Previously, I shared about my own experience with anxiety and how I am learning to focus on the positive and release my grip on things I have no control over.
Today, I wanted to share a little about what I have been observing in my 5 year old. I have a very clever and expressive 5 year old. Anyone who knows her, knows that she is quite the talker and full of life. An encounter with her is truly an EXPERIENCE that will remain with you. I am incredibly inspired by her boldness and love for people and life. She thrives on social interaction and constant attention. She also is a very emotionally intelligent girl (for her age, I think). She would watch a film and become very upset by sad and unfair scenes from as young as 3 years old. I mean the girl was in tears during ‘Curious George’.
As I observe her, I notice a lot of myself in her- the way she carries the ‘weight of the world’ at times. Taking on the distress of her peers and family members. She would be so upset upon witnessing any injustice done to someone.
So recently, we have been in a bit of a struggle, because she has destroyed countless blouses from her constant chewing on the neck of them. Along with that, we argue daily about her putting things, small items in her mouth. It was like, every moment, you had to tell her ‘’take that out of your mouth’’ ”that’s not for eating!’’ Even after a trip to the hospital from swallowing a coin, she still didn’t seem to understand that nothing other than food and water, should enter her mouth.
I kept thinking to myself, this just isn’t normal! I don’t have this problem with my 2-year-old at all. Actually, the only thing my 2 year old ever puts in her mouth is food! But my elder, just didn’t seem as if she could help herself, and the more I got on her case about it, it’s almost like the worse it got. So I took to the internet to do some research on how common this was in 5 year olds.
It opened my eyes to the possibility that it was probably something that she was doing unconsciously as an emotional coping mechanism.
I have been biting my nails from a little girl and still do to this day! Nasty habit I know! Don’t judge me! But I have way more control over it than I did as a child. It was somewhat comforting it was a release of some sort. But my daughter doesn’t bite her nails like I did. She chews!
What I found from numerous sources was that she could be dealing with a level of anxiety. Some of the common signs in children included the following:
- Chewing or biting on nails or objects
- Unexplained tummy aches
- Fits of crying for what may seem like ‘trivial’ things
- Excessive questioning about what may seem to be ‘the obvious’
- Overly- emotional over stories or movies etc.
- Difficulty focusing
These are just some of the typical signs, most of which I have noticed in her behaviours.
I know that like myself, she is a high achiever, and she does put pressure on herself to get it ‘right’ all the time. She is very competitive. And so like I spoke about in my last post, just like me, she feels pressure to do things perfectly, consistently. This is part of the reason why I wanted to learn to manage the anxiety in my life. I could see an impending cycle and I don’t want my daughter to subject herself to that same sort of pressure. I believe that she has inadvertently learned this anxious behaviour by observing and watching me. Now that I have identified that she can be quite anxious I have been working on ways to help her cope when she begins to feel this way.
It’s important to me to me to address the emotional need behind the (irritating) behaviours first, so I will start with some ways to address and help relieve the anxiety itself.
IDENTIFY THE FEELING
- The first step is recognizing the feeling. For children at this age it may be hard to put in words what they may be feeling or thinking. She usually says something to me like, ‘‘mommy I don’t feel like myself, my body feels weird and different’’ or she may say ‘‘mommy I feel like my legs don’t work’’ Don’t worry I have checked that she is physically ok! Which she usually is, but she is trying to relate that she feels like she has no control over her body and her emotions that are overwhelming her at that time.
So I encourage her to describe to me what she is thinking about. I ask her pointed questions about her day, her friends, things she may be afraid of, or excited about or worried about. It’s important to note that you can be anxious about something good or something you are expecting, like a special trip or new baby brother/sister etc. So it doesn’t always have to be negative, but it helps that our children can identify the feeling and have strategies to self-manage and cope in any circumstance.
This is important in raising our kids to be resilient.
USE THE GROUNDING TECHNIQUE
- When she is describing the different feelings in her body, I use the 5-4-3-2-1 technique that I described in my earlier post here. It works and it seems to break her fixation on whatever is turning in her mind to allow herself to regain a sense of control.
PRAY WITH THEM
- Pray about it. If it’s something she is worried about or concerned about, we pray together. In instances when she can’t say for sure what may be bothering her, we still pray. I let her lead and usually it comes out when she begins to mention things in her prayer. I learned this from my mom. Many times, when I felt powerless to help, her NANA would call her and pray for her. Those NANA prayers are POWERFUL!
