October 25, 2009,
D.C. asks from Spokane, WA on October 24, 2009
8 Year Old with Anxiety
I have an 8 year old little girl who is just amazing! She is a happy girl and has always been sure of herself, but still prone to following the crowd, probably like most kids. She is the first born, and is very much a people pleaser, which sometimes makes me wonder if this is causing some of her worries. She is falling victim more and more to trouble sleeping at night, she calls me in over and over to confess things to me that may have hurt others feelings that day, or if she misbehaved in class, etc. This started about 6 months ago and I am worried that I could be doing more or that maybe I am missing something. I have had long talks with her, she loves to talk and spend time with me, so I would think if there was a core to this problem she would tell me, but then again who knows. She is well behaved, does well in school, is kind to her little sister (most of the time :). She does have moments, where she seems a little out of control and I can't get her attention and she has been struggling a bit more with staying focused and organized. I am worried about her, and am afraid that the lack of sleep is not helping her troubles. Any advice?
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J.B. answers from Seattle on October 25, 2009
I'm an anxious person too, so I can identify with many of your daughter's reactions. I too am an oldest child and a people pleaser. My mother took the straightforward approach of listening to me and then telling me the solid facts about whatever I happened to be worrying about. That approach didn't help me much then because I was determined to worry, but it does help me now.
A few suggestions:
1. Make sure your daughter does know the truth. i.e. Make sure she knows that she isn't responsible for making people happy. People are going to feel what they want to feel, and their feelings don't change what sort of person she is or how much she is worth. If she did her best or what she thinks is best, then she has done what is required of her. If she has trouble accepting that, then give her examples from your life or have her repeat the idea back to you.
2. Is she a reader? Does she read above her age level? I was a voracious reader, and my parents pretty much just let me read. That fed my imagination, which contributed to the scope of my worry. Keep an eye on what she reads or watches. Talk to her about it, and if she worries about things that are happening in those books (anything is possible to a worrier), then show her how unlikely those things are in the lives we live here. Scientific evidence is good.
3. Help her remember and focus on the things that she did well and how much they help other people. Worriers tend to forget the good things they do in light of the bad.
4. Look at her work load. Kids these days have a lot of activities and obligations. Does she have a lot of things that she needs to get done? Does she feel like she has a lot of things that rest or rely on her to get done even if they're not really her responsibility? If so, take a few activities off her list or maybe make a rule saying that if she wants to help someone, she has to ask an adult first. People pleasers often take on too much responsibility.
5. Remind her that there are other people who take care of her and of her friends. God watches over all of us and makes sure we all have what we need. Mom and Dad are there to offer advice, to protect and provide. Teachers know what needs to be done in the classroom. Encourage her to believe these things and to look for examples of how they are true. Concrete evidence always helps.
6. Look at your own life. How much do you worry, and how much do you worry in front of her?
Anxiety and confusion often go hand in hand. A person who is scared of doing the wrong thing seems impulsive because they have no confidence in their ability to make a good decision and evaluate the facts, so they strike at random. At least I do. I have also found that worry is kind of exciting (not that I thought about that as a child). It feels real, even though it's only in her head. It ups the adrenaline and feels like caring for a person or doing something important even though it doesn't lead to either one. So
7. Help your daughter learn to relax. Meditation is good. Teach her to sit and think about practical things or happy things or peaceful and reassuring things for a certain period of time. Don't tolerate what ifs or buts during your meditations. Your thoughts have to go in one direction.
These are some things that have helped me as an adult. I would also recommend talking to a therapist (I know a good one if you're interested). Worry can become a habit and needs a lot of work to overcome.
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R.R. answers from Seattle on October 25, 2009
Good morning D.,
I really feel for these anxious kiddos. Our daughter is one of them. Confession was part of a ritual that lasted for months in our home (and very common for anxiety/OCD kiddos). Our daughter needed to get “the feel bads out” as she would say. Sometimes, this would take place every few minutes. Sometimes, on the hour (so to speak) and often just after school and before bed in a purging sort of episode.
I’m including an old post I wrote (below). I know it’s not exactly what you’re talking about, but I hope it provides some insight.
