Supporting the anxious child

Posted by admin | October 28, 2017

Supporting the anxious child

desperate-2100307_1920Anxious kids certainly existed before Instagram, but I don’t think teens and parents realize how much relentlessly comparing themselves with their peers contributes to social anxiety. 

Recently I saw a middle school girl suffering from debilitating anxiety whose parents brought her in for treatment. Mother reported she was too scared to sleep in her own room and would not even go up to her room on the second floor unless someone was up there with her.  She would also refuse to go to school and curl up in the fetal position on the floor.  Her parents did not know what to do with her or how to help her.  She was sent to see us with the hope we could give her some coping skills to manage the anxiety in her life. 

This was a girl from an affluent suburb who is anxious and perfectionistic.  She felt that school was impossible for her and that the other students were judging her and nothing felt good enough.  She never felt that she had done enough — there was always one more hurdle to jump, one more activity to complete.  She felt unrelenting pressure. Her stomach hurt and she had migraines. She could not get through the day without hiding out in the nurses office or texting her mother to pick her up.   The more she missed school, the more anxious she became about missing school. 

Her parents took her to see her primary care physician, who prescribed an antidepressant, but she had side effects and the medication did not help her at all. She felt hopeless and depressed. 

Part of her therapy was to give her exercises to learn to tolerate distress and imperfection.  She had such high ideals and expectations for herself that it took weeks of practice of challenging her thinking, role playing, and homework activities to help her overcome her fears and be able to spend the whole day in school. 

Another assignment to build resiliency is to give yourself ways to stop feeding the monster and stand up to your anxiety. Retrain your brain by staying in an uncomfortable situation; to create the message, I can do this.  Push yourself out of your comfort zone

One suggestion for parents is to insist they make their child unhook from social media at least at night, if not altogether.  Anxiously comparing yourself to your peers is almost uniformly distressing and round the clock responding to texts, posting to social media, obsessively following Instagram and the edited Facebook exploits of friends only contributes to self-consciousness, anxiety and fear of failure.

Another suggestion for parents to build resiliency is to let your kid fail.  Anxiety is all about avoidance of uncertainly and discomfort.  When we play along and try to protect kids from facing what makes kids anxious, we don’t help kids learn to cope or problem solve in the face of unexpected events. 

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