It’s tough enough to deal with the daily stresses that come with being a parent, but when you have an extremely anxious child, your own anxiety can shoot through the roof!
I had always considered myself a pretty calm person, but something happened when I had kids. The pressure of being a mom to three young kids was unbearable at times. Just getting through the day was sometimes difficult, but then throw in trying to understand and deal with children who had major anxiety problems – I thought I would go crazy.
Here are a few of the things that have helped me manage my own anxiety and be in a better place to help my children.
In the moment of meltdown
Remember, your child is not the enemy!
When my children are on the rampage I subconsciously view them as the enemy and my body and emotions ramp up to fight with them or defend myself. Especially when I am the target of their tantrum! It is helpful to frame the situation as “my child is having a hard time and doesn’t have the coping skills to deal with it,” instead of “my child is so out of control and disobedient.”
Pause before you speak or react.
As parents we can be impulsive just like our children. Lashing out verbally or physically in the heat of the moment will leave you with regrets. I know that when I say or do the first thing that pops into my head it almost always makes the situation worse. Take a few deep breaths and let your impulses pass so you can think rationally before you react. Sometimes I need to wait several hours before I react (if the situation will allow for that) so I can make sure I do it in a way that is helpful and not harmful.
Preventive measures to combat anxiety
Take a break.
I know, I know. No parent has time to take a break! But really, you need a little break from your kids on a regular basis. Figure out what works for you. It may be a few minutes every day, or a couple hours on the weekend when you can go out with friends or your partner, or even just be alone with yourself. Find another parent you trust and swap play dates so you both can have some time to yourself. I know leaving your kids with others can be especially challenging when they have selective mutism, but it can also be an opportunity for them to socialize and work on their bravery.
Practice some form of relaxation or mindfulness.
I like to be productive. For many years I just couldn’t see the value of spending an hour, or even 15 minutes on relaxation and mindfulness when there was nothing tangible to show for it. When overwhelming stress hit as a mother, I finally realized that the value of these practices can be measured by way they improve my overall mood and ability to cope with life. Try some meditation, prayer, yoga, tai chi, or simply start a daily gratitude journal.
Toss out the guilt.
Mothers are notorious for feeling guilt! Guilt may spur you on to do better, but most of the time it just contributes to feelings of depression and anxiety. I have given myself permission to do the best I can and let it be enough. We’re all on a journey and nobody is perfect. If you know you need to improve on something, just try to do a little better each day.
Make a plan for next time.
If your life is like mine, there are certain situations that you dread that happen over and over again. For a period of time, one of my daughters was having a very difficult time waking up and getting ready for school on time. The same stressful situation played out day after day. Finally, we started to implement strategies that helped minimize the stress of our morning routine. However, the most helpful thing to calm my anxieties about the situation was planning ahead of time how I was going to respond calmly when my daughter did not get out of bed and then had her epic meltdowns. Planning how you will deal with the situation in advance gives you the ability to draw upon a logical response when your anxiety starts going wild.
Take care of yourself.
We all know this, but do we do it? Regular exercise, adequate sleep, good nutrition reduce anxiety and stress. These are things that tend to take the back seat to many parenting duties. You may not see immediate ill effects from skipping exercise, not getting enough sleep, and eating a poor diet, but you will over time. Start small and do the best you can. It can be tough to make these things a priority, but think of it as a gift for your children, giving them a more calm and responsive parent.
As you help your anxious child, you may realize that they got this genetic trait from you! I recommend this website for help with adult anxiety Anxiety BC. It also has great information about anxiety in kids, including selective mutism. I also like this post from Child Mind Institute Preventing Parent Burnout.
If you have done all you can to deal with stress and anxiety and still feel overwhelmed, seek some counseling for yourself. Finding other supportive parents can also make a world of difference. You don’t have to struggle alone.