Natasha Daniels

@natasha-daniels | contributor
Natasha Daniels is a child therapist and author of Anxiety Sucks! A Teen Survival Guide and How to Parent Your Anxious Toddler. She is the creator of AnxiousToddlers.com and the online parenting classes How to Teach Your Kids to Crush Anxiety and Parenting Kids with OCD. Her work has been featured on various sites including Huffington Post, Scary Mommy and The Mighty. She can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

Good Qualities of Teenagers With Anxiety

I know what you’re thinking. Who wants a world full of struggling teens, who are ridden with irrational worries? A world where teens are frozen with fear and avoidance? But if you know teens with anxiety, you also know a different side of them. Along with a heightened sense of awareness, comes a heightened sense of empathy. Along with the burden of being emotionally sensitive, comes the desire to not hurt other people’s feelings. Along with the fear of what other people think, comes the desire to make other people feel good. Along with a tendency to be overly cautious, comes the ability to problem-solve. Along with a keen awareness of others, comes the ability to pick up on other people’s emotions. Along with the impulse to keep life from feeling chaotic, comes great organizational skills. Along with being hurt by other people’s actions, comes a selfless, giving friend. They are the ones who always remembered my name and asked how I was doing. They are the ones who refused to say anything mean to bullies because they didn’t want to hurt their feelings. They are the ones who spent some of their session worried about people other than themselves. They are the ones who offered comfort and advice to their friends. They are the ones who warned their friends when they had unsafe ideas. They are the ones who saved their money to buy family presents. They are the ones who talked about how to make the world a better place. Yes, the world needs more people like them. You see, despite their anxiety, their inner beauty radiates. The same genetics that cause them to be anxious helps them be considerate. The same genetics that cause them to feel self-conscious gives them the awareness to notice when other people are upset. The world could use more kind, considerate and empathetic people. Can you imagine what the world would be like if everyone had the ability to be tuned in to other people’s emotions? If everyone had the awareness of how their behavior affects those around them? If everyone thought of other people, and not just themselves? I would love that kind of world! Anxiety can be a package deal, and these wonderful qualities sometimes go hand-in-hand with the nasty beast. But we can teach our teens to crush their anxiety. We can give them the tools to obliterate the dictator in their head, so they have an opportunity to let those wonderful qualities shine. We can teach them they have much to offer the world. That they are special. That along with their anxiety comes some beautiful qualities, qualities that will shine, once the clouds of anxiety are lifted.

