Friday, April 13, 2018

Ways I’m Making My Kid’s Anxiety Worse


Before leaving for school this morning my daughter had a level eight meltdown. She’s ten, which generally makes her too old for meltdowns but anyone with an anxiety disorder will tell you there’s no age limit on meltdowns.

Why, did she melt down? She couldn’t find the right pants.

She ran around the house crying and yelling and screaming in her underpants and a shirt. It would be funny, except it wasn’t.

She ended up wearing day-old-pants and I put her on the school bus with a blotchy-red face and a look that said, "My insides itch and I hate everything."

As my own frustration and anger drained away I reflected on the whole situation and realized it was me that got her train rolling to Meltdownville, because yesterday I asked her, “Are you sure?”

Are you sure? 
This stupid question is right up there with What If scenarios in their anxiety-inducing effects on people.

Are you sure?
Yeah, of course.  Well, I think so.  Maybe.  I don't know. Maybe I remembered it wrong.
Who is really sure about anything? We can delve into the metaphysics on this for hours. No, I’m not sure, because what is reality? Do you want the blue pill or the red pill?

This, I asked her yesterday when she casually informed me that she had a field trip the next day. I had seen neither a message from her teacher nor a permission slip. So naturally, I pass my doubts on to her when I ask, “Are you sure?” I’m effectively telling her, “I don’t believe you. I doubt your ability to relay a simple message, and the consequences for getting this information wrong will be dire, e.g. you could be left behind, excluded, displaced, or worse yet embarrassed in front of your peers. So tell me again. Are. You. Sure?”

The change in her was visible. I just spooled the poor thing up. I softened my tone but continued peppering her with questions like, “Where are you going? What time will you be back? Do they need chaperones?” And I said, “It’s so weird that I haven’t heard about this.”

Why didn’t I just say, “OK. Do I have anything to sign?

Arrrg!  Hindsight is a bitch sometimes.

Worse case, she is wrong and doesn’t have a field trip. So what? Or she doesn’t have a signed permission slip, then she has a choice to make, ask to call me or do whatever kids do that don’t go to field trips. Stay in the library or the computer lab, maybe mentor the little kids? So what? She can handle it when/if presented with the actual situation. Situations are never as bad as anxiety says it will be. And anxiety lives in the future—rarely in the present.

She’s feeling agitated now and fires off answers, “It’s a concert in Portland. I dunno, when the bus takes us. Oh! I have to wear nice clothes with no writing on the front.”

She’s getting worse now, “I don’t have any clothes without writing! Can you get me a new sweatshirt without writing?”

I try to be helpful and point out a few things she has that might work, all of which are not the normal comforting attire she prefers.  (Think portable security blanket.)

“I don’t want to talk about this right now.”

This is code for I’m getting overwhelmed and I need some space to calm down. I take the hint and give her some space. She calms down, but the trip is never far from her thoughts.

She has an uneasy sleep and wakes up grumpy.

I suggest a shower to make her feel refreshed.

She says, “I don’t have time! They don’t want kids with wet hair at the concert.”

Uh-oh. She’s on the brink…

She takes a shower anyway and wants to blow-dry her hair immediately. She puts on one of the shirt combinations I mentioned and a pair of underpants and starts looking for the one pair of pants that will make the outfit tolerable.

They’re missing.

And...she’s lost it.

I finish making lunches and try to help, but the cacophony is too much and I get agitated too. We check all the usual places, drawers, dirty laundry, machines, under her furniture… No pants. Her sister’s drawers, nothing, nothing, nothing.

Total. Epic. Meltdown.

Are you sure?
In telling my husband about our morning, he felt my use of this question to be justified.
In a way he’s right, a kid without anxiety might have said, “Yep.”

My response to him was that I wanted all of these answers to make me feel comfortable. I should have just emailed her teacher rather than grilling my kid. Which I did this morning and her teacher sent me a short reply that they were indeed going to a concert, and then to a park for lunch afterward. No signatures required.

Oh, sounds nice.

This incident got me thinking about other ways I’m sabotaging my kid.

Here are a few I came up with:

1. I Never let her Forget she has Anxiety

Nope, I’m right there every time she begins to struggle to point out that her anxiety is getting the better of her and she should do A. B. and C. to get right again.
<sarcasm> Thanks Mom.</sarcasm>

Why this is a Problem:
It reinforces the idea she’s less. Kids born with challenges like missing limbs will find astonishing ways compensate if given the space to find them. Kids without arms brush their teeth with their feet, and paint, draw, write, and feed themselves. This probably wasn’t a smooth process. It probably required extraordinary struggles and plenty of trial and error. But their parents wisely gave them the space to learn their own way and refrained from doing everything for them that they would normally use hands for.

