Four things parents brag about that could really be anxiety….

Excuse the bitchy title. I am not above appealing to parental curiosity and fear for some clicks. But more importantly, I really think it’s important to broadcast the not-so-well-known signs of pediatric anxiety to as many parents as possible.

Most of us already know that anxiety means extreme worry, irrational fear, sometimes panic, and sometimes even somatic symptoms (stomach aches, head aches, I-don’t-wanna-go-to-school aches). But we don’t generally think of the following as “anxiety” (In fact, we might even think it’s kinda cool if our kid has any of these characteristics):

1) Extreme rule-following. (I.e. child panicking  if the car starts before his seat belt is on or extreme distress when corrected by an authority figure)

2) Extreme cleanliness/germ avoidance (I.e. child panicking if candy falls on floor and someone else eats it in front of him or extreme distress when order of toy collection is disturbed by a sibling)

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Sometimes refusing to touch a worm is just refusing to touch a worm. Sometimes, when accompanied by other signs, it’s anxiety.

3) Placating or people-pleasing (I.e. going along with the desires of others, usually to avoid feared rejection/disapproval or manage a positive impression of self with others).

4) Perfectionism (I.e. major upset and distress when a word is misspelled on a spelling test or when a catch is missed in baseball.)

If this sounds like your child, a professional clinician who has experience in pediatric mental health (psychologist, social worker, or counselor) can help diagnose and address possible anxiety. Counseling in childhood helps a child learn different ways of thinking/behaving before unhelpful habits are extremely difficult to reverse.
Things anxious kids learn/practice in therapy:

1) Education on what anxiety is. (Very common, part of the brain playing tricks on you by making you think dread and danger when there isn’t necessarily dread and danger.)

2) Education on the avoidance loop. (Avoidance is what people with anxiety do, but avoidance makes anxiety worse.)

3) How to practice awareness of worry-/dread and anxious feelings/sensations EARLY-on (preferably pre-panic).

4) Sometimes: how to practice awareness of urges to placate, gain approval, or make everything perfect AND assertiveness skills training.

5) Self-soothing/distraction skills to tolerate and ride out distress during times when avoidance/placating/seeking perfection/seeking control/immediate comfort is either not possible or not beneficial.

6) The art of small, realistic behavioral goals to stave-off avoidance and engage meaningfully with life.

Just something to think about, from the therapist who uses the diagnostic criteria of the DSM but also thinks common accompanying features, especially features that you kinda like your child to have, are important to know….

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One thought on “Four things parents brag about that could really be anxiety….

  1. I currently live with agoraphobia – but in childhood, I definitely dealt with some of these issues – my grades had to be all A’s, I had to be the best at everything – and was always the teacher’s pet. I never saw that as a precursor to what I now live with, but I can now.

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