Life as a Child Therapist and Mom to Anxious Kids

Parenting can be hard when you know all the signs and symptoms of every childhood mental health disorder. Every behavioral hiccup can be over evaluated and scrutinized. Every developmental struggle can be cause for serious alarm. My introduction to my own child’s issues came as I sat in a post-graduate class on infant and toddler mental health. I listened as the instructor rattled off signs and symptoms that should trigger a cause for concern. I looked around the room and asked, “Isn’t that normal? Don’t all toddlers do that?” Eventually I stopped asking questions and quietly took notes. I realized I was not just a student. I was a worried mom. I quickly found myself on the opposite end of services. I entered the world of early intervention and in-home services. At times I felt judged. At times I felt demeaned. I vowed to never make any parents feel that way. I stopped services and decided to wing it myself – after all, I was supposed to be a professional. My oldest child’s issues were predominantly sensory in nature. She had her anxieties, but it was her sensory struggles that controlled our life. Luckily with some patience and time, she learned how to adapt and grew out of her debilitating issues. She still buys clothes based on how soft they feel, but shoes are not being flung at me anymore, so I’ll take it. It seemed just as my oldest grew out of some of her more debilitating issues, my middle and youngest children stepped in to take her place. Anxiety is rampant in my family genetics, and my kids did not win the genetic lottery. New struggles popped up before I could catch my breath. One was afraid of the potty. The other was crying at night that there are bees in the bedroom. No, it doesn’t make sense, but neither does anxiety. We deal with what anxiety wants to dish out – stomach pains, sleepless nights, fear and avoidance. I have practiced what I preach and preach what I practice. It has been eye opening. Sometimes I forget to take my own advice and make mistakes. My husband will ask, “What would you tell your clients?” “I wouldn’t tell them to do this!” I think. Sometimes when you are so close to a problem, you can’t see it. I often feel like the universe is playing a joke on me – making me earn the title of child therapist. Making me live what I teach. Just like any parent, I have good days and I have bad days. I have days when I am struck with fear (the apple doesn’t fall far from the genetic tree)! I have nights where I toss and turn wondering if this latest issue is going to debilitate my child forever, if he will have issues as severe as the thousands of anxious kids I have seen in my practice. I quietly make mental notes in my head about how other kids’ struggles mirror his own. A scary checklist starts to pop up in my head. He does that too. Check. Check. Check. Lately, I have been talking myself down. Partly because my kids are teaching me how strong and resilient they can be in those brave moments when they face their fears and don’t look back. My son recently started first grade. I saw the usual signs revving up. A few days before school was about to begin he started to say, “My stomach hurts” all the time. I have taught him to recognize a worried stomach and so he was able to articulate his fears. “I think I am worried about school because my tummy is nervous.” Knowing my child has already shown signs of OCD and debilitating anxiety, my mental dictator took advantage of my concerns and flashed scenarios of the hundreds of kids I have treated for anxiety. He won’t be able to go to school. He will throw up and be sent home. He will cling to me and won’t be able to let go. He will get stomach aches every morning. He will start missing school. He will beg to stay home. He will miss so much school he’ll have to repeat 1st grade. He’ll want to be homeschooled. This is not my paranoia (OK, maybe a little), but these are true stories being played out in my head. These are real life scenarios that have unfolded in my office hundreds of times before. Will he be one of those children? Will his anxiety get as bad as the other kids I see? Sometimes I wish I did not have this inside