From Anxiety

Anxiety

Circle of Control: Disney with a Sensory Sensitive Child

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For the past 18 months I have been dreading the Christmas/ New Year’s of 2015-2016. Now I try to be a happy person so why you say was I dreading this past holiday? Control. I went with my extended family on a trip to Disney World. That sounds like the opportunity of a life time, but my dread came from realizing I could not control much for my special needs child. I expected the worst: insomnia, sensory meltdowns, family arguments and much more.

Circle of Control: Disney with a Sensory Sensitive Kid

Then one day before we left on the trip I took a long hard look at my attitude. I had predispositioned myself and others to have a miserable time. That did not sounds like what I wanted for any of us. So I took a little time out for me to recapture some of the joy. We were headed to the House of Mouse. I researched food we might like to try, rides we wanted to go on, shows to see and the weather. I was a one woman excitement factory! That joy and excitement spread to my family.

We used a Disability Access Pass. As soon as we arrived at Magic Kingdom we got our pass and the cast members asked what accommodations we needed and how they could help us to have an enjoyable time. I stated what we needed and were off!

I was the cheerleader for those tired of walking, the getter of snacks and souvenirs. We counted steps walked on my mother-in-laws fitbit and tried to best our steps each day. I chose to control what I could control and let go of what was out of my circle of control. I could control if we ate, or rested or tried a new ride, but I could not control how hot it was or the speed of an lines we waited in. Each time I felt myself get frustrated, mad or rushed I stepped back to see what could I control and what was beyond me.

My family had a marvelous vacation! I loved seeing Disney World through the eyes of my children and my nephews. This vacation taught me to look to what is in my circle of control and for the rest, I follow the words of Elsa: Let it GO!

Parenting a Child with Anxiety: Experienced Parents Speak Up

Parenting a Child with Anxiety: Experienced Parents Speak Up

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Parenting a Child with Anxiety: Experienced Parents Speak UpParenting a child with a mental health disorder can be scary, frustrating and tiring. Parents often navigate multiple mental health and educational systems and they frequently do it alone.

Scared to discuss what’s happening with their child, ashamed that they did something wrong, worried that disclosing mental health issues will negatively impact their child – whatever the reason, parents remain silent (except in small, trusted circles). The silence makes it easier to misunderstand the realities of childhood mental health issues.

In honor of Childhood Mental Health Awareness Week, we’re taking a peak into the lives of 11 parents who live with childhood anxiety daily. Knowledge can lead to understanding. Understanding can lead to empathy.

Let’s take the stigma out of childhood mental health disorders – after all, 13 – 20% of kids in the US will experience one in any given year (Centers for Disease Control).


What does anxiety look like for your child?

My son will wear a heavy hooded sweatshirt to school, even when it is 100 degrees outside, because he needs to put his hood up to feel safe. His worry is so encompassing that he turns in an incomplete test, simply because someone else finished before him. His panic attacks are an all-encompassing – they grip his mind and his body. During a panic attack, he can’t adequately process the threats in his environment. – M.M.

Anxiety is woefully misunderstood. It can present itself in so many ways, sometimes within the same person, that it takes real courage to try to wrap one’s head around it. – P.P.

My son’s explosive temper is usually triggered by anxiety. – J.Z.

Anxiety comes in sheer waves of panic that can envelope my sweet boy. The biggest anxiety attack he had, he did not remember having. He truly did not recall the complete and utter meltdown/devastation he experienced. I could do nothing but breathe with him until he could sit down. Then I spoke softly and repetitively to him until he could get under the covers. Then I read Winnie the Pooh to a shaking, sobbing 10 year old boy. I used the most unaccented, monotone voice I could muster. His cries finally became sobs, became intermittent chuffles became heavy sleep. It was heart wrenching and very, VERY real. – D. M.

My daughter’s anxiety brings out all sorts of “annoying” behaviors. 
She’s not singing in a really high-pitched voice or whistling or flipping her body around because she’s trying to annoy you. 

She’s not trying to be the center of attention. 
She’s not doing it because she doesn’t care about what you’re saying. 
She’s probably not even aware she’s doing it and she might not be able to stop it right away even if you ask her to.
These are things I have to remind myself on a daily basis. – M.P.

