Contributed by loving mother, Jennifer W.
It breaks my heart every time my daughter has one of her “fits.” She can be a happy, sparkling seven-year old one minute, then practically hyperventilating the next, screaming at the top of her lungs and fighting against the world over something I can’t see or relate to. Sometimes, she is like two children–one is calm and confident, the other is a wild beast backed into a corner. When she has an anxiety episode in public, I feel so helpless. I want so much for her to just snap out of it, but I know that in her reality whatever is causing her anxiety is something that she can’t control. At home, we have some weapons that we are using with some success some of the time, but like most parents of children suffering from anxiety, we are still learning!
Bedtime seems to be a big trigger for her. She can become so convinced that something is going to come into her room and get her that no amount of reasoning can help. One particularly bad night, when I was exhausted from reading just one more bedtime story in order to put off the inevitable alone time in her room, I thought of a technique one of my old high school teachers used with our class before exams to help calm us and relax us so that we could focus on our tests better – visualization. I had my daughter close her eyes and picture her favorite place, the beach. I told her to imagine that it was the safest place on earth, and that when she was here she was invincible, just like a superhero. I told her to imagine that I was there, if she needed me to be, and that nothing bad could come there ever.
It took a good ten minutes or so, but she did calm down and start to relax enough that I could finally slip out of the room. She still woke up and got in my bed, but since she started out in her own I claimed it as a victory! We have since added a relaxing CD of ocean waves that she will sometimes play at bedtime to distract her from her anxiety. The visualization and relaxation techniques definitely helped to take her mind off the things, she uses it to relax and prepare mentally for sleep.
Sometimes she has anxiety outbursts that seem to come out of the blue. This happens a lot during the morning school run, when she will suddenly refuse to leave the car in the drop off line at school. She will hide behind the seat and scream, breathing quickly and with a look of sheer panic on her face. I didn’t understand that this was anxiety the first few times it happened, and I literally dragged her out of the car and pushed her into the arms of a teacher before driving away. I was so embarrassed and angry! When I finally realized that she was reacting to an anxiety attack, I felt embarrassed and angry for another reason; I had acted like I didn’t even care! My poor daughter needed me and I didn’t even have a clue! Now that I know what is going on, I can avert a “situation” by simply parking the car and walking her to the door, or having a favorite teacher meet us at the car. It is not easy, but as a mom I am prepared to do what it takes to help ease her through this.
At home, an angry outburst can occur if I scold her, and she becomes anxious and angry because she doesn’t know how to handle the feelings of helplessness. We try to get her to focus on deep breathing, in through the nose, and out through the mouth, to help her calm down and relax until the anxiety passes. It’s not perfect, but it helps. Sometimes just the act itself can help shift her focus from the anxiety to the humor of the faces she makes when she takes the deep breaths. We try to laugh off the incident that caused the bad reaction whenever we can. It’s a fine line between mollycoddling and coping some days, but you become as skilled as any circus tightrope walker when your child has these types of problems.
Every day is different, and some are worse than others, but some are amazing and you really appreciate the good days. We have a phrase in our house, “how do you eat an elephant?” The answer, of course, is “one bite at a time.” Whenever we are having a bad day, I just repeat this to myself or my daughter, and we remember that we will get through the day one bite at a time.