view. Sometimes I wish I did not have the gift of knowing the significance of every small fear, phobia and ritual and what beast it can morph into. This year (so far) my son has surprised me – again. Just like my daughter – my son’s anxiety did not get the best of him. Yes, he clung to me the first day. But, then he acted like he didn’t know me as he self-consciously sat himself down. In the afternoon I held my breath as he got into the car. How bad was it going to be? “I had a good day.” He said nonchalantly. And then I exhale, for now. We are still battling a slew of irrational fears and thoughts. I have become part mother, part philosopher as my anxious children ask me about their death, my death and all the many dangers that can bring us both there quicker. Like I teach others, I am taking this whole parenting thing one day at a time. I am no longer going to entertain What if thoughts that want to dominate my mind. I am going to soak up my children as they are and not worry about what’s to come. At least for today. Do you have anxious kids at home? What’s your story? Share in the comments. Do you know someone who can benefit from hearing this story? Share this article with them. Image via Thinkstock.

Mother Writes Letter to Parents of Children With Anxiety

While some only see your child throwing a fit, I see the woman struggling behind the chaos. I see you at the store, at swim class, hovering at the kindergarten fence. I see you – because I’ve been there. I am there. Having a child with anxiety is a battle that plays out at home, late at night, at mealtime and all the times in between. A battle people tend to blame on the child, the parent or both. It’s hard to raise a child who seems to crack as easily as an egg — who feels she’s being judged with every stare. You want to swoop in and shelter your child from a world that’s too harsh for her sensitive skin. A world that sometimes feels even too harsh for you. Looking back now, maybe there were early signs. Struggles with new foods, with falling sleep, with potty training. You told yourself she would grow out of this. Her tight grip on your hands would loosen and she would learn to fly on her own. But with each new age, came new challenges. Your child’s mind filled with fears of dying, of losing a tooth, of making friends. Questions like, “Will I die?” and “Will you die” make a simple car ride turn into a minefield of well-crafted responses. A woman at swim class turns to you and comments at how carefree your child is – as you both stare at her jumping into the water. You have flashes of your child being so fearful of swim class. No, you think, she isn’t carefree – but she is a fighter. She is brave. You think of all the victories she has had. That you’ve had. Victories that other parents may take for granted. Like the move from her nurturing pre-school to the harsher terrain of kindergarten – with drop off lines and a sea of children. You think about all the victories that trail behind her – like her fear of choking, of dogs, of the bath. She is more than her anxiety – she is a warrior. You’ve gotten used to her loaded questions. Like, “What would happen if our tires fell off as we are driving?” You now recognize these questions as a little peak into her worried mind. A worried mind that is constantly churning. A mind that often needs your help. She’s starting to surprise you. Like when she had to give blood and you were afraid to tell her. You were sure she’d be up half the night like she had been so many times before. You were sure you’d have to entice her with dollar store treasures and ice cream treats. But, after her initial worry, she said she was “good.” You waited for the predictable screams and the call for extra staff. But she was wearing her warrior expression – and you knew she had this. You are raising a fighter, not an anxious kid. Others may not see her battles, but you do. They may not celebrate her victories. But, you do. You no longer worry about her worries because you believe in her, but more importantly – she believes in herself. And that, you realize, is going to get her through this. Going to get you through this – one day at a time. Follow this journey on Anxious Toddlers.