Your daughter is telling you her feelings and that’s a great sign, as hard as that can be at times. I’m not an expert, at all, but one thing we did see in our daughter was impulsivity as a close friend to anxiety. Maybe this out of control side of your daughter is that and it is related to anxiety???
We saw shame, loss of confidence and loss of desire to learn as a result of our daughter’s anxiety. It’s a very stressful process. I hope you know there are people to support you and your daughter if you need it. Our daughter is now almost 11. Thankfully, we’ve learned many skills along the way. I’m happy to share more with you if you would like. You’re welcome to e-mail me with any questions. Our daughter is also an incredible resource as she’s willing to share all feelings of anxiety, OCD, what helped and what did not help. I can say, for sure, stress and anxiety do not mix. Stress and OCD do not mix. Anxiety/OCD and school are really tough for a lot of these kids. Good job reaching out and asking these questions. Your daughter is one lucky girl.
It’s a painful thing to experience your child upset in this way day to day. Our daughter is almost 10. She was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder when she was 7. We noticed separation difficult for her since she was very little. And, I mean extreme. Everyone always told me this was normal and she would get over it. Meanwhile, she was suffering every day. By first grade it was clear she was not getting over it. We were soooooooooooooo thankful her first grade teacher was kind and helped her through her worries and concerns. This could range from worry that children were fighting for her attention (she felt guilty she couldn’t give everyone her attention at the same time) or worry because they had a fire drill. She would worry when other children would worry. She would worry if the teacher seemed busy or upset. She just worried about every little thing. And, when she would worry she would spiral. It eventually would make her think of us and our safety here at home, while she was away from us. The following were triggers for our daughter (still are): Mondays (returning to school), substitute teachers, a change in the schedule, a field trip, a child making a scary comment (what happens if there’s a fire when you’re away from home, what if your mom got hurt, etc), stays away from us were difficult because she didn’t feel she could trust her anxieties with other people and so on. I’m happy to discuss in more detail, if wanted.
Here’s what I would do to help her (in no particular order):
Start putting words to her feelings (you can write it on a piece of paper or she can) and put it in a jar. The worries are private and safe and gone from her head. She will start to learn to identify them and let go.
Careful with transitions – talk to the teacher, the school counselor and every Monday maybe she can go see the school counselor to ease into the school routine, etc.
Set up “safe people” for her to go talk to if she’s really feeling worried and anxious. For our daughter, this was the school counselor and a couple select teachers she loved.
Send notes to school with her so she can read them when she’s feeling concerned.
Enroll her in a class with other children who have anxiety (with the counselor). They play fun games, they talk about their feelings, and they read books related to worries. It was great for our daughter.
Identify her triggers (certain teachers, kids, routine changes, etc. and set up a plan for her). Our daughter had a health plan to allow her to go to her safe people when she needed, to call home if it was just simple reassurance, to give me notice when a substitute was coming in, notice of fire drills, lock downs, etc.
Take notice of her diet (we can’t do anything with high fructose corn or caffeine, etc)
Regarding your family, make sure they take her anxiety seriously. Our daughter felt terrible when she was treated like her worries were just childish. These kids are smart and they pick up on things other people may not notice, feel or even think to worry about. And, their worries are very real to them. They need reassurance, strength, and consistency to help teach them how to manage their fears.
Our daughter (thankfully) is really verbal. She has been able to walk me, our family, the counselor and school through her anxious mind. She told us that she felt ashamed and that her confidence was dying inside as a result of her anxiety and how everyone treated her. She would try and hide it, which would make it worse. She started developing rituals (OCD) to deal with her anxiety. They took up time, and made her feel even worse. That’s an entirely different story….I can talk more about that if you would like.
The reason we had our daughter diagnosed was because things became worse and worse and we knew (like you) second grade was around the corner. We have never medicated. We do relax techniques, have tea time, discussions about her worries and concerns, and really support her feeling like she has a voice. And, definitely I have to make sure I don’t show her my concerns. I have to be truthful but not "worried" about it. Just very matter of fact with her.