My kid needs the same latitude. She knows she has anxiety, if I let her struggle her own way through, she’ll learn to manage, better than if I’m there telling her she struggling to brush her teeth because she has no arms and that should try using her big toe and long toe instead. "Here let me show you." If I don’t rush in to the rescue when she gets upset at her struggle, she’ll eventually learn that it’s because I know she can handle herself.

Why This is Hard to Change:
When my child is in pain, she's really, really vocal about it.  I have a biologically driven response to want to help and comfort her...and get her to be quiet.


2. I Remember her Past Struggles
Each of her epic meltdowns had burned an indelible video into my brain. Watching my kid suffer like she suffers hurts—a lot. When we come to a similar situation, I automatically start running an offense to clear the way for her.  The way a parent with a wheelchair-bound kid might ensure there are ramps and sidewalks.

Why This is a Problem:
It doesn’t account for growth. She struggled the last time, so may or may not struggle again. Struggle is the precursor to growth. I need to allow her to do that, even if it's to the detriment of my own sanity.

Why This is Hard to Change:
Sometimes I’m not even consciously aware of what I’m doing. Usually, it’s my husband that points it out, and I stop and reflect and find it’s almost always connected to a past meltdown. Her pain hurts me too.

Also, today’s world is ruthless in their judgment of parents. If I get all the obstacles out of her way, she won’t melt down and I won’t look like a bad parent.

You’re doing it right now—you’re judging me. See what I mean?


3. It’s on My Mind Constantly
If it’s on my mind and she knows. She can read me just as well as I read her.

Why This is a Problem:
She feels bad for making me feel bad.
My younger child gets the short shrift because I’m emotionally preoccupied with my explosive child, which expands the rift between them.

Why This is hard to change:
I love her. She’s a shining star in my life. I accept her as she is and love all of her. I just want to help.

I struggle to walk the line of taking care of my kids and giving them the space to grow. That line is elusive.  My girls have such different needs that present themselves in totally different ways that are both similar and dissimilar from me and my husband, and the lines changes continually as they grow.

It’s my version of the Schrödinger’s Cat paradox. The line is both there and not there until I open the box to see if I screwed up again.

This time, I killed the cat.

Sorry, kitty.

Sorry, kiddo.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Christmas Letter 2017

Some people love Christmas for the family gatherings, food, and gift giving. Some are a little bah-humbug. For me, Christmas marks the return of the light that makes things grow and flower. But these long nights are good for cozy books by the fire, sweet things baking in the oven, and for writing Christmas letters.

We lost my dad on Father’s Day this year. After being sick with a flu bug for about a week, his heart gave out during a nap. Reed and I were devastated. The love, support, and kindness of our family and friends has been incredible. We leaned on all of you and you all held us up. Thank you for that.
Part of my River family.



Clarno Unit Palisades
We took two family trips this year. In June we went to Baker City. We explored the Clarno Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds (a bucket list item for me) and stayed over in Prairie City in a historic hotel. Gorgeous spot. We were surprised the next morning at 4am by an air raid siren blaring. We later found out that the siren summons volunteer firefighters. The next day brought us to Baker City, home of the Barley Brown Brewery. Berzo came down with a fever and spent most of the next two days in our hotel room wrapped in blankets watching VHS movies we borrowed from the hotel library. Boots and I explored the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, which was incredible. In the hills across from the museum, you can still see the ruts from the pioneers making their way across the hills.

In July we took a camping trip to LaPine state park and explored the Newberry National Volcanic Monument with our good friends Mike and Stephanie and their son Kevin. The campground is nestled into the Deschutes River and it was bliss teaching Berzo to fish. She didn’t catch anything but demonstrated the patience, focus, and techniques of a natural fisherman. At the monument, we hiked the Lava River Cave which is the longest lava tube in Oregon. We saw the Big Obsidian Flow and several other landmarks.


On the way home, we visited Dee Wright Observatory which sits on a huge lava flow. My last visit there was on an elementary school field trip. This visit was one of those rare instances where the visit was even cooler than I remembered. The view from the top is spectacular. We also stopped at Proxy Falls. The hike was longer than I expected and the girls just weren’t up for it, so I finished it solo. I’m glad I did. It was beautiful and serene and I could feel Dad’s presence the whole time.

Despite all the wonders we saw, we left much unexplored and can’t wait to return. The Cascades were born in fire and lava and so much of that is still exposed showing us this quiet period is just a lull. The mountains are napping but still very much alive. I love this state.