Karen Young

Loving Someone With Anxiety: What to Know

Anxiety is unpredictable, confusing and intrusive. It’s tough. Not just for the people who have it but also for the people who love them. If you are one of those people, you would know too well that the second hand experience of anxiety feels bad enough – you’d do anything to make it better for the one going through it. Whether we struggle with anxiety, confidence, body image – whatever – there are things we all need to make the world a little bit safer, a little bit more predictable, a little less scary. We all have our list. If you love someone with anxiety, their list is likely to look a little like this: 1. They’ll talk about their anxiety when they feel ready. In the thick of an anxiety attack, nothing will make sense, so it’s best not to ask what’s going on or if they’re OK. No, they don’t feel OK. And yes, it feels like the world is falling apart at the seams. Ask if they want to go somewhere else – maybe somewhere quieter or more private. Don’t panic or do anything that might give them the idea that they need looking after. Go for a walk with them, or just be there. Soon it will pass and when it does, they’ll be able to talk to you about what has happened, but wait for that. Then just listen and be there. 2. They’re pretty great to have around. You’ll want them as part of your tribe. Because of their need to stay safe and to prepare against the next time anxiety rears its head, people who struggle with anxiety will generally have a plan – and they will have worked hard to make sure it works for everyone involved, not just for themselves. They’ll make sure everything has been organized to keep everyone safe, happy, on time and out of trouble. Notice the good things they do – there are plenty. Let them know you love them because of who they are, including who they are with anxiety, not despite it. 3. Remember: anxiety is a normal physical response to a brain being a little overprotective. There’s a primitive part of all of our brains that’s geared to sense threat. For some people, it fires up a lot sooner and with a lot less reason than it does in others. When it does, it surges the body with cortisol (the stress hormone) and adrenaline to get the body ready to run for its life or fight for it. This is the fight or flight response and it’s in everyone. The “go” button is a bit more sensitive for people with anxiety. 4. There’s a lot to know, so if you try to understand everything you can … well, that makes you kind of awesome. It makes a difference to be able to talk about anxiety without having to explain it. On the days they don’t feel like they have it in them to talk about it, it means a lot that you just “get it.” If you’ve tried to understand everything you can about what it means to have anxiety, then that’s enough. Anxiety is hard to make sense of – people with anxiety will be the first to tell you that – but it will mean everything that you’ve tried. 5. Make sure there’s room to say “no.” And don’t take it personally. People with anxiety are super aware of everything going on – smells, sounds, people, possibilities. It’s exhausting when your attention is drawn to so many things. Don’t take “no” personally. Just because they might not want to be doing what you’re doing, that doesn’t mean they don’t want to be with you. Keep offering – don’t assume everything you offer will be met with “no” – but be understanding and “no big deal” if you aren’t taken up on your offer. They are saying no to a potential anxiety attack. Not to you. 6. Loads of lovin’ never hurt anyone, so be compassionate and there for them. Talk up the things you love about them. There will be times that people with anxiety will feel like they are their anxiety and that they are a source of difficulty. (Who hasn’t felt like they’re making things harder than they need to be?) Specifically, I’m talking about when plans have to be changed, when you need to book a few rows back from the front row, turn the radio down, take the long way. If this is the worst you have to deal with in a friend, sign me up. 7. Anxiety has nothing to do with courage or character. Nothing at all. Courage is feeling the edge of yourself and moving beyond it. We all have our limits, but people with anxiety are just more aware of theirs. Despite this, they are constantly facing up to the things that push against their edges. That’s courage, and people with anxiety have it in truckloads. They’re strong, intelligent and sensitive – they’ll be as sensitive to you and what you need as they are to their environment. That makes them pretty awesome to be with. They can be funny, kind, brave and spirited. Really, they’re no different than anyone else. As with everyone, the thing that trips them up sometimes (their anxiety) is also the thing that lifts them above the crowd. 8. Anxiety can change shape. It doesn’t always look the same way. Anxiety can be slippery. Sometimes it looks the way you’d expect anxiety to look. Other times it looks cranky, depressed or frustrated. Remember this and don’t take it personally. 9. People with anxiety know their anxiety doesn’t always make sense. That’s what makes it so difficult. Explaining there’s nothing to worry about or they should “get over it” won’t mean anything – it just won’t – because they already know this. Be understanding, calm and relaxed and above all else, just be there. Anxiety feels flighty and there’s often nothing that feels better than having someone beside you who’s grounded, available and OK to go through this with you without trying to change you. 10. Don’t try to change them. You’ll want to give advice. But don’t. Let them know that to you, they’re absolutely fine the way they are and that you don’t need to change them or fix them. If they ask for your advice then of course, go for it. Otherwise, let them know they are enough. More than enough, actually. Just the way they are. 11. Don’t confuse their need to control their environment with their need to control you. Sometimes they look the same. They’re not. The need to control everything that might go wrong is hard work for anxious people, and it also might make you feel controlled. See it for what it is: the need to feel safe and in control of the possibility of anxiety running the show – not the need to control you. You might get frustrated, and that’s OK; all relationships go through that. Having compassion doesn’t mean you have to go along with everything put in front of you, so talk things out gently (not critically) if you need to. And finally … 12. Know how important you are to them. Anyone who sticks around through the hard stuff is a keeper. People with anxiety know this. Nothing sparks a connection more than really getting someone, being there and bringing the fun into the relationship. Be the one who refuses to let anxiety suck the life out of everything. And know you’re a keeper. Yep. You are. Know they’re grateful – so grateful – for everything you do. And they love you back. A longer version of this post originally appeared on Hey Sigmund. RELATED: 31 Secrets of People Who Live With Anxiety Do you have a story about your experience with mental illness? We want to hear it. Please send it to community@themighty.com and include a photo for the story, a photo of yourself and a 1-2 sentence bio. More info here. Thanks!

