I have a mildly anxious child. She’s my ‘Wemberly Worried’ (fabulous Kevin Henkes book heroine, btw!) personified—a natural worry wart. She carries the weight of the world on her shoulders and worries about the smallest things that wouldn’t even occur to her younger sister to *think* about.
Over the years of raising our little professional worrier, my husband and I have become experts at navigating and anticipating her need for controlling her environment as much as possible, but it wasn’t always easy (still isn’t!).
And while we are beyond grateful that her anxieties are not as debilitating as they could be, they do impact her (and us as parents) in ways that call for coping mechanisms.
You see, at night, my daughter’s mind comes alive with all the potential worst case scenarios. Whether it’s big or small changes outside of her normal routine, she frets. And when she has trouble calming her mind, her anxiety manifests itself in her inability to sleep.
Some nights, she is up until midnight with her mind spinning up the latest worst-case scenarios—while her parents stress about how bad it is for a child’s developing brain to not get enough zzz’s. To be honest, the no sleeping thing is incredibly hard and frustrating to deal with at times. Our daughter feels badly about not being able to sleep, and we are worried about what impact sleepless nights have on her health and development.
To cope, we enlisted professional help.
We found our handful of sessions with a therapist incredibly helpful and reassuring. We gained deeper understanding of what may trigger our daughter’s anxieties and were also validated in our approach to how to handle various worry-filled situations.
If you’re struggling with an anxious kiddo, I would highly recommend seeing someone they can connect with, trust and feel safe to open up to. If for nothing else, it makes you feel like you’re doing *something* to help them!
So what are our coping mechanisms?
Communicate when there’s a change in routine—and leave enough time to process
We have become very cognizant of my daughter’s need to control her environment as much as possible. As a result, every time we change our standard routine, we allow her enough time and space to process the change.
We discuss where we are going, what we are going to be doing, who we are going to be with and why (and answer her 74 questions that ensue). We over-communicate and plan for events far enough in advance whenever possible.
Make bedtime soothing and calm
We have developed a bedtime routine that includes plenty of wind-down time. An hour before sleep, she does stretches, reads with us and on her own, and then, if she does feel a bit anxious about something, she goes through a series of mental and breathing exercises her therapist taught her to calm herself.
Even with all the tricks in her ‘calming box’, there are the occasional nights when she struggles to find sleep. Thankfully they are becoming less regular events, but on those nights, my husband and I look at each other helplessly.
Mama, that sense of helplessness is the worst. I get tired and frustrated— and I just want my kid to go to sleep already.
In those moments, I have to stop and breathe.
I remind myself that we have given her everything we could to calm herself. As long as a mildly anxious child like mine is equipped with a proper ‘toolbox’ of coping mechanisms, they can (and should) practice to self-soothe.
There are (and always will be) cases where my daughter’s anxious little mind just won’t stop spinning, but at least she can be in charge of her thoughts. And sometimes, we just have to let her figure it out on her own. Because I know she’s got this. And you do too, mama.