Boots
This year has been one of transformations from Boots as she grows from a little girl to a young lady. She is craving independence and is starting to ask to do simple things on her own like ride her bike to the store or walk the dog. She resists guidance from me (on what to wear, eat, do—pretty much everything) and wants to find her own way. Which I find equally frustrating and awesome.

She decided not to play any sports this year, but after much coaxing, she tried an all-comers track meet during the summer. She was signed up for the 100-meter dash and 400-meter run, but only completed one after finding the starting gun to be too scary. Charley and I both enjoyed sports all throughout our childhoods and have always looked forward to cheering on our kids as they played. My biggest struggle being a parent is allowing her to be who God made her to be and not who I want her to be.

Of the things she does enjoy, she goes at them full force. Her current passion is for writing. Her class participated in NaNoWriMo and she wrote over 150 pages. She is still working on this story and is well over 200 pages. For Christmas, she asked for a typewriter. Thanks to her Oma and Opa, she got her great-grandfather’s. I love hearing the keys plink-plink as she writes. She is also passionate about art. My challenge is keeping her supplied with paper and pens. She also spends a lot of time creating funny and entertaining animations on her iPad using an app called FrameCast. She also plays a lot of Minecraft and AnimalJam. (Too much.)

This fall Boots saved her money and bought a pet rat and all the stuff. His name is Xerxes and he’s adorable. Boots has been doing a wonderful job of taking care of him and everybody in the house dotes on him, but he loves her best. He’s always climbing down from our shoulders to get back to her.

Berzo
Berzo played tee-ball over the summer which was so much fun to watch. She likes school—but not that much—and is doing well. She is a joy to parent, as she is still young and malleable and a people pleaser. Although, she does have a feisty streak that she likes to exercise on her sister.  But mostly, I'm trying to enjoy my last little one before she's not so little anymore.

Berzo is also passionate about art, and our refrigerator and walls are covered in her drawings of kitty cats, some with wings, some with unicorn horns, and all are beautiful and happy. Berzo also loves Minecraft and Animal Jam (too much) and she and Boots are not above hugging each other and pleading for more “screen time” using sisterly love against my rules. It usually works too. For Christmas, she also got a pet rat and the stuff. His name is Cricket and he’s pretty dang cute too.

Charley
Charley is the supervisor of the Pattern Shop at Columbia Steel. He is still brewing beer and is in a continual state of refining and re-engineering his system to improve his process and brew. Dave and Lina produced an amazing crop of hops that he used to brew two batches of Cordray Estate Amber, which is currently on tap at Shoalwater’s. (Our garage.) We also got a smoker/BBQ this year and Charley has been having a good time smoking tuna, salmon, and different cuts of beef and pork. He even smoked our Thanksgiving turkey. It is oh-so-good and appeals to Charley’s crafting nature. It is a common (and wonderful) sight to see friends gathered around our smoker visiting, monitoring the smoker, and sipping a homebrew.



Amy
As for me, this coming March will mark a decade of being a stay-at-home mom. It doesn’t feel that long, but then again I can’t remember much from the first six or so sleep deprived years. Now that my girls are more independent, and I generally sleep OK, I’ve been able to pursue some interests. We turned the west end of our yard into a large garden. We added three new 8 x 4 raised beds, a 20-foot row of berries, (can't wait-can't wait) and a circle garden that is irrigated by a roof downspout. We disconnected it and installed a rain chain that flows into a rock-filled trench that leads into the center of the circle garden. The girls have their own garden beds and it was fun for them to plant whatever they wanted. We all got a lot of enjoyment out of the garden this year. 

Calendula Salve
Charley and I are also learning to can foods and he got us a pressure cooker for Christmas.  I have been having fun experimenting with making calendula infused oil for skin balms and lip balms.  I have also been learning about herbal remedies and recipes for using the things we're growing.

I am also continuing to train at TNT Martial Arts. This year I earned a Green Belt II. I'm also running, biking, and strength training in hopes to try another triathlon this year with Lina and Amber. Knock on wood that I stay injury free. It doesn’t take much anymore. But mostly, while the kids are at school, I have been spending my time writing. I’m working on a story that I hope will become a Middle Reader novel. It feels like writing is the talent I was given, so I’m going to develop it and see where it goes. It takes a lot of faith to make writing a priority and invest this much time not knowing if it will ever help my family financially. 

Hope you and yours have a wonderful holiday season!

Love,
Amy, Charley, Berzo, and Boots



Dee Wright Observatory trailhead.

Tea-time
Birthday fun with two wonderful women.
Oysterville girls with berry fingers.
Regatta Magic
At Tillamook Forestry Center.  Miss you pops.