How to Help Your Anxious Kids When Bad Things Happen

I sometimes wish I could take my children and live in a bubble – immune to the violence, hatred and tragedies our world experiences. Although living in a bubble is tempting, we would also miss out on the wonderful sounds, smells and laughter this world can bring. And so is life. As adults we can usually put these tragedies into perspective – but if you have an anxious child, this might be a major challenge. There are children that already imagine all the what-if’s life can bring them. What if I die? What if I get sick? What if we get in a car accident? A global or national tragedy has the potential of derailing an anxious child and magnifying all their fears. So how do you help the child that already worries about diseases, kidnappings school shootings and natural disasters? One small step at a time. As a mother of anxious children and a therapist, here’s what I would advise: 1. On their awareness of the event: Depending on your child’s age, they may or may not be aware of current events. If your child is very young, they might not have exposure to the news. I would not recommend discussing troubling events unless they become aware of it. Thy may be too young to have the coping mechanisms to process a tragedy on such a mass scale. For older, school-aged children, we cannot cocoon them from such events. For these children I suggest: -Avoid watching the news. Anxious children have detailed memories – especially for images. They have a hard time getting images out of their head for months and even years later. Do not supply their brain with negative images. -Take your child’s lead on what they already know and start from there. -Keep graphic details limited, but give enough information to meet their need in understand the event. -Ask you child if they have any questions. Don’t be presumptuous. Even as a child therapist I’m often surprised by what questions kids ask. Their questions will help guide where your discussion should go. -If the perpetrators of the tragedy have been caught be sure to mention this to your child. -Watch adult conversations around little ears. Children in the other room are frequently listening. 2. On maintaining perspective: Anxious children have a talent of taking a small event (like a missing a homework assignment) and jumping to catastrophic conclusions (“I’ll never get into college!”). Upon hearing about a tragedy, your anxious child might jump to the conclusion their immediate safety is at risk. They might become fearful they’re not safe at school or in public. This can be debilitating for your child. To help put the a tragedy in perspective you can do the following: -If the event is not in your area, show your child on a map where the tragedy happened. Although as adults we realize that tragedies can happen anywhere, children are much more egocentric. Distancing the tragedy from the child’s life and world will help them feel safer in the short term. -Talk about the odds of a global tragedy happening in your community. You don’t want to sugar coat or lie about the risks the world has to offer, but anxious children already magnify all of life’s risks. Help your child put the tragedy into perspective. There are roughly 7 billion people in the world. Tell them the number of people who were hurt (avoid the word killed) in the tragedy. For example, “That’s 200 people out of 7 billion.” The odds of winning the lottery are one out of 175 million – not billion. You have better odds of winning the lottery than being in a global tragedy. 3. Highlight the good in humankind. This point is so crucial for all of us. It is so easy to get consumed by the hatred and senseless violence of humankind. It can feel scary and hopeless for the best of us. For anxious children – who are already worried about bad guys around every corner – this fear can be paralyzing. -During tragedies focus on the random acts of kindness and unity it brings out in others. -Tell your child stories about those who helped during the tragedy. -If you come across pictures that emphasis kindness and unity, show them to your child. Avoid pictures that have any graphic images in them. 4. Channel your child’s emotions into positive action. Anxious children tend to have huge hearts. They often feel other people’s pain and suffering more deeply. Channel your child’s emotional energy into making a positive change. Having them do something to help in the crisis can make them feel like they have the power to make a difference. It gives a feeling of control in an uncontrollable situation. -Children can earn money to donate to the Red Cross. -They can make art for the victims that you can then post on social media. -If they ask how they can help, you can search the web for ongoing ways to help the victims of the tragedy and share that with your children. In the days, weeks and months after a tragedy, observe your child’s behavior to assess how they’re handling their anxiety. If you have concerns seek out professional help. Some warning behavior might include, but is not limited to: -frequent nightmares -fear of going to public places and/or school -increase in somatic complaints (stomach aches, headaches and other physical complaints) -new fear of sleeping alone -new fear of separation -excessive worry and talk about the tragedy -frequent questions about their safety, weeks and months after the incident I wish we didn’t have to have these discussions with our children. For those little minds and hearts that already worry about so much, I’m saddened this has to be added to their plate. But with rain comes rainbows and with lemons comes lemonade. We need to teach our kids that darkness cannot extinguish the light. That we will not let that happen. To see more from Natasha, visit Anxious Toddlers. More on the San Bernardino shooting: – Live updates– The Shooting at Inland Regional Center: A Parent’s Thoughts– Dad Reads Texts From Daughter in Building During San Bernardino Shooting– Politicians Tweet Responses to San Bernardino Shooting – Video From Inside Building at San Bernardino Shooting

