overwhelming, even for us grown-ups... Thanks for the tips.

    ReplyDelete
  44. Hi there - What you're doing is wonderful - all very good strategies. Kudos to you for standing up for your child and knowing what she needs.
    Something that works for my son is have what I call "a contribution to the party". It's his social ice-breaker. We all attend gatherings where everyone contributes something, I bring a bottle of wine or a dish when I'm invited for dinner - so I've given my son the same thing. For example, giving him his own digital camera and asking if he could take pictures for me. Think of a social ice-breaker that works for your kids. It sure helps.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What a great idea! Thanks for sharing

      Delete
  45. Great advice! I too have an anxious child. She used to be fairly outgoing when she was really little, but at age 3, we went to the Oregon Coast for a wedding and she was so excited by the idea of the ocean (we'd been talking it up a lot), she ran right out into the ocean and was immediately pulled under the water by a big wave. She was only under for about 2 seconds, if that, before I was able to grab her, but they were 2 very long, scary seconds for all of us. She was so traumatized, and lost her ability to trust in pretty much anything except us, her parents. She easily becomes anxious with anything unknown and has major separation anxiety, even still, nearly 2 years later.

    We have been working with her like crazy to resolve fears and anxiety on her schedule, but it's been really difficult for all of us. I had no idea that such an event could change a person so drastically. :( This is all really great advice. I think the biggest one for us is to communication EVERYTHING! If she goes into a situation knowing what to expect with nearly all scenarios examined, she can handle it so much better. I know we recently had to take her to the doctor because she had an awful cough, and before the nurse took her temperature or BP or whatever, I'd let her know what was about to happen and the purpose for every action so she wouldn't question it. The nurse kept giving me weird looks and eventually commented that she thought it was strange that I'd tell her everything that was about to happen and that to her, it seems like that would cause more stress and she wouldn't do that to her own child. "It's far better to just surprise them and get it over with than to get them worked up!" I was so ticked off at her questioning my parenting! It was obvious to me that she doesn't have a child who deals with day-to-day anxiety, and that by taking her advice, my daughter would likely never want to go to the doctor's again because it'd be full of the scary unknown. It's just difficult because many parents don't have to deal with the constant emotional ups and downs and will comment, "It's just a stage" or, "is she always like that?!", or even, "Well, you could just be overreacting and she's picking up on that". I'm glad to know there are others out there who understand and can offer friendly advice. :)

    ReplyDelete
  46. This is great. My daughter was like this when she was little and was very comforted from knowing "the plan" way ahead of time. If there were any changes, they needed to be communicated asap. Now that she's in 1st grade, that anxiety seems to have transferred to school. She gets very nervous/anxious about her schoolwork even though she gets all A's and does very well socially. Essential oils, as mentioned previously, have helped a lot. orange and Jasmine are amazing for her.

    ReplyDelete
  47. What a great post! My son is extremely outgoing, but he has been struggling with some pretty severe behavior problems at school, some of which are anxiety related. We've noticed that once he gets upset, he needs help resetting his mood. When he was about two or three, we started a mantra whenever he cried from frustration or inexplicably. I always ask him the same yes or no questions: Are you hurt? Are you safe? Does mommy love you? Do you love mommy? Does daddy love you? Do you love daddy? Nine times out of ten, he stops crying by the third question, and is completely calm by the fourth one. Reading your post reassured me that I'm doing right by my kid, even if others don't see it. Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  48. My daughter (4) is the same way. This post really resonates with me and helps me to know that this is normal! Thanks for encouraging us to support our kids where they are, instead of pushing them to be how we wish they were. One thing that has worked well for us is to guard our language as we communicate with others about how she is feeling. When strangers would approach her and she'd recoil, I used to say things about her like, "Sorry, she's shy." I realized that was not empowering or protecting her. Now when people who we don't know approach, I tell them something like "We've taught her not to talk to strangers" or "It's hard to talk to people we don't know" or something along those lines. I'd rather offend a stranger than make my daughter feel like I'm not on her side!

    ReplyDelete
  49. I wish I had read this when my daughter was little. She is now 25 and preparing to be married. I actually did most of these suggestions, and believe me - they do work, no matter what the age! When she graduated from High School, my introvert, shy, anxious daughter was confident enough to sing the national anthem at her graduation. She was able to leave home and go to college - a small one - and to become a resident assistant. With her background she was able to help many of her students overcome difficulties. I think we should not just look at this short term, but also how to help our children grow and mature and handle adulthood with less anxiety. We have agreed with her that she deserves the wedding of her dreams - one with only her and his immediate family. You all are doing a great job!

