Contributed by proud mother and writer, Kelly Harbaugh.
Parents of children who suffer from anxiety have a lot of concerns on their plate. Unfortunately, they often have to deal with an additional issue: judgmental advice and comments from “amateur psychologists.”
Because awareness of childhood anxiety is still thin, adults who are unfamiliar with the problem often misinterpret it as bad parenting. They assume that parents have just coddled or spoiled their child, and feel that it is their responsibility to correct the deficiency.
Dealing with anxiety can be exhausting, and the last thing a parent needs is to feel like she needs to defend herself. Emotions can run high in these situations, so it is important to anticipate the problem and have a plan.
As the parent of a child who had an anxiety disorder, I learned that there are a few necessary tools for dealing with these situations.
Confidence is the most important factor in these situations. If you truly have confidence in what you are doing, then you will not be easily rattled. The amount of confidence you exhibit can also limit the willingness of others to be aggressive with their opinions – or at least diffuse their initial comments.
This does not mean arrogance. It also doesn’t mean that you have all of the answers. We all have moments when we question our decisions.
However, you know your child well and you trust your instincts as a parent. If you have read everything that you can, consulted the experts, and weighed that with your own experience to make decisions, then you should feel confident in the face of doubters. At the very least, you know that you are most likely more informed than the other person.
I try to remind myself that if I did not have a child with this problem, I might have been “one of those people.” I take a good look at the situation and try to see it from their perspective. Having a true understanding of their view is the only way to have a mature, productive conversation.
Give them the benefit of the doubt, and start with the assumption that they are truly trying to understand and help, even if they are not going about it in a tactful way.
Don’t be defensive.
Defensiveness undermines confidence, raises emotions, and invites an attack. Remember that confidence is your most valuable asset in this situation; protect it by keeping your cool. If you find yourself being attacked anyway, then let the issue go. No one said that you have to engage in every battle over childhood anxiety.
Don’t overwhelm people by becoming a walking brochure with 10 statistics in your back pocket. Try to come up with a brief sentence or two that tells people what they absolutely need to know, and save the detail for those who are interested enough to ask.
For example, I have a child who loved to play sports. However, for the first couple of years, she was not able to speak to her coaches. I wanted to give them enough information to be prepared, but did not want them to feel like they had been given a huge burden that would require hours of studying.
When a new coach would call me at the beginning of the season, I would let them know that my daughter had an anxiety disorder and that I just didn’t want them to be taken off guard if she did not speak right away. I would then tell them that she functions well and follows directions well, but it can be easy to misinterpret her demeanor as disrespect, and I thought it would be important to know that ahead of time. I rarely went into more detail, and almost everyone was appreciative and easy to work with.
Accept that not everyone will understand.
While most of our experiences have been positive, there have been a few instances in which people clearly thought I was a nutcase parent. We did have a coach who treated my daughter like she was invisible and made snide comments like “if you are afraid of germs then you don’t need to be playing this sport.”
Besides the fact that fear of germs was not one of our issues, this coach was clearly just an arrogant, bothered man who really wasn’t worth an argument. It was one season, and one bad apple out of several wonderful coaches over the years is not a bad average.
There will be people who are just not interested in learning about your situation. Oh, well. Those are the people that you just have to let go.
Remember that you are setting an example for your child.
When all else fails, remember that your child is watching. Some of the best life lessons can appear as a result of conflict.
How can you expect your child to be confident in difficult situations if they can’t see you handle them gracefully? I know what you feel like saying or doing. I’ve had those thoughts myself.
However, if you can show your child that you are confident and that naysayers don’t matter, then you communicate to them that they don’t have anything to be ashamed of. The message you give them today will be the one that they take with them and apply to their own worth.