ILLUSTRATE THEIR THOUGHTS
- Draw pictures. This is a good way for kids to express what they can’t say to you explicitly. You can derive lots from a child’s description of a few circles and scribbles. It’s also very useful as a calm down strategy, as they can transport their thoughts to the paper and off their mind.
CREATE A SAFE SPACE
- Create an open and honest space. It’s important to me that she feels comfortable to come and talk to me about any and everything. I know that this will almost be non-existent when she approaches those teenage years, so I am trying my best to build the foundation to encourage that from now.
GIVE A CUDDLE
- Sometimes a warm hug of reassurance is just enough to settle the nerves and remind our kids that they are safe, and you are there for them. It’s also very important that they get that cuddle time from you as a parent so that there is no desire to seek that comfort outside of the safety of your family or home. This is something I am still working on. Let me be clear in saying that I am not perfect and do not do this consistently, but I am working at it as I try to be what my girls need me to be.
ALLOW SOME QUIET TIME
- Lots of people implement a calm down/ quiet corner to help children to settle and cope with their big emotions. This sometimes helps my daughter when she is in a crying fit. However, she better responds to closeness and attachment. So, sending her to a quiet space isn’t usually a good solution I find. Taking her and sitting with her would work better in her case. These quiet corners can include a calm down kit, with items such as a relevant storybook, sensory bottles, stress ball, stuffed animal, relaxation pictures. This is not something I have tried with her yet, but I have seen it being used effectively with kids in the classroom.
ENCOURAGE POSITIVE SELF TALK
- Positive affirmations. I started this about a year ago with her, and I haven’t always stuck with it, but she does. At one point when she was very anxious about issues at school. I wrote down some affirmations on a poster for her which we would read every morning on our way out the door. Eventually she had learnt them by heart, and she would repeat it by herself just before she ran to her classroom. It really helped to settle her nerves and prepare her for the day ahead and it has always stuck with her. So up to this day, she would turn to me when she is uncertain and repeat it to me as if to say. ‘I’m feeling a little shaky today, but I know I got this!’ An example of the affirmation I did for her was I am brave. I am strong. I am beautiful. God loves me. I find it to be a little more meaningful than ‘’have a good day’’. You can also include things like I am a good friend. I am smart! I can do hard things…etc.
SET TIME LIMITS
- Set a focus timer. This one may be strange. But because she gets super anxious when she is excited or sometimes worried about something not going right. This sometimes leads to less desirable behaviours. To help her to stay on track with what she needs to do considering her excitement, I use a timer. No, I don’t use a sand jar or digital hand timer. Although you can! But let’s be honest, we ain’t always got time for that! I countdown myself: Let’s get this done by the time I count to 5 or 10 etc. If she’s worried about something, she will become distracted in her thoughts or avoid doing things or just do them painfully slow! So a timer is a good way to snap her out of the anxious trance and get her going. The competitive nature in her allows for a good redirection of her thoughts.
GIVE THEM A SENSORY RELEASE
- Lastly, there are lots of suggestions for using sensory chew toys, as excessive chewing, especially in older children can be indications of a sensory disorder, however we haven’t tried this. I feel if we are able to keep anxiety to a minimum then the chewing will eventually be non-existent! We will see! My goal is to deal with the underlying problem so that I can reduce the NEED to chew.
Note that the last few points address some of the behaviours that come with anxious feelings. I added this at the end, emphasizing that the CAUSE of the concern or worry should always be addressed first.
These are based on my observations with my girls and what works in our home. Yes, I have a psychology background but it is framed by my experiences as a young mom. If you as a parent feel that things are more serious. Don’t feel afraid or embarrassed to seek professional advice. As parents it’s our duty to do what we need to do to ensure our little ones are living a mentally healthy and productive life. We are living in a world where 6-year olds are committing suicide, 8-year olds are suffering from depression, 10-year olds are walking into schools and shooting their peers. Kids have stress too! And just like you need to offload as an adult, they need to offload as well. But they also need to be coached and supported in figuring out how this looks for them.
I know this was a heavy one, but I think it’s important to recognise and acknowledge that our kids are little human beings trying to navigate this world too! And truth is…you and I know how challenging it can be.
Until next time……Grow in Grace,