    ReplyDelete
  50. My 4 year old daughter gets nervous around new situations as well. As she gets more involved in extracurricular activities, we go through a round of tears before she gets comfortable enough to play without me. After dealing with this in ballet, when she began softball and cried through the first several practices, I cut a piece of an old shirt of mine that became a lovey for her when she was born and put it in her pocket. Since most of the tears come with cries for me, I reminded her that the shirt piece represented me, and that I was watching and always with her. I've noticed her on the field dig into her pocket to feel for it and luckily haven't had the anxiety she had before.

    ReplyDelete
  51. Thanks for this article. Added it to our FB page for benefit of our users.

    ReplyDelete
  52. Thanks for the article. We added it to our FB page for benefits to parents.

    ReplyDelete
  53. Great article! My now 9 y.o. son used to suffer from such anxiety. He still does in certain situations. I would always prepare him ahead of time by "taking him on a trip". I would have him close his eyes and I would describe all the things he would see, hear, smell and touch, and feel, including colors and weather/temperature and his reactions. I would describe the people I knew were going to be there, as well as "new friends" we just hadn't met yet, and what they would say to me and to him. I would describe the whole event, even as far as the return to me or dad or home. He would tell me that the event or whatever was just like I had described. He started asking me to take him on "trips" himself and even when there was no new place to go. He still does occasionally. Disneyland is his favorite place to go.... and it costs nothing but about 20 minutes of time. Hope this approach can be helpful to others, too.

    ReplyDelete
  54. Thank-you for the post. I have shared on a group FB page I belong to support people/children/parents who suffer from Selective Mutism (SM) which is an anxiety disorder. Have found some of these strategies useful myself in the past, but the are some I hadn't thought of that I will try when the situation arises. Thanks again for sharing!

    ReplyDelete
  55. I have anxiety and I wish there was this kind of awareness when I was a child. It was very lonely for me, facing the world with anxiety-- not understanding why things were so hard for me, why I couldn't be like the other kids. While I think a lot of the things you mentioned would have helped me, being forced into social situations has helped to teach me how to deal with my anxiety in the real world. Having to find my way through and learning how to cope by experience made me strong and able to function "normally" (whatever that means!). When I tell people I have an anxiety disorder, they often say "I never would've known!" and that is my greatest victory.

    ReplyDelete
  56. Phew, so glad I've just found this article and all your comments. Thought we were the only ones with the same problem, my 22month old daughter clinging to me and crying whenever we go to a new or unfamiliar party or toddler group etc. no other toddlers I know do this, so have felt very alone with this problem, and have been trying everything to help her, but not really knowing the cause or what was best. Will be following all the advice and reading some books ! Little tear of relief in my eye. Thank you everyone.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not alone at all! My daughter is the only one of her friends that cannot just jump in to a social activity. (She is a born introvert, just like her Daddy!) When she was that age she would cling to me like her life depended on it. Just keep by her side, reassuring her that you aren't going anywhere

      Delete
  57. These are all good tips, Kris!
    But, there are some other ways and things to know to deal with anxious kids, like:
    Tell them stories, let them make friend, introduce them to new activities, and listen to their "this is how's my day going".
    I think you should try these tips, Kris. But yours are all great tips! thanks for sharing!

    ReplyDelete
  58. As a young adult who suffered through a childhood of an undiagnosed anxiety disorder and as such continues to struggle daily, thank you for this. Hopefully it will keep other kids from having the same struggles I did. Your daughter is blessed to have such a wonderful and compassionate mother. Mine simply didn't understand what I was going through and my "requests" for alone time turned into power struggles between me demanding to be left alone and her not wanting to give in to me. I was frequently called difficult or controlling among other things.

    A couple of tips for as she gets older:
    - if you seek therapy and/or medication, allow your daughter to be involved in her treatment. Don't make it shameful or a secret and depending on her age, let her take an active role in her treatment.
    - remember (and remind others) that you can't punish the anxiety out of her, even when she behaves in a less than favorable way (screaming for space, etc.)
    - it seems like you already realize this but misbehavior (again the screaming, etc.) is a form of communication. She's trying to tell you what she needs, not be difficult and demanding.
    - respecting her need for space, to leave an event, to not interact with someone is not giving in or letting her steamroll over you. Don't let anyone tell you that you should just force her to put up with whatever it is.

