Dear Parents of Children with Anxiety,
I just wanted to write you a few words of encouragement that you might need to hear. Having a child who suffers from anxiety can be a lonely battle but I just want to tell you that you are not alone, and you are doing your best.
I know it can be difficult for others to understand what is happening in your life and that often times your parenting abilities are under fire. Questions such as, “What do they have to be anxious about?” or “Why are so my children today suffering from anxiety?” often plague your parenting routine. You are accused of coddling your child, not being firm enough and you face ridiculous amounts of pressure to just throw your kids overboard so they can sink or swim, like they did in the old days.
I, like you, know that this is not an option and that we are doing our best to teach our children to build strong abilities to swim in the thick and potent waters they often fall into called “Anxiety” because we know that without our support, they will eventually drown.
My son’s journey with anxiety began a few years ago during a huge change in his life. Now he fears change and sometimes that fear can be debilitating. He often never knows when it is going to hit him and he calls it a “ticking time bomb.” I have had him in therapy, accepted help from friends and family members as well as worked alongside his new school to come up with a plan to help him succeed and feel confident in his ability to conquer his anxiety.
Sometimes I do get frustrated and I do my best to not show how aggravated I am that the time bomb has exploded. I know that my frustration is in my feelings of inadequacy as a parent not being able to take the panic away. All we can do as parents is let them know they are loved, supported them and remind them to not feel shame for experiencing this condition. Mental illnesses are so misunderstood because they are not physically manifested like the flu or diabetes, but they are very real and require care just like any other illness.
Maybe one day they will grow out of it, and maybe they won’t, but there is one thing I know for sure and that is, “you know what is best for your child!” Don’t be afraid that you are giving them too much attention, that they are spoiled or playing you like a fool. Chances are they need that attention and you are the key to them feeling safe when so much of their anxiety creates fear. One of my favourite authors on attachment parenting, Dr. Gabor Mate, states:
For the flowering of resilience, the young must have nurturing and stability. At greatest risk are children who live in poverty – more than a million in Canada. They are at risk not because their parents do not love them, but because poor parents are often too stressed to provide an emotionally secure environment. Even to children in higher income groups, emotional security is becoming less and less available. With the loss of the “attachment village” – the clan, the community, the cohesive neighbourhood, the extended family – children are left more and more to themselves.– Dr. Gabor Mate
Dr. Mate does not write these words to judge us, because most times we cannot control the circumstances that unfold in life, but to remind us that our children feel these life stresses and you, as parents, are not meant to do it alone. The old expression, “It takes a village to raise a child” was written for a reason. In our Western world we have become more secular than ever before. Front porches are replaced with garages and backyards separate us from building relationships with our neighbours. Local shops are replaced with box stores, hand held devices meant to create more convenience have separated us from conversation and connection to one another. Children feel these changes first hand and through our feelings of instability and constant need to adapt to a changing world.
There is a light at the end of this tunnel and it shines on community. Reach out to other parents who are experiencing the same thing, build a community and make sure you take time for self-care. Dealing with anxiety in a child can cause anxiety in yourself and you need to take time to breath. When we take that time to breath for ourselves we become a mirror for our children to learn self-care as well and remember, parents of children with anxiety, you love your children and are doing your best.