“OMG. Sorry for the verbal vomit for approximately 6.5 miles. I feel better now. Thanks for listening and caring.”
Above is a text I send all too often to my running partner at 6:45 AM after a therapeutic run. It’s amazing how much better I feel after getting it all out and leaving it behind on the pavement (or 4 inches or snow and ice). My running partner doesn’t normally attempt to solve my problems, but she does show up at my house before dawn, listens and then gets me laughing by the end of the run. In other words….she is there for me physically, emotionally and at many times….to remind me of logic. I no longer feel alone in my struggle and sometimes that makes all the difference.
Last week I went to a workshop at Grove’s Academy about helping your child with anxiety. I was quietly hoping there would be a cash bar in the back of the auditorium to help all of us parents dealing with an anxious child. No cash bar, but there was good information, thoughtful philosophical parenting ideas, and Cheetos.
There is so much to go into concerning anxiety. I will only touch the tip of the iceberg and talk about 2 takeaway ideas from the workshop. I also don’t want to simplify something that is so difficult for people. I know so many people are hurting because they or someone they love suffers from severe anxiety and have tried these simple steps a million times. The social worker who spoke at the conference was very insistent that these examples will work when the child is suffering from stress, not an anxiety disorder, which needs professional help.
The first was a stress scale. A stress scale looks basically like a pain rating scale
This is used as a communication tool with your child. When you see them becoming stressed about something, this can be a tool to help the child communicate and understand how to deal with the problem.
0-2: Push through the feeling. Get the job done.
4-6: Child gets to choose if they push through the feeling or calm themselves down.
8-10: Get control and calm down. This is not a time to solve the problem.
If your child is at an 8-10, do not try to solve the problem! Wow. This was incredible and eye opening to me. How many times have I said, “Ok, time to do your homework (or practice violin, or read out loud, or set the table……).” and I was met with a tantrum. Screaming. Pulling hair. Stomping. A regular chorus is, “I hate violin! I’m horrible!!!!!”
What do I normally do? Basically my insides churn, my adrenaline kicks in and my internal monologue goes, “There is NO WAY I’m letting you win just because you are having a temper tantrum. NO WAY. You can’t complain and get out of something….or else you will complain about EVERYTHING in hopes of getting out of it.”
And then I flip out.
Really awesome parenting happens when you are screaming “YOU CAN’T SCREAM ABOUT THINGS ALL THE TIME IN THIS HOUSE!!!!!!”
Instead of 1 anxious person, we now have 2. You can determine who was the first anxious person.
You job as the parent is to help your child understand how they feel on the inside and act on the outside to coincide with the different numbers. With a stress scale, your child determines if they are going to solve the problem or take a break and get calm. When there is too much stress, problems do not get solved.
The second takeaway was the vital importance of a solid and well-connected relationship with your child. This is true for any child, of course, but becomes more challenging with an anxious child. When you child begins to push (see above) don’t push back. When your child screams “I can’t do my math!!!” do NOT ask a “why” question. Why questions, or any question your child can answer beginning with the word “because” only gets your child more stuck. The because is endless…..
because its hard.
because I don’t understand it.
because I hate math.
because I’m horrible at everything.
because my teacher doesn’t like me.
because I forgot it.
The only thing this is accomplishing is the parent getting more frustrated, the child spiraling further into stress and the homework is not getting done. The child continues to beat himself up, when he already felt like a failure to begin with. An angry parent only makes it worse. (this is the point in the presentation where I really needed that drink!) Here was a core belief the presenter shared, and one that I also believe in:
Children want to please their parents.
If the child is struggling in school and the parent gets upset, its a double whammy. In their mind they are failing at school and failing at home. This is not the recipe for a healthy self-esteem and endurance to try hard when faced with difficulty.
A child who struggles in school already feels bad about the subjects that are hard for him/her. I see this on a daily basis with #2. He doesn’t need me to remind him that things are hard by asking a “why” question….he is reminded by how hard school is constantly throughout the day.
A better question when #2 screams “I can’t do my math!” would be, “Can you tell me what you don’t like about it?”
I’m not solving the problem. Quite the opposite actually, I’m validating. I’m letting him know its OK that something is hard. I’m here to listen. I’m here to care. The homework will come later, after he has calmed down (that will happen, right?). But first step, let him know his feelings are OK, it,s safe to let his ugly emotions out, and I will be at his side the entire time.
As I’ve written about before, one of the most important things when parenting a dyslexic child is to listen.
I are their strongest support in a world where they don’t fit into all the time. School is hard enough. Its my goal to make home a place where they do fit in, a place they feel connected and understood.
Quirks, tantrums and all.
Just please don’t as me to listen at 5:15 in the morning, I’ll be out on a run.