    ReplyDelete
  59. I'm grateful for this post because I can relate on a different level. I just kept picturing myself as the child in these scenarios and realize that it's OK for me to make some concessions for myself when I feel anxiety before and during large social interactions.

    ReplyDelete
  60. I have a related question -
    My daughter (3) is just like this in big social situations, and once she decides she's ready, she has a blast. I already do lots of these techniques with good results from her, but my one drawback is with other adults or kids really wanting to involve her before she's ready. They're not doing anything wrong . . . but what I'm looking for is a way to communicate with them that she needs some time first without saying something like "She's shy." I hate this. I feel like it gives her a complex, an excuse to be withdrawn and hide, when all she needs is time to adjust and find where she is comfortable. Any suggestions on how to tell other people to kindly give us our space until then?

    One other suggestion I have is to show up early. If it's an event we've talked about and we know there will be lots of people, I try to get there at the beginning, if not early. She has a little time to get familiar with the space and a few other people and watch as the commotion and energy builds. Seems so much easier than being thrown into a full-swing gathering!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I try and talk to people when she isn't around. I don't label her as "shy" but say something like "she needs a few minutes to warm up" or "she'll be ready to play in a little bit, just leave her alone for a few minutes." Works well for me. It is harder when we are with family who she knows well and she all of a sudden clams up than with friends. Family members seem to get a little bit more offended or don't leave her alone.

      Delete
  61. LOVE THIS! Thank you for posting this...it is my daughter and family almost to a "T". I am SO sharing this! Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  62. I have a 4 year old who struggles with anxiety. She lashes out with she is anxious very aggressively which people look at like she is just mean but she is just a hot mess of nerves and she knows if I hit him he will leave me and my stuff alone. We actually made the hard decision of putting her on a low dose of anxiety meds. I didn't want her to get a reputation as a "mean girl" when really she was dealing with a huge amount of anxiety that some adults don't know how to handle properly. Our Dr. told us that it is hard to reason with adults enough to teach them coping mechanisms and that is why she felt like medicine was necessary. We are hoping it can rewire her in a sense to where as she gets older and has more tools to deal with anxiety on her own she won't need medication any more and being medicated now may prevent her from developing unhealthy coping mechanisms. It has not made her an unemotional zombie - she is still her with just a little bit of the edge taken off. She is still ready to fight someone if she feels like they wrong her :) but the difference is she doesn't think everyone is about to do something to her!

    ReplyDelete
  63. I am tearing up as I read this because I have been there with my now 14 year old. I thought we were the only ones or I was doing something wrong. I was even afraid to have another child, but her sister is so different, it has helped the anxious child relax in many circumstances. I will say that my daughter's intense anxieties have brought us very close as we used many of the techniques you have mentioned. I especially recommend getting places early, while its quiet. It can be a lonely, self-judging place when you feel like everyone thinks you're over nurturing them so thank you for sharing so others know they can love their kids through.

    ReplyDelete
  64. I relate to your situation so well. I, like you, am always comfortable and ready for social situations. My first child, a daughter, is a carbon copy of me. We get energized by people. My son was a different story. He would almost wince in pain if people spoke to him. I used to call him my third leg, because he spent a lot of time wrapped around one of mine. I would tell people not to talk to him as he found it too difficult to handle. This continued until he was about 6 or 7 when he found a nice group of friends at school and had made a comfortable social circle for himself.

    In high school my son took to the stage. Our daughter had been very involved with theatre but we had assumed that Jay would be a techie, behind the scenes guy. But to our amazement he auditioned and initially landed small or group parts. He loved it so much that in his senior year he played the part of Captain von Trapp in the Sound of Music.

    In college he studied philosophy and world religions but still remained active in drama. Often getting major roles even though he was not a theatre major.

    He took off after college and toured the United States and then left to teach in China. This is where he met his wife and they are now both teachers in a bilingual school in Vietnam. Today Jay is a very self assured young man. He does not do small talk very well, but if there is a subject that he is interested in he will actually talk your ear off!

