Written by our newest contributor – Colleen Kessler of Raising Lifelong Learners
“But what if the sun explodes while we’re still living? It’s old, and stars eventually die a fiery death, taking everything in their path along with them. That means the Earth — and us — will die a painful, fiery death, too.” She was staring up at me, tears welling in her eyes, lips trembling.
This was not the time to sit her down and explain the unlikelihood of the sun exploding in her lifetime.
My girl is super-sweet, highly empathetic, imaginative, very precocious, and struggles with generalized anxiety disorder with a dash of existentialism thrown in for good measure. She has BIG worries, and minimalizing those fears in the moment would be akin to throwing a pail of water on a wildfire — it would help me feel like I’m doing something, but it wouldn’t do a darn thing to actually help in the long run.
Anxiety is a sneaky thing, friends.
Big worries hit at unexpected times. They kill off the happy in an otherwise beautiful day. They sabotage the fun of a field trip.
They hurt a mama’s heart.
My sweet girl isn’t the only one in the family who struggles with anxiety. She comes by it honestly — I’ve struggled off and on my whole life. Her big sister is plagued with debilitating perfectionism. And, big brother — an almost 17yo — still can’t fall asleep if he’s the last one awake in the house. There are just too many unknown noises.
What does one do to keep the calm in a house filled with anxious intensities?
We have to be smart. Everytime we leave the house we do some prepping before we head to the van. I think about all the things that could happen because, with anxiety, anything can (and will) happen when least prepared for it.
Here are some of the best strategies I’ve learned over the years:
– We talk a lot before we go anywhere. When it’s time to go — to co-op, a field trip, a playdate, a party, or even Grandpa’s house — we talk about what we’re doing, what could go wrong, and what we expect to be great about it. If necessary, we role play a bit. Where would you meet me if you got separated? What could we do if the crowds became overwhelming?
– We pack survival tools. Now, our survival tools might not look like tools at all to the untrained eye. They’re more like tricks to alleviate the weight of worry. Simple games that fit in my purse, books, tiny coloring books, fidgets, snacks, bottles of water, and small toys. We’ve been at museums or parties or other events where things start to go off the rails. Little things become big things in an overexcitable mind, and those sweet brown eyes lock onto mine, widening. And so we tap into the survival tools, find a quiet corner, and play a little while eating a healthy snack and sipping some water.
– We say no as often as we can. White space on the calendar is a beautiful thing. Having space in our weeks gives us — especially those easily overwhelmed — a chance to rest and regroup. Anxiety spikes when we are too busy to hear ourselves think.
– We know each other well. With kiddos who struggle with anxiety, it’s important to know them. Observe and note what triggers their anxiety. How does it manifest? One of my kids gets angry, while another retreats. Know how each shows their worries so that you can help them through it right away.
– We validate all feelings and emotions. Here’s the thing… whether something would make me anxious or not is totally irrelevant if my daughter is melting into a puddly mess at my feet. Her feelings are real. They’re valid. And, that must be acknowledged before we go any further.
When someone is in the midst of an existential crisis (really, though, the sun is not going to explode anytime soon) or an anxiety attack, they need to feel safe and loved.
These strategies help my kiddos — especially my daughter — feel safe.
Do you have an anxious kiddo or struggle with anxiety yourself? What are some of the best strategies you’ve found to help?