What has been the most difficult part of parenting a child with anxiety?

The most difficult part is that I just want to take it away. I wish I could magically erase it all from his mind. He houses worries in his mind that are too big for his little body to carry. – C.C.

Seeing my child suffer. – H.C.

Being patient — everything takes a long time. Educating family and friends and teachers, finding the right therapist and psychiatrist, treatment and helping him build skills to keep it from taking over. – G.G.

The most difficult part for me is that it triggers my own anxieties. I don’t like to let anything get in the way of offering my children my best. – H.M.

Listening a 7-year old tell me that she wished she were dead and watching her claw her arms because she doesn’t have the words to express what she is feeling is heart-breaking. -K.X.

Accepting that it’s real and then helping others to understand it. – C.G.

It is so hard to know what is anxious behavior and what is just plain kid misbehavior. Establishing boundaries that shape positive behavior and don’t penalize anxious behavior is tough! Our basic rules are that you have to be safe and kind, even in the midst of a panic attack. – M.M.

What advice do you have for a parent who suspects their child has anxiety?

Get professional help. Anxiety can mimic all sorts of other things. Let a professional help you figure out what is really going on. Then you can develop a plan together to help your child. Don’t be scared of medication, if used well it can bring your child back to you and might even save his life. – M.M.

Fight to get them tested. We were told “he’ll grow out of it, aka mature” nope. – H.C.

Don’t be dismissive – be a safe place your child can talk about his anxiety and worries. Even if it seems silly to us, it’s not for them. – G.G.

Lorazepam for the win. – C.G.

Relax. This may take a lot of work — do whatever it takes. – H.M.

Look for the anxiety behind any behavior, from anger to depression to inattention. – J.Z.

Be patient! It does get better. Find something that helps calm your child. For my daughter, art has been a life-saver. She doesn’t leave the house without her sketch pad, but she pulls it out less and less these days. – K.X.

What do you wish your child’s school/teacher understood about your child’s anxiety?

I wish they realized that the child can’t help it – that they think in a totally different way than the teacher might be teaching and that the advice/comments that the parents give them is more true than they think. – H.C.

Anxiety may not always look reasonable to them, and it may not always look like anxiety. My son makes excellent grades, but his worst anxieties are surrounding tests and major projects. He often responds by shutting down and procrastinating. Harping on him to hurry up is therefore counterproductive. – H.M.

You can’t talk someone out of it. Sometimes trying to talk them down to calm them just drags it out and makes it worse. – C.G.

That many of the behavior systems and “motivation” systems they have in place to help kids make kids with anxiety feel worse. – G.G.

We’ve worked hard to help his teachers learn how his anxiety manifests in the classroom and then what does and doesn’t help. Some teachers get it – they know that my son is more than his anxiety. Those teachers are golden! – M.M.

What do you wish your friends and family understood about your child’s anxiety?

That they should include us in parties and activities — for better or worse — and not pity us. I have some great friends who know we may not stay for the full party, or that our son may need to step away from an outing to regroup. But they are gracious and don’t make a big deal so our son can save face and still participate to whatever degree he’s able that day. This has been so helpful, as having an anxious child can be very isolating. – G.G.

We’ve been lucky. Our friends and family have educated themselves about childhood anxiety disorders. They consistently show our son that they want to understand and help – they give him space when needed, provide calm stability during panic attacks and they treat him like any other kid when he’s feeling good. I couldn’t ask for much more. – M.M.

Too much praise or emphasis on an area of anxiety can make it worse — if a child makes good grades or devotes a lot of time to charitable efforts, for example, bragging on them too much actually puts a lot of pressure on them. Sometimes it is most helpful to be low-key and spend quality time. – H.M.

I wish that they [family] would stop minimizing it. It’s a big deal to HIM. Maybe they don’t think x, y, z is scary but it is to him. Don’t discount his emotional experience. – C.C.

I wish other adults could see through surface behaviors and read what is going on beneath the surface. I recognize so many kids struggling with anxiety that manifests as aggression or defiance. Adults need to slow down and take time to really listen beyond the words and actions. They need to understand that most kids don’t know what “anxiety” is, so they say things like “my stomach hurts” or “I have a headache” and hope that someone will figure out what that means. – K.X.

