How to Help Your Kid Who Has Your Anxiety Gene: By Jen Oliak

Anxiety. Do you have it? If you do, likely your kid does too. So how do you help your kid cope with their anxiety?

Yesterday at school, my son was accidentally hit in the face by the sharp side of a water container when a friend threw it toward him.

Blood was gushing out, but he didn’t cry.  The nurse couldn’t reach me (my phone was on mute at the grocery store, go figure), but he didn’t get upset. My husband didn’t answer his phone either so the school called my friend Julie, who promptly texted me and went to pick him up. By the time she was on her way to the school, I got the message. I told her I’d meet her and Jake at my house. When I got home, he was in good spirits. In looking at the cut, it was obvious he needed stitches. We went to urgent care. He remained calm.

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Jake’s cut

He was a bit nervous in the waiting room about the stitches hurting, but no more nervous than any kid would be.  He was just as concerned his friend was feeling badly about hitting him in the face. And he was worried he wouldn’t be able to get his backpack from school (the nurse said it would be brought from the classroom to the front office).

Jake ended up with 1 deep stitch (in the fat layer due to the depth of the cut) and 5 superficial stitches on the side of his forehead. He was a champ the whole time and endearing to the doctor and medical assistants who took care of him.

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All stitched up.

We rushed over before the 4pm front office closing time to grab Jake’s backpack. When we got there at 3:50, the doors were locked.

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Source: baig-irma.blogspot.com

This is when Jake panicked.

My Kid’s Anxiety

“Mom! The door is locked!”

“They must have left early, Jake. You’ll have to pick it up tomorrow morning. It’s ok.”

“No! I need you to call the school and tell them to open the door! I will get a missed homework stamp! Call them and tell them I need my backpack!”

“I can’t call them, Jake. They left for the day. You will not get a missed homework stamp, I promise.”

“I need to go through the back of the school and get my backpack! I need my work for my test on Friday! I have to get my backpack! Why did they say they would be there until 4 but then leave early? Didn’t they know I was coming to get my backpack?!”

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source: charlesstone.com

“Jake, calm down. The front desk must not have known we were coming to get it today. Sometimes people leave early. It’s over. There is nothing we can do and we’ll get it tomorrow. I will email your teacher tonight about the homework stamp.”

“Isn’t there SOMEONE we can call who is still at school?!”

“No. There isn’t. Stop. Let it go.”

But mom…”

My Anxiety

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(pretend she has black hair) source: clipart.com

“I SAID, STOP! YOU CANNOT GET YOUR BACKPACK TODAY! YOU DRIVE ME CRAZY WITH YOUR QUESTIONS OVER AND OVER AGAIN!”

“Geez, why do you have to get so mad? I didn’t do anything wrong. I just got stitches!” Then the tears.

I’m Mother of the Year.

I Describe This Story for 3 Reasons:

  • Anxiety comes in different forms and at random times. It isn’t necessarily consistent or predictable.
  • If you as a parent have anxiety, it’s likely your child will cause YOU anxiety when they exhibit stress.
  • As parents, we need to be self reflective of our “poor parenting moments” to effectively raise our kids.

Jake is a little me.  My Korean name is Ji Won.  My husband calls Jake “Ji Two”. Our personalities are very similar.

Jake doesn’t react emotionally at the traditional times one would expect, and I am the same.

He didn’t cry when he saw blood dripping down his face and felt the sting of the deep cut. I didn’t cry as a 6 yr old kid after landing on my chin from turning too fast as I flew down a steep hill on my bike, causing a huge, bloody, gaping hole in my face.

Sometimes we don’t react, but it doesn’t mean we aren’t processing. We are still reacting. It’s just only in our heads and you can’t see.

Being so similar to my kid should mean I’m better equipped to handle him, right?  It’s just the opposite.

Do you find that to be true for you, too?

I am not good at handling my son when he exhibits negative behaviors I struggle with, myself. And when his behavior triggers my anxiety, I am a big FAIL.

But I think half the battle is recognizing this. In doing so, I can work on giving myself better tools to handle my son during HIS moments of anxiety.

Once I have the tools, I can teach HIM tools to help him manage his feelings. This will in turn, stop the vicious cycle.

The vicious cycle occurs with so many relationships and families in many forms, simply because we are not able to identify and self reflect on the causes and how we are contributing to the negativity of the situation. I mean, isn’t this emotional life in a nutshell?

So, How Should the Backpack Scene Have Played Out?

There is a local therapist I went to visit yesterday, Tamar Colen to check in about me, and also to meet with regarding her contributing to my Ounce of Salt Blog. I used to meet with her every other week a few years back when I had some issues (more to come in the future). Everyone has issues. I believe people who seek help are the brave ones.

I find Tamar’s skills in honing in and helping people, fascinating.  Have you seen “Good Will Hunting“?  She is Robin Williams and her clients are Matt Damons. And not just for women. Men too. Unfortunately, I can’t refer you because she is not taking new clients. I think my whole town sees her!

Tamar had some very useful thoughts on parenting kids.

I wish I could say I went to see her AFTER my mom fail moment yesterday.  But things take time to register. And for me, my lightbulb from her tips did not go on until I reflected later in the evening, while discussing the day with my husband.

I Should Have:

  • Identified the anxious feeling was happening. In my head, I should have said, “Jake has been calm for the past 3 hours since getting cut. His anxiety is coming out now with the backpack.”
  • Shown empathy. “I wish they wouldn’t have closed early. It sucks we can’t get it when you really wanted it today and they said it would be there. I wish there was someone we could call. I understand why you are upset because you really wanted your homework.”
  • Had Counter Conversation. What is your brain telling you? Is this reality? Is it the truth or a bully trying to make you worry? Counter the belief with thoughts of reality. So if one bubble (like in a cartoon) from your head has the thoughts of worry and fear, what would the other bubble say to counter the anxious belief? “Why do you think you will get a missing homework stamp when you had to leave school injured and didn’t have a chance to get your backpack? Do you really think your teacher would punish you for getting hit in the face and the office closing early? Do you think if we explain what happened, she would understand?”
  • Played Out Examples of worry and things that could happen to demonstrate that the reality isn’t so worrisome. “Let’s say you get the missing homework stamp. We can talk to your teacher afterwards. And regardless of what happens, mom and dad will know you shouldn’t have gotten the stamp. We’ll know the truth.”

And after the moment has passed, when your kid isn’t anxious anymore,

Have a conversation about how to:

  • Identify the anxiety when it comes.
  • Be an observer of the anxiety. Give the anxiety a name like it’s a bully trying to get you in a bad mood. Encourage your kid to stand up to the bully.
  • Calm themselves down. Take deep breaths, distract themselves with other thoughts. Play a game etc.

I found this article useful in helping parents understand anxiety in kids. And Tamar recommends this book, “What to Do When You Worry Too Much” to read with your kids to help them cope with anxiety.

As I write this, it all seems like common sense.  When things are spelled out to us, they become so clear.  But sometimes things are foggy and we need help to see the view.

Thanks, Tamar. I know the readers will be grateful too, once they apply these tools and help their kids!

And you know what? These are tools that will also help adults with anxiety. I know I will utilize them for myself, in addition to using them for my son. I hope you do too. If this post spoke to you, please leave a comment! I would love to hear your thoughts.

Flavor Your Life with an Ounce of Salt. A lifestyle blog by Jen Oliak.