Before I had children, I pictured what life would be like with them. I envisioned them running around carefree. They would joyfully leave my side with a smile on their faces and run back to my arms after they were done playing with other children.
Our experience has been vastly different.
I am a mom of three children—three highly anxious children. This shouldn't have surprised me. My husband and I look fairly laid back on the outside, but we have been plagued with anxiety our whole lives.
This anxiety can be both good and bad. It has helped my husband and I achieve many of our personal and professional goals, but it can also hold us back from experiences, decisions and friendships.
We live with anxiety, but we still have beautiful, fulfilling lives.
So yes, I have three anxious children and that's okay. Even though they struggle with anxiety at times, they are still amazing kids.
Moms can read their babies from a very young age. My oldest clung to me, cried when strangers tried to touch him, had trouble sleeping, and sat firmly on my lap during music class while many other little ones wobbled away to grab the closest instrument.
I knew he was going to be slightly more anxious than the average child. While I was sometimes told to, "Just make him do it" or, "Leave him. He will be fine," I was more comfortable with not pushing him too hard. I felt like I knew him very well. I knew how far to push a situation and when to leave him alone.
While I always try to encourage my children to try new things, make new friends and enjoy their surroundings, I also felt confident that their independence would come and their anxiety would start to subside as they became more familiar with situations.
I really believe in listening to my children—in reading their cues and continuing to introduce them to new situations in order to ultimately make them more comfortable.
My children are now six, four and two. We have learned some tricks over the years on how to deal with their individual anxieties. We have found resources and we have become more comfortable with doing things our way. We know what makes our children anxious so we try to anticipate what could cause anxiety in certain situations and prepare accordingly or plan around it when possible.
We want to be able to enjoy family functions, exciting adventures and fun outings. So here are some ways we prepare:
1. Social stories
These can make a HUGE difference for my kids. They help kids understand situations that they may run into. Our oldest son is autistic and social stories are wonderful for kids on the spectrum—but guess what? They work for all of my kids. They can be very simple and short. I like to include pictures and short sentences and there are even apps you can use.
We use social stories to explain trips we are going on, the new school year and for specific events (like giving up the pacifier.) It's amazing how much information their little minds can comprehend when we break it down for them!
2. Belly breathing
Coaching our children through deep breathing exercises when they are nervous or upset has worked wonders. We like to remind them to stop, take a break, and breathe when they are feeling anxious or uncomfortable. Sesame Street has a great song to teach them about breathing that we love to use.
3. Creating (and maintaining) a peaceful environment
This isn’t always easy to do with kids, but our environment impacts our behavior. I try to remember to use a calm voice when talking to them, even when I might be really upset. We limit the amount of toys that are out at any one time. Less clutter, time outside, limited noises and a structured routine all help my kids stay calm.
I used to worry that other people would think I was coddling my kids or not pushing them as hard as I could—but after a six years of motherhood, I’ve realized that it's not in my mom job description to worry about what other people think.
My job is to protect them, teach them and arm them with the important tools that will help them thrive in this world.