    So hang in there, protect your daughter as much as possible in these early stage, but watch for her emergence at different times in her life. Once she finds something she really likes it will be the fuel that overcomes her anxiety. But most of all, enjoy every stage. Both my children are now grown up and married, it seems like only yesterday they were snuggling up on the couch for a story. I am sure you have heard this from many sources, but it does not make it any less true.

    ReplyDelete
  65. As an adult introvert I'm so happy to see parents now accepting and embracing this. I grew up as the only introvert in a family of very extroverted people - they thrived on social situations and I was always scolded because I wasn't normal.."it's a birthday party! why would you not want to go to a birthday party?!" and pushing me to be affectionate with strangers (like giving dinner guests hugs and having to introduce myself to people at parties). It was only when I was an adult did I figure out that being introverted is not being anti-social and there's nothing wrong with it - I grew up shamed and blamed for not being like the others in my family. It was like my world changed when I understood this is normal (for me) and how to make myself more comfortable. Since finding this out I have learned to embrace it and haven't had one panic attack since and my family still doesn't really get it but I do and that's the important thing. I know not to accept invitations to events that make me uncomfortable (working myself into a migraine the whole week before the event and then suffering through it, requiring at least a day "unplugged" from others after)...instead I have a few really great friends who understand they don't need to invite me to their parties but we can go together 1-on-1 later that week for a nice dinner or something.

    ReplyDelete
  66. We have two daughters - one turns 3 in few months, and the other turned 1 in few months.

    We are both extroverted people, love going out, social interactions and all. Even in the younger one, you can already see her social behaviour is closer to ours, she seems to be empathetic at such a young age. The older one on the other side seems to be a strong introvert. When during our holidays, we offered her to stay up longer and go dancing with us at kids disco, she totally crushed on us, and for days after that would sometimes exclaim "no dancing!". When we cuddle with both of them in front of tv before bedtime, she just moves my hand away from her leg. And when she's upset she's complete in "no touching mode". Starting kindergarten was hell, fortunately the stuff was very helpful and allowed her to wander to other class, to her preferred teacher.

    I've been reading this book, "raising your spirited child" and I must say it gives plenty of clues, and even more hope. We have got her a kids watch for Christmas, that has colours and animal pictures instead of numbers, so we can explain to her when will something happen (she's a planning freak, like her mummy :)) I even made a plan for her day at school and I will surely make those plans for any unusual days that happen.

    She doesn't throw many tantrums, but when she throws one it can be very intense. As a baby she would bang her head on the tiles, causing bumps on her forehead. I quickly learnt to take her to bedroom and stay there with her until she cools down, offering comfort or space, whatever she needs at the time. Only later I learnt the idea of "time-in" which suits me so much more than a "time-out" on many levels.

    I don't even know what is the point I am trying to make here. We don't know if what we're doing is right. We are a bit scared of her intensity and low social skills. Definitely don't want to change her, we embrace her qualities a lot, but I do hope that her social skills will grow to be sufficient not to cause her pain of rejection in future life.

    Hold in there :)

    ReplyDelete
  67. i love that you give her a "high five" option. I find it very rude that some adults try to force hugs and kisses onto children. They might think they know the child, but if it's an auntie that you see once a year at christmas, then she's a stranger to the child. I don't want to hug and kiss strangers so why would my kids? my daughter has high anxiety too and even though she's getting big (she's 4), my husband carries her into big social events so no one tries to hug her. being close to him lets her see everything while getting used to the noise and commotion.

    ReplyDelete
  68. This is a great post. My daughter is similar to yours and I also struggle with limiting the scope of a new situation so that it doesn't become too much. So often, I only realize it after the fact that we've stayed too long at a party or social event. I'm always trying to get better at that!

    ReplyDelete
  69. Great post and ideas, Thank you. My 2 year old daughter is an introvert (like her parents) and I really struggle when people label her shy. We do the offer of a high five, which really helps, instead of a kiss. It doesn't help that our family are a long way way, so she only sees them infrequently an it's all or nothing. Making visits longer helps, so she has time to warm up to them. We also use photos a lot so she knows who people are. X

    ReplyDelete

Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment! Please know that if it isn't kind or adding to the conversation, it won't be shared. I moderate each comment, so you won't see your comment show up immediately when you post. Thanks for stopping by to visit my blog.

Related Posts with Thumbnails