4 Parenting Lessons Only My Anxious Children Could Teach Me

I decided I wanted to be a child therapist long before I ever had children. I finished graduate school before I even began motherhood. I knew all the signs and symptoms of every childhood mental health disorder before my first child entered the world. You would think I was well-prepared. You would think if anyone could handle anxious children, it would be me. Apparently the universe shared the same sentiment — it dutifully delivered me child after child with some form of anxiety in their DNA. At first I was in denial, quickly rebuking my education and profession by thinking, “Come on! These things seem normal to me. What’s the big deal?” Eventually the reality started to sink in. No, not every parent has to worry about going on the highway because their 3-year-old starts to panic. No, not every parent has to talk to their 5-year-old about what will happen when they die. Twelve years and three children later, I’ve embraced anxiety as much as I embrace my children. My children have taught me more about life than any textbook ever did. They’ve taught me… 1. That I need to believe in them — not in their fear. Early on I found myself accommodating my child’s fear. She doesn’t like highways — I should find an alternative route. She doesn’t like elevators — let’s find the stairs. But over time, I realized she was more of a fighter than I was allowing her to be. She was tired of her worries and wanted them to go away. Instead of turning away from her fears, I began to hold her hand and we faced them together. One small step at a time. 2. That my fears aren’t always their fears. Sometimes I find myself inadvertently putting my children and their worries into tiny, predictable boxes. I play out scenarios in my head and anticipate how situations will unfold. Luckily, I’ve often been wrong. It make me realize I can’t underestimate my children. I think I was more nervous about kindergarten than my son. I walked him to the gate on the first day waiting for the meltdown. Waiting for the battle to start. Wondering if the school counselor was in on the first day. He turned to me and said, “You can go. I’m good.” And he didn’t look back. Not once. 3. That my words can tear them down and lift them up. From my experience, anxious children tend to be much more sensitive in general. My kids are no exception. They love hard and hurt hard. Sensitive children often have the biggest hearts. My 3-year-old is the first to notice when I’m having a bad day. She’s also the first one to sulk in a corner for hours when I correct her behavior. She is the one who frequently asks, “Are you proud of me?” five zillion times a day. I realize now my words have weight. They’re actively shaping the way she views herself. I’ve learned to be cautious with my words — as they can tear my little girl down in a heartbeat or lift her up. I’m in the process of helping her develop her own inner dialogue. 4. That my children are watching. They are watching my reaction. They are watching my emotions. They are watching my choices. Emotions are contagious, especially when your children look for you to be their anchor. And my anxious children are observant. When I’m nervous, they’re nervous — sometimes sadly when they wouldn’t have been otherwise. I’ve had to develop a good poker face. Sometimes I can do this and sometimes I fail. But, I always try my best. I’ve learned to stop worrying about their worries as much as I can. I take one day, one fear and one phobia at a time. I remember when my oldest daughter couldn’t sleep unless she was holding my hand. I thought she’d sleep next to me forever. She is now 12 and would deny that ever happened. (Oh, it happened.) I remember not too long ago when I thought my youngest would never go poop in the potty. Her fear was palpable — she walked around holding her bottom saying, “I no poop. I no poop!” That too has passed. We are on to the next challenges life inevitably brings but with a new belief. A belief in my children. A belief in their strength. In my strength. A knowledge we can get through whatever life wants to throw at us — one day at a time.

4 Parenting Lessons Only My Anxious Children Could Teach Me

I decided I wanted to be a child therapist long before I ever had children. I finished graduate school before I even began motherhood. I knew all the signs and symptoms of every childhood mental health disorder before my first child entered the world. You would think I was well-prepared. You would think if anyone could handle anxious children, it would be me. Apparently the universe shared the same sentiment — it dutifully delivered me child after child with some form of anxiety in their DNA. At first I was in denial, quickly rebuking my education and profession by thinking, “Come on! These things seem normal to me. What’s the big deal?” Eventually the reality started to sink in. No, not every parent has to worry about going on the highway because their 3-year-old starts to panic. No, not every parent has to talk to their 5-year-old about what will happen when they die. Twelve years and three children later, I’ve embraced anxiety as much as I embrace my children. My children have taught me more about life than any textbook ever did. They’ve taught me… 1. That I need to believe in them — not in their fear. Early on I found myself accommodating my child’s fear. She doesn’t like highways — I should find an alternative route. She doesn’t like elevators — let’s find the stairs. But over time, I realized she was more of a fighter than I was allowing her to be. She was tired of her worries and wanted them to go away. Instead of turning away from her fears, I began to hold her hand and we faced them together. One small step at a time. 2. That my fears aren’t always their fears. Sometimes I find myself inadvertently putting my children and their worries into tiny, predictable boxes. I play out scenarios in my head and anticipate how situations will unfold. Luckily, I’ve often been wrong. It make me realize I can’t underestimate my children. I think I was more nervous about kindergarten than my son. I walked him to the gate on the first day waiting for the meltdown. Waiting for the battle to start. Wondering if the school counselor was in on the first day. He turned to me and said, “You can go. I’m good.” And he didn’t look back. Not once. 3. That my words can tear them down and lift them up. From my experience, anxious children tend to be much more sensitive in general. My kids are no exception. They love hard and hurt hard. Sensitive children often have the biggest hearts. My 3-year-old is the first to notice when I’m having a bad day. She’s also the first one to sulk in a corner for hours when I correct her behavior. She is the one who frequently asks, “Are you proud of me?” five zillion times a day. I realize now my words have weight. They’re actively shaping the way she views herself. I’ve learned to be cautious with my words — as they can tear my little girl down in a heartbeat or lift her up. I’m in the process of helping her develop her own inner dialogue. 4. That my children are watching. They are watching my reaction. They are watching my emotions. They are watching my choices. Emotions are contagious, especially when your children look for you to be their anchor. And my anxious children are observant. When I’m nervous, they’re nervous — sometimes sadly when they wouldn’t have been otherwise. I’ve had to develop a good poker face. Sometimes I can do this and sometimes I fail. But, I always try my best. I’ve learned to stop worrying about their worries as much as I can. I take one day, one fear and one phobia at a time. I remember when my oldest daughter couldn’t sleep unless she was holding my hand. I thought she’d sleep next to me forever. She is now 12 and would deny that ever happened. (Oh, it happened.) I remember not too long ago when I thought my youngest would never go poop in the potty. Her fear was palpable — she walked around holding her bottom saying, “I no poop. I no poop!” That too has passed. We are on to the next challenges life inevitably brings but with a new belief. A belief in my children. A belief in their strength. In my strength. A knowledge we can get through whatever life wants to throw at us — one day at a time.

