For parents of an anxious child, finding ways to cope can be major.
Whether your child suffers with general anxiety or a diagnosed anxiety disorder like Dude 3’s finding a pathway to relief can truly make your life and that of your child so much more livable.
But there is a lot of uncertainty.
We have been on this journey for about 4 years and the only thing I can say for sure is that trial and error rule the roost.
Some of what we do now was useless when he was first diagnosed and some of what worked then doesn’t seem to anymore.
How we help him cope changes as often as his tics themselves it seems.
For those who are looking for ways to help their anxious child, here are some things that have helped ours over the years. (Read Part 1: Our Life with OCD)
Our Anxious Child: How We Cope with Anxiety and OCD
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Before any other medical treatment was sought or engaged in, our pediatrician referred us to a cognitive behavior therapist. I will admit, I was grossly skeptical at first. His OCD is accompanied by motor and vocal tics and those seemed so physical and medical in nature. There was an initial disconnect for me when it came to understanding how cognitive therapy could help treat a physical, seemingly medical, condition. But, that’s why I don’t get paid the big bucks!
The therapy was the single most beneficial thing we have done to help treat his disorders. He learned coping mechanisms. He learned not to feel fearful or ashamed. And, it was integral for me when it came to learning to parent a child with an anxiety disorder. Therapy helped me gain a deeper understanding into what he is facing. Without this, I don’t feel like I would be able to as effectively provide him with adequate daily structure or support.
If you don’t suffer from anxiety yourself, it’s difficult to understand what it is your child is feeling. So ask them. They may not be able to describe it to you, but they may be able to guide you down the path to discovery. Let them tell you what is making them anxious. And how you can help them. Dude 3 is great about saying he needs extra time or more quiet. But, when he was 5 it was harder to verbalize. So I had to listen not just to his words, but to his other actions and cues to help discover what he needed.
And don’t try to rationalize it away.
Anxiety, particularly not at this level, is rarely rational. He mostly knows that it doesn’t make sense that he has to close the doors before he leaves home or that he can’t shower if there is a spec of dirt in the bathroom, but it doesn’t make it go away. And you saying things like, “stop being weird,” or “don’t be ridiculous,” don’t help in the least. In fact, they hurt, and the teach him that he can’t trust you with this.
He really can’t leave until the steps are counted and the doors are closed and the kiss is delivered and he has the last word (he must say I love you last and I can’t say anything at all afterwards). He must do these things. He wouldn’t like to do them. It wouldn’t be fun to do them. He doesn’t prefer to do them. HE MUST DO THEM. Make enough time for your child to perform their rituals and compulsions. Don’t rush them. Don’t chastise them. Don’t judge them. Don’t get mad. A lot of learning to cope with anxiety as a parent comes from learning to anticipate what my child will need to make it through the day and allowing time in my schedule to ensure those needs are met.
Let Your Child Own It
I asked Dude 3 if I could tell all of you about his life because it is his to own or share as he sees fit –he said yes, obviously. But he hasn’t always been in a place where this would be comfortable for him. He spent a lot of time feeling shameful and attempting to hide his disorder which, truly, only made it worse. He still practices suppression at school because he doesn’t want to call attention to himself or disrupt the class. That is his choice. We have found that allowing him to choose how to deal with his anxiety, from his daily rituals to even what he tells people about it when they ask, has empowered him and helped him feel more in control. The therapist assisted with this as well because she gave him the tools to understand and accurately convey what OCD is and how it impacts him to others.
Don’t become obsessed with their obsessions
It’s hard not to focus on them. Dude 3’s change frequently. Some will last months, some only weeks. Sometimes they will combine and become a series. Others have been here all along. There was a time when I was very concerned with them. I’d keep copious notes and make videos of them as proof I wasn’t insane. I’d ask him question upon question about how he was feeling, what they meant, if he could stop them, or if I could. It didn’t help either of us and it really disrupted our lives.
Give It Time
And expect it to be fluid. There are ups and downs. We have had long stretches of time (weeks) where his tic virtually disappeared, in fact, we are in a low one right now (they are there, but they are mild). Our doctor describes it as a form of remission, wherein his symptoms are mild or absent for short periods of time. Other times he has flare ups and these are often triggered by something specific –illness, schedule changes (summer and back to school times are super hard), family discord (when one of his siblings gets grounded it is particularly challenging for him), etc. Anything that disrupts his routine will often trigger a flare up, but we also know that, with time, these usually subside. And, we’ve become so much better about controlling his environment to reduce these instances.
We’ve tried all sorts of things, from books to holistic medicines, to help him. These are the things that have done the best.
Worry Eaters. It is a plush animal with a zippered mouth. You write a worry on a piece of paper and shove it in there, zipping it up where it can’t hurt him anymore. He loves his and places the daytime worries inside each night before bed.
Essential Oils. You can research more about what to use, but we purchased a diffuser that we fill with lavender or chamomile oils each night before bed. We don’t use a certain seller (I know, they probably are better), and I just order the ones linked above from Amazon every month. Pretty simple, very effective for him.
Mesh and Marble Fidget Toy. We liked that they are tiny so he can keep one in each pocket.
Stress Ball. This works better at home or on long car rides.
Rain Sounds App. He usually starts his bedtime routine with this while he is reading at night.
Meditation. We find these on YouTube and they simply walk him through the steps of mediating via a kid friendly story. This comes on after the book is put down. Often, he’s asleep before they end.This is our favorite meditation playlist.
If you feel like your child is struggling with anxiety, speak to your doctor about it. They can help point you in the right direction much better than I can, but this website, Worry Wise Kids, is also super useful.
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