Proxy Falls magic


Garden in the fall.


Rain Chain doing it's thing.

Berzo teeing-off on one. ;)

Eclipse 2017!

Eclipse Photographer

Eclipse Viewer
and two more...
Dani and Uncle Reed


Smoked Turkey—so yummy!



Charley and Opa
Lava Wolf
Oysterbar Christmas
Sumpter Gold Dredge




Friday, September 1, 2017

Anxiety in Kids - Part 3: Just Between Us Parents


Previous parts to this article:
Part 1:  Empathy and Calming
Part 2:  Coaching Your Kid Through Life

Show No Shame
Even if you secretly believe that you are to blame for your child's anxiety try to let it go. Parental feelings of failure communicate to your child that you believe they are somehow defective, setting off a domino effect of negative emotions. It can erode their self-confidence, exacerbating their problem by essentially becoming anxious about being anxious. Physical differences are easy to spot, we wouldn’t ask a short person to reach a high shelf without providing some scaffolding; likewise, kids with anxiety need emotional scaffolding, but since it isn’t apparent, they have to ask for it. While they are learning these skills, we need to be able to discuss anxiety with respect and openness with them and others, to show them that they can do the same as they face difficulties in life.

Inform her instructors.
Let her teachers, instructors, and coaches know that she has anxiety and what she typically does to help herself, so her calming exercises won’t be misinterpreted as not paying attention. Also, information about a specific fear can be helpful, e.g., my daughter was terrified of the diving board at the pool and was worried her instructors would make her jump. I let the instructor know she has anxiety, and my daughter asked if the diving board would be part of the lesson and said she needed to be able to to do it when she was ready. If she doesn’t pass, then she doesn’t, but she's still learning other important swimming techniques and I know she'll do it when she's ready.

Give him control.
Anxious kids need to feel in control of their situation, for example, if he’s afraid of being confined to the car during trips, let him pack a kit that includes what he needs to keep himself comfortable and distracted from the situation e.g., a tablet, crayons, paper, snacks, or whatever works.

Teach her the power of “so what”.
So what if everyone in my class is a better swimmer than me? I’m improving.
So what if I get car sick and throw-up? It washes off.
So what if I failed the test? I can study and do better next time.
So what if I never score a goal in soccer? I’m still a good defensive player.

Our anxieties often become self-fulfilling prophecies, by being scared of getting car sick, we get car sick. We get so bound-up mentally about a test that we can’t think, and fail the test. If we let go, or so-what, the fear by remembering that we can shrug off even the worst case in most scenarios, we shrug off the anxiety too. The trick is remembering (and deeply believing) that our intrinsic value as human beings is still intact no matter the outcome of a situation or performance.

Encourage him to educate himself on the topic. 
What to Do When You Worry Too Much, by Dawn Huebner, is an excellent example of a book he can work through himself, if he’s at a second-grade reading level or better. It is also a great read-aloud for younger kids. It was a relief to my daughter to know that there are enough children just like her that someone wrote a book about it. For older kids and teens, the website at http://youth.anxietybc.com is an excellent resource for self-help information.

A word for parents:
If you decide to get outside help, a professional therapist can help your family design an effective solution, and it’s a great starting point. But, nobody knows your child like you do. Listen to all advice selectively, experiment with parts that make sense, and disregard everything else. Be aware that you will need to continually refine your coaching technique as your child moves through the phases of growing up. Your child may never be anxiety free—who is really?—but with your help, he or she may learn to control it and channel that energy into a drive to excel in his or her chosen path in life.

My girl's first-day-of-school face.
The snakes of anxiety can take innumerable forms, from falling asleep at night, to school, to a birthday party, to losing sight of you in the shower—be warned if you drop by my house... Being a parent of an anxious child is often frustrating and disappointing, but remember that your child isn’t trying to give you a hard time, she’s having a hard time. (This is difficult for me--I get so frustrated!) She needs your patience and compassion. It’s amazing how many anxious situations can be diffused by saying, “There’s no rush. I’m right here if you need me.” Also, be conscientious about taking care of yourself, and work in more unscheduled time into your family’s week than you think you need.

Lastly, be kind to yourself, it feels hard because it is hard.

Resources for further reading:
  • Anxiety BC has an informative website at http://www.AnxietyBC.com and another at http://youth.anxietybc.com for young people to use by themselves.
  • Go Zen at www.gozen.com has animated videos that are helpful for younger kids as well as adolescents.
  • Anxiety and Depression Association of America - http://www.adaa.org
  • What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid's Guide to Overcoming Anxiety, by Dawn Huebner
Sources:


I'd love for you to add your experiences and advice in the comments.