4 Parenting Lessons Only My Anxious Children Could Teach Me

I decided I wanted to be a child therapist long before I ever had children. I finished graduate school before I even began motherhood. I knew all the signs and symptoms of every childhood mental health disorder before my first child entered the world. You would think I was well-prepared. You would think if anyone could handle anxious children, it would be me. Apparently the universe shared the same sentiment — it dutifully delivered me child after child with some form of anxiety in their DNA. At first I was in denial, quickly rebuking my education and profession by thinking, “Come on! These things seem normal to me. What’s the big deal?” Eventually the reality started to sink in. No, not every parent has to worry about going on the highway because their 3-year-old starts to panic. No, not every parent has to talk to their 5-year-old about what will happen when they die. Twelve years and three children later, I’ve embraced anxiety as much as I embrace my children. My children have taught me more about life than any textbook ever did. They’ve taught me… 1. That I need to believe in them — not in their fear. Early on I found myself accommodating my child’s fear. She doesn’t like highways — I should find an alternative route. She doesn’t like elevators — let’s find the stairs. But over time, I realized she was more of a fighter than I was allowing her to be. She was tired of her worries and wanted them to go away. Instead of turning away from her fears, I began to hold her hand and we faced them together. One small step at a time. 2. That my fears aren’t always their fears. Sometimes I find myself inadvertently putting my children and their worries into tiny, predictable boxes. I play out scenarios in my head and anticipate how situations will unfold. Luckily, I’ve often been wrong. It make me realize I can’t underestimate my children. I think I was more nervous about kindergarten than my son. I walked him to the gate on the first day waiting for the meltdown. Waiting for the battle to start. Wondering if the school counselor was in on the first day. He turned to me and said, “You can go. I’m good.” And he didn’t look back. Not once. 3. That my words can tear them down and lift them up. From my experience, anxious children tend to be much more sensitive in general. My kids are no exception. They love hard and hurt hard. Sensitive children often have the biggest hearts. My 3-year-old is the first to notice when I’m having a bad day. She’s also the first one to sulk in a corner for hours when I correct her behavior. She is the one who frequently asks, “Are you proud of me?” five zillion times a day. I realize now my words have weight. They’re actively shaping the way she views herself. I’ve learned to be cautious with my words — as they can tear my little girl down in a heartbeat or lift her up. I’m in the process of helping her develop her own inner dialogue. 4. That my children are watching. They are watching my reaction. They are watching my emotions. They are watching my choices. Emotions are contagious, especially when your children look for you to be their anchor. And my anxious children are observant. When I’m nervous, they’re nervous — sometimes sadly when they wouldn’t have been otherwise. I’ve had to develop a good poker face. Sometimes I can do this and sometimes I fail. But, I always try my best. I’ve learned to stop worrying about their worries as much as I can. I take one day, one fear and one phobia at a time. I remember when my oldest daughter couldn’t sleep unless she was holding my hand. I thought she’d sleep next to me forever. She is now 12 and would deny that ever happened. (Oh, it happened.) I remember not too long ago when I thought my youngest would never go poop in the potty. Her fear was palpable — she walked around holding her bottom saying, “I no poop. I no poop!” That too has passed. We are on to the next challenges life inevitably brings but with a new belief. A belief in my children. A belief in their strength. In my strength. A knowledge we can get through whatever life wants to throw at us — one day at a time.