 


Parenting a Child with AnxietyIf you are a parent of a child with anxiety, what do you wish other parents, family, teachers, etc…knew about your child or about anxiety disorders in general?


 

Resources:

When Worry is Too Much: Childhood Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety and Giftedness: What is the Reality?

5 Tips to Conquering Homework with a 2E Kid

Parent and Teacher Resources for Childhood Mental Health

Childhood Mental Health Awareness

Parent & Teacher Resources for Childhood Mental Health

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Childhood Mental Health AwarenessSomewhere between 13 and 20% of kids in the US experience a mental health disorder each year (CDC). That’s 1 in 5 kids – each year.

If you are looking for help understanding common childhood mental health disorders, check out these resources that we’ve put together for you in honor of Childhood Mental Health Awareness Week.


What are Childhood Mental Health Disorders?

An Overview of Childhood Mental Health Disorders

What is ADHD? 

What is an Anxiety Disorder?

What is Depression? 

What are Eating Disorders?

Resources for Parents and Teachers - Childhood Mental IllnessResources for Parents

Treatment for Children with Mental Health Disorders

The 10 Big Questions for Parents

Signs of Mental Health Issues in Teens

Executive Function & ADHD

9 Things Every Parent with an Anxious Child Should Try

Antidepressant Medications for Children and Teens

Suicide Prevention

School Accommodations: IEPs v 504 Plans

Resources for Teachers

How Anxiety Leads to Disruptive Behavior

Tips for Teachers of Anxious Children

Classroom Management Strategies for Kids with Anxiety

School Tips – Helping Kids Who Struggle with Executive Function

Classroom Management Tips for Students with ADHD

Five Common Distractions for Kids with Focus Issues

Common Classroom Manifestations of ADHD

Depression. Helping Students in the Classroom

School and Classroom Strategies: Depression

Responding to a Student’s Depression

Statistics, Data & Policy

Stats from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

A Bill of Rights for Children with Mental Health Disorders and Their Families

 

 

Anxiety & Giftedness

Anxiety and Giftedness. What is the reality?

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Anxiety & Giftedness

Gifted. Intelligent. Brilliant. Genius. = Anxiety. Spiraling fear. Uncontrolled distress. Panic.

Popular culture likes to portray the most intellectually gifted among us as also suffering from mental health disorders. The image of the mad scientist quickly comes to mind when thinking Mad Scientist Rankingsabout extremely intelligent people. Throw in the availability bias that comes from over-saturated news stories about intellectually brilliant criminals like Ted Kaczynski, and it’s easy to overestimate the relationship between mental illness and high IQ.

Honestly, I get fairly annoyed with these characterizations.

Being brilliant does not mean you are also mentally ill, nor does it mean you are socially maladapted. In fact, many researchers have found a protective effect of increased IQ related to psychological well-being. (Check out The Relationship Between Giftedness and Psychological Well-Being, by the folks at SENG.)

Anxiety & Giftedness – Our Reality

I couldn’t tell you how common or uncommon our family experience is. I know the statistics put us far into the minority, but I suspect that pieces of our story resonate with other families.

Our kids are delightful, quirky, caring, eccentric, and funny young boys. Patrick is profoundly gifted and Davis is a classic 2E* kid – he is verbally gifted, but his anxiety frequently gets in the way of demonstrating his talents consistently in an academic setting.

At our house, anxiety really takes on two forms: transient existential crisis and maladaptive worry.

The Transient Existential Crisis

Perhaps you can relate. It’s late at night. The kids are in bed and you are just about to fall asleep. The footsteps on the staircase signal that a kid is awake and the knock on the door confirms that he needs your help.

Patrick ponders heavy questions when he’s alone in his bedroom. Sometimes the questions are too heavy to process on his own and we get that late night knock on the door.

The questions have varied over the years:

BrothersAge 4: If we had lived in the 1950s, Davis and I wouldn’t have been allowed to play on the same playground. Why couldn’t black and white kids play together?

Age 6: If God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit are really the same thing, why do we talk about them as being different?

Age 8: What made Hilter kill so many Jewish people?