I am happy to report that she is doing great!!!! We haven’t had a sick stomach in over a year. She has learned some excellent coping skills, while being supported through all of this. She still has anxiety, don’t me wrong, but we’ve learned how to manage it, head it off, help when she is facing a trigger.
Good luck. If I can answer any questions, please feel free to e-mail me. I had endless days with our daughter’s anxiety. I know how hard it really can be, emotionally, for the entire family.
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K.F. answers from Portland on October 25, 2009
The stories by Lori Lite are wonderful. I recommend her work to all the anxious kiddos in my office, but especially that have trouble at night. You might want to consider talking with a therapist, sometimes, engaging in nightly rituals that discuss the anxiety can "engage" the anxiety and lead to an increase in anxiety as well as causing it to last longer. There is a great kids workbook called "what to do when you worry too much". They talk about setting up a worry time. It is a special time that the child has to talk with the parent (no more than 15 min, I usually say no more than 1-2 X week)about their worries. When that time is up or if the child is worried at another time, they are instructed to write/draw it down and put in a special box to be talked about at the next worry time talk. They are also told that if they ever do not have enough worries to talk about in the 15 min then they could tell you about anything else that they might want. This one is my favorite for kiddos that have their parents involved in the worry ritual, but the workbook also discuses techniques that the kid can use. Good Luck....
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R.D. answers from New York on October 24, 2009
Your little girl sounds a lot like me when I was growing up. Later in life (at about age 26) I would realize that it certainly was anxiety...yet not to worry as I am a well adjusted and successful adult..a mom too:) I think that a lot of my anxiety would come in the form of OCD. Constant and needless worrying...excessive guilt. I could pick up on an adult's worry in seconds. I would actually look around at faces to see how they were responding to a situation to see if there was a need to worry, ie, turbulence on a plane. I could watch a movie about a sick child and then be convinced that I had the same ailments. I too used to insist that someone sat with me to go to sleep. I remember an occasion when I pulled out a chair from someone in class (random, yes, I actually was a nice child) and I stayed up all night worrying that I may have hurt that person. I was so relieved the next say to see that the child was ok. That is irrational worrying yet to me there was no such thing as irrational. I was able to rationalize all of my worrying. I too was/is very close to my mom. My mom was a bit anxious while I was growing up and I definitely fed off of her. Not that this was her fault as my sister is cool as a cucumber. I did end up going in to resource room at school (as this just meant missing french class) to help with the organizational side of things and funny enough I can still never find my keys or anything else for that matter! I would mention this to the pediatrician however. I did speak to a therapist for a period of time growing up and it was nice to have someone to talk to yet at the end she said to my mom that I am who I am and let me find my way. Might have been different these days. I was a super sensitive child and could not bear to see anyone hurt..I was always worried that my parents would die. I know some of this was normal yet I would obsess over it. Funny as in college when I would discuss this with friends I was surprised to hear how many other people experience this as well. I wish that I knew that it was anxiety when I was growing up and that those around me realized that to me my fears were real. I try so hard with my son now not to show him when I am anxious...like when I take him to the doctor. I try to dispel his fears and I never even joke with him about anything. I am upfront and matter of fact, I do not just say, oh please, that is silly, I explain why his concern would not come to fruition, ie monsters). I talk to him about fear and try to help him understand. I have made sure he sees the doctor as his friend. They used to have to chase me around the room to give me a shot. Another example of a fear of something that was not even painful once it occurred, yet it was how I perceived it. Message me if you want to chat!
Best of luck and your daughter will be great...I bet she is very bright (as they used to tell me...yet she just needs to apply herself and believe it or not, I am ended up doing that)!
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L.G. answers from Eugene on October 25, 2009
Is someone in her class or in the neighborhood bullying her? Talk to her about bullying and how wrong it is. Not as if she is the bully but if she knows of anyone who is being bullied. Children seldom tell until the situations is extreme.
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J.R. answers from Seattle on October 25, 2009
I don't have any solid advice but you might check out Lori Lite books that you can read with her to help her develop skills to calm herself and her mind. I bought The Boy and the Bear and The Angry Octopus which aren't related to anxiety but I think she has one with that focus.