5 Tips for Parenting a Child With OCD

Watching your child have irrational beliefs and partake in bizarre rituals is heartbreaking. The parenting handbook left out the chapter on how to parent a child with obsessive compulsive disorder. How are you supposed to react? How can you help them stop their compulsive behavior? Should you be stern? Should you ignore it? These are the questions I typically get when working with parents in my practice. Here are five basic tips I’ve learned from working with children with OCD: 1. Educate you and your child on obsessive compulsive disorder. Time and time again I sit on the opposite side of the couch talking to a nervous and uncomfortable child. They whisper to me how they have silly beliefs. I offer them reassurance and they reluctantly tell me more – how they have to touch corners, count in their head or wash their hands every time they have a bad thought. They apologize for their bizarre thoughts and stare at me, waiting for me to officially declare them “crazy.” No matter how often this happens it breaks my heart. I tell the child I’ve heard this before. That they’re not alone. That there’s a name for this. That it’s common and there’s help. Their eyes open wide and they say, “There is?!” with palpable relief. You can help your child by explaining to them what OCD is and how it affects their thinking. If you don’t understand OCD yourself it’s helpful to acquire this knowledge so you’re better prepared to help your child. There are some great books to help children understand OCD on their level. Some parents shy away from using the word OCD, but I’ve found children find great comfort in knowing their issue has a name and they’re not alone. My favorite book for children is “What to Do When Your Brain Gets Stuck.” For parents: “What to Do When Your Child Has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.” 2) Give the OCD a name. Often children don’t know how to talk about their OCD. They’re embarrassed by their thoughts but dependent on their rituals. When you tell them to stop doing ritualistic behavior they may feel like you’re attacking them – not their OCD. They sometimes feel angry. Why would you tell me to stop doing something that’s keeping me “safe”? Help your child externalize their OCD by giving it a name. You can call it Mr. Worry or Mr. Bossy. Some kids like to get creative and come up with their own names. I have had kids call it Mr. Germs or Mr. Numbers, depending on their OCD theme. One approach is to tell your child something like: Mr. Bossy is a trickster and he likes to boss you around and make you feel worried. He wants you to avoid stuff and follow his silly rules. When you do what he wants – he grows bigger. When he grows bigger – he can bother you more. When you turn into Super (insert your child’s name here) – you can fight Mr. Bossy and beat him. When you ignore him or argue about his silly rules you shrink him and make him smaller – less powerful. Books on OCD can help you reiterate this message – or help you create one of your own if this approach doesn’t resonate with you or your child. 3) Do not get overzealous and point out all of your child’s rituals. When your child has a problem you want to fix it as soon as you can. This can make parents overzealous with their efforts to beat their child’s OCD for them. Unfortunately, this is your child’s battle. You can offer your help and guidance, but you can’t fix this for your child. In fact, if you point out every ritualistic behavior you see you may unintentionally cause your child to become more secretive about their OCD. Stopping ritualistic behavior does not happen overnight. Initial success may be as simple as recognizing an OCD thought or briefly delaying a ritual. 4) Don’t be part of their rituals. One area you do have control over is your participation in rituals. Some children involve their parents in their ritualistic behavior. If possible, you do not want to enable or participate in rituals. You can tell your child, “I am not helping Mr. Bossy boss you around. You can listen to him, but I won’t!” 5) Keep an eye out for new rituals so you can work together as a team. Children can get defensive about their rules and rituals and they may not want you to recognize any new rules or behaviors. Even though children do not want to have OCD, they’re often slaves to the rituals that provide them brief relief from their worrying. Therefore it’s important to keep an eye out for odd or irrational behavior. Often when one type of OCD behavior has been eliminated, another rule or behavior replaces it. That’s why it’s important to give your child the skills to beat OCD and not just the specific behavior or rule they’re currently doing. When you discover your child is doing a new ritual gently address it and let them know you’re here to help them beat Mr. Bossy. OCD can be a challenging issue! It can consume little minds and impede their social and emotional growth. The sooner children are given the skills to overcome their OCD, the better the longterm prognosis will be. I encourage you to follow these tips, educate yourself by reading books on OCD and seek out professional guidance and support for you and your child as needed. You can watch Natasha give these five tips in the video below. This post originally appeared on Anxious Toddlers.