Age 10: How do we know that we are real? Couldn’t we be the figment of someone’s imagination? Maybe, we are a computer program – one designed to make us think we have free will?

In our family, these are the expressions of anxiety born out of an intellect that outmatches emotional maturity. These heavy questions cause short-term angst and worry. The transient crisis is directly related to my sweet Patrick’s very powerful mind. It is not a sign of a larger pathology or a mental health issue that needs treating.

Patrick’s existential crises need a compassionate listener and a thoughtful coach. He needs a sounding board and gentle guidance, so he can answer his own questions. So when comes knocking on our door late at night with his worry, we let him climb into our bed and get some much needed cuddling; then we quietly process the heavy issues he ponders.

Maladaptive Worry

Those of you who suffer from a true anxiety disorder (or love someone with anxiety) will understand how very different Davis’ experience of anxiety is from Patrick’s.

Crippling fear that paralyzes the body and stops all rational thought. Sheer panic that grips not just his mind, but also his entire body. It is an over-estimation of and unrealistic ability to categorize and assess potential threats in his environment.

Worry that is so encompassing, that when a classmate turns in a test before him, Davis would rather turn in an incomplete exam than listen to the negative self-talk telling him how dumb he is – even though he knows he understands the material.

Davis’ maladaptive worry also requires a compassionate listener and thoughtful coach. He needs someone who can help him get beyond the self-doubt and who can teach him to make realistic assessments of the world. He needs someone to teach him to calm his thoughts and body when panic overwhelms him.

Davis’ worry is in no way the result of his intellect. It is a clinical condition that requires therapy, medication and ongoing coaching. His intelligence and anxiety disorder do play off of each other, however.

Fortunately, his advanced verbal abilities and exceptional insight into interpersonal dynamics have been a huge boon for the psychotherapeutic interventions we use – increasing their effectiveness. The verbal abilities are almost like a protective effect, making the strategies easier to use and more effective. Unfortunately, the anxiety gets in the way of demonstrating his impressive verbal skills in an academic setting – especially when the clock is ticking on an exam or he compares himself to peers on some unrealistic set of criteria.

Recognize the Difference. Get Help.

The interplay between anxiety and intelligence can make it difficult to separate normal worries from unfounded fears. It is important to recognize when healthy anxiety has slipped into a maladaptive thought process that interferes with life. Worry that interferes with functioning – academic, social or family – probably warrants professional help. If you think someone you love has a kind of worry that inhibits, instead of protects, get some help. (When Worry is Too Much – Childhood Anxiety Disorders)

*2E is shorthand for Twice Exceptional. These are kids who have evidence of intellectual giftedness in one or more area, but also have a disability. The disability typically interferes with the ability to demonstrate the breadth of the giftedness.


Hoagies Blog Hop - Anxiety

This post was written as part of a blog hop hosted by Hoagies Gifted Education.

Check out other folk’s take on the relationship between giftedness and anxiety.

 


Resources:

When Worry is Too Much – Childhood Anxiety Disorders

Is Your Anxious Child Gifted?

The Relationship between Anxiety and Giftedness

The Relationship Between Giftedness and Psychological Well-Being

Existential Depression in Gifted Individuals

The Insanity of Genius: Criminal Culpability and Right-Tail Psychometrics

Photo Credits: Diane CantrellGeekologie

Strengths Based Parenting

Strengths-Based Parenting. How to build on the positive.

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Parenting is hard. You’d think that 10 years and two kids into it, we’d be getting into a groove. But in reality, each year brings new challenges. The challenges are certainly different than in years past – we’re no longer focused on the basics like teaching them to feed and dress themselves – they figured those things out a while back.

These days we spend a lot of time trying to figure out homework routines and coaching the boys through their first crushes. We’re working on emotional self-regulation, personal advocacy and self-management related to homework.

It seems like the stakes get higher each year and the emotional stuff becomes increasingly complex. I imagine that you, like me, are intensely motivated to raise happy, healthy children – children who will become happy, self-sufficient adults.

Strengths Based Parenting

At our house, we focus on a Strengths-Based Parenting approach. It’s not a fluffy, no-consequences kind of approach. Rather it requires that Rob and I focus on the good in our kids, that our first goal is to build on their strengths. We don’t always get there.

