Monday, January 17, 2011

Anxiety in Children

I'd never really thought about childhood anxiety. It's not something that gets much play in parenting magazines. Most parents don't sit around and compare their kids' anxieties like they do their abilities to sing, swim, read, and drive their siblings batty. We talk about sleep issues and food problems, but we don't talk about anxiety. Certainly nothing beyond the basic separation issues when the child is 9 and 18 months.

We might all talk about our sadness at them leaving us in stages: for preschool, kindergarten, and so on.

My beautiful, very bright 5 year old has anxiety. And it isn't a little anxiety. It's day-to-day world-altering anxiety. He's been diagnosed officially with Anxiety Disorder.

In retrospect, he's always had small signs. As early as he could talk (very, very early that is), he would say "Can I come too?" when we went to the mall or a restaurant. It was just the three of us back then, and the only option would be to leave him in the car. Of course he was coming! He took the comings and goings of family to heart and would sob when we had to leave someone at the airport.

On the flip side, he went off to preschool with a don't-let-the-door-hit-you-on-the-way-out attitude. Unless I was volunteering that day, and then he wanted to literally sit on top of me for circle time. His junior kindergarten year was much the same, though he also marched in line with the other four year olds, calling out very enthusiastic goodbyes to anyone he knew in the crowd.

And then he turned five.

I didn't know what to do with this little man who suddenly refused to let Ray and I go out. It took an hour, bribery and bargaining to talk him down from the emotional ledge on my birthday in June. He was staying with a sitter he'd had for 2 years and loved. Still, it took my cousin, who is a social worker with small, anxious kids, and myself to finally manage that. Each time we went out for months, it was accompanied by screaming and crying. Bedtime was suddenly a disaster: there were "bugs" everywhere (not a one in sight) and multiple trips to reassure himself that we were still there. Summer activities were a painful time. He had a soccer camp and the first day it took me 2 hours to remove myself.

Then his senior kindergarten year began. The little man who had walked in, proudly waving and shouting goodbyes to all and sundry was replaced by someone who not only cried at the prospect of going, but alternately had to be carried in, chased down, and walked in with hand-holding.

Once in school...or camp...or swimming class...or babysitting...he was fine. And he came out the other end smiling and laughing.

Ray and I were not so lucky. We felt like a large truck had jackknifed on top of us!

And I have been incredibly quiet this fall because of it. I've not been talking about the elephant that lives among us. But it is a very real elephant and I am tired of not talking about it.

My child has an anxiety disorder.

We've seen doctors and a psychiatrist. Thankfully we can get him to go to school and swimming and other such things. He's not so bad that we have to medicate him. (Which I would have been leery about, but there were a few months there where we would have given anything to just make it through the next day.) And now we are seeing a social worker to talk about it. I had no idea what was available to us for such problems. Now I do.

Very slowly, things are getting better. He sleeps well now and doesn't get up 40 times most evenings. He's easier to get to start new things. He still verbally protests at certain activities, but I am no longer the mother with the screaming child who is being physically carried into the pool area, school yard, and other places. And although he still gives big tears and loud protests, once the babysitter arrives, he could care less where we are going, as long as we GO.

It gets better. Slowly.


FnkyGreenMama said...

Good for you for sharing this. I work with anxious children (and have some personal experience with anxiety myself) so I know how challenging life can become for those affected by it. I'd be happy to talk to you about it anytime.

BTW you've inspired me to try to get my blog going again, so thanks ;)

Christy said...

Just found your blog through Slightly Cosmopolitan and saw this post. I was a child with anxiety. . . mine started at age 6 - I was diagnosed with Separation Anxiety Disorder when I was 8. . . and so the journey began for me and my family. As an adult still dealing with some anxiety/panic attacks, I know the road that lies ahead is tough, but I also know that things get better and I applaud you on seeking help now for your son and taking it seriously.