The last few weeks have been a struggle. There have been days that I thought the plague had descended on us – a kidney infection, migraines, a concussion, new ADHD medications, a stomach bug. Drop into the mix a new job for my husband and we’ve all been a little frazzled.

I’ve been short-tempered and grumpy. The boys have been hassling each other. Nothing is catastrophic; rather, I’ve just been off my game.

Last week I decided that I needed to course correct. Our family works much better when Rob and I focus on our kids’ strengths and stop trying to correct small annoying behaviors.

This isn’t as flighty as it sounds. These are the practical ways we use a strengths-based parenting approach:

Know your kids.

Don’t just know what they like, know what makes them tick. Know what they look forward to every day and how they express and receive love. Know their strengths. We have used Gallup’s work on Strengths Finders to find common language for our family’s strengths.

Help your kids know their strengths.

We keep our strengths displayed on our fridge. It’s a quick reminder that each of us has unique gifts; that each of us brings value to the family and to every situation we encounter. We talk about how these strengths benefit them and those around them. We work to instill pride.

Strength Finders

Promote a positive self-dialogue.

If I want my kids to think positively about themselves and believe in their strengths and innate goodness, then I have to teach them. I have to teach them how to use positive language when thinking about themselves. If this doesn’t come naturally to my kids, then I have to show them consistently how do to this. My words matter. The especially matter when teaching tools to combat the self-doubt that destroys self-esteem.

Set them up for success.

Davis is a relator. He builds long-lasting, deep friendships. He also likes to explore new things. Sometimes these strengths clash. Our job is to help him navigate and balance the old and the new.

Catch them doing a good job.

Do you know about the Magic Ratio of Praise to Criticism? It says that you should provide praise 5 times more frequently than you criticize. 5 TIMES! Honestly, we should probably be closer to a 10:1 with Davis because of his anxiety disorder. (If you need a place to start, check out the Rubber Band Method of Discipline and build from there.) When we provide positive feedback, it gives him confidence that we know him inside and out. It lets him focus on the good and build on a firm foundation.

Develop a sense of family pride.

We work hard to develop a sense of family pride. It’s something I’m hyper focused on now, during their pre-teen years. I want my boys entering their teen years with a healthy sense of self and a firm foundation of our family values before they have to experiment in creating their own world order!

It seems that the language we have about our strengths, along with our Family Code of Living, helps build a sense of belonging. (I’ll write about our Code of Living soon.)

It doesn’t hurt that all four of us are “Relators,” meaning we like to build deep, lasting friendships.

Focus on their innate goodness.

Kids make mistakes. I try to operate on the assumption that my kids (all kids, all people) are well intentioned. It helps me to see their mistakes as growth opportunities and a normal part of growing up. The malicious attempt to deceive or disobey is rare. My focus must stay on guiding them past a mistake and learning a new way of handling the problem they face.

Give them a chance to shine.

Patrick likes to be the center of attention. Most of the time, it is his “Presence” strength shining through. Davis’ sense of “Confidence” has been known to end in boasting or taunting during a pick-up basketball game. When these get out of hand, it is normally because they don’t have a pro-social way to display these strengths. It’s good reminder for me to channel their strengths into activities that let them shine – like public speaking and drama for Patrick and social justice opportunities for Davis.

 

This parenting thing is hard. We all want the best for our kids and none of us want our decisions as parents to limit our kids in their adulthood. The stakes are high and we are hard on ourselves. (Check out these 10 Tips for Guilt Free Parenting!)

Take a few minutes to think about your kid’s strengths – think about their personalities, not their accomplishments. Find a ways to help them understand what makes them unique and how they shine. Be gracious when they mess up, so they know that their mistakes and missteps don’t define them – their strengths do!

Resources:

How Full Is Your Bucket Gallup Strength’s Finders for kids ages 4 – 9

Strengths Explorers Gallup Strength’s Finders for kids ages 10 – 14

Strengths Finders Gallup Strengths Finders for adults

The Magic Ratio

Praise’s Magic Reinforcement Ratio

The Ideal Praise to Criticism Ratio – Harvard Business Review

The Rubber Band Method of Discipline