How to Stunt the Growth of Anxiety in Your Kiddo

Right now we are living in a season when the simplest tasks can seem overwhelming. Going to the grocery stores isn’t the chore it used to be. Now it’s full of even more stress and tension. We don’t know if someone will bump into us, yell at us, or if we are crossing the aisle at the wrong time.

As much as we tell ourselves, I will not let this bother me (raising my hand here), it does. It’s a palatable feeling in the air. The anxiety settles down on all of us collectively. As much as we feel it, our kiddos do too.

Our kiddos  mirror us. If we feel stressed, they feel stressed.

If we feel overwhelmed, they feel overwhelmed.

If we feel anxious, our anxiety adds to their stress shaped brain and squeezes.

This is true for any kiddo, even more so for kiddos from hard places and who has a capital letter syndrome.

My anxiety Story

When I was growing up, there was a lot of political unrest. Adults around me had an unwritten rule – Kids should understand how serious this is. I didn’t know what “this” was, and I wasn’t sure how to act. So, I did what any kiddo would do in the situation – I felt anxious. My anxiety grew over the years and became my constant companion in my adulthood. I felt as if I SHOULD FEEL ANXIOUS ABOUT EVERYTHING. So I did. I was like the character in The Great Divorce with the creature on his shoulder:

“What sat on his shoulder was a little red lizard, and it was twitching its tail like a whip and whispering things in his ear.”

My anxiety is like the lizard. It whispers things in my ear, and I act upon them. But this isn’t about me. It’s about the growth of anxiety in a child.

Tips for Stunting the growth of Anxiety

With my experience in mind (and science) I’m sharing a few tips to stunt the growth of anxiety in an already anxious kid.

  1. Tell them what’s going on. Your kids need not know everything. On the flip side, they don’t need to know nothing. Not knowing breeds anxiety. Whatever the situation, let them know what is age appropriate for them. This applies to any life situation. If Great Grandma dies, a five-year-old needs to know the truth. Not, she is floating in the air. But don’t go as far as the embalming process. 
  2. Let your kiddo talk about it. Whatever it is. One of the healthiest things a kiddo can do after a tragedy is talk. For example, my two-year-old Granddaughter fell while playing and suffered a concussion. At the ER she had a CT scan. Later, via Facetime, she told me several times about the giant camera that took a picture of her (and her daddy’s) head. She retold her story of falling and her ER visit. We make progress in our healing journey by telling our stories to an empathetic listener. So do kiddos. When something happens to a kiddo, it tempts us to tell them they will be all right. It’s tempting to tell them to forget it and move on. The truth is the world is full of adults who never talked about “it” and who have never moved on.
  3. Realize although your kiddo may have a stress shaped brain, anxiety can also become a habit. When I was a young mom, struggling with depression and anxiety, a friend recommended a book to me (that I can’t remember the name of!). The author had many of the same anxiety driven habits. She didn’t like closed-in places; she didn’t want to do anything in which she wasn’t in control. On a ski trip, she asked an exuberant  friend – Aren’t you anxious about going down the hill. To which her friend replied, “Yes, isn’t it glorious!” I’m paraphrasing here. The point is one woman took the anxious feeling, and it caused her to miss out. Another took the feeling and let her body feel it and felt joyful about it. While I’m not saying you can teach your kiddo to feel joyful about everything they are afraid of, it’s good to look for the habit of anxiety. When you see it, talk it through, work it through. Do whatever you need to help your kiddo form a new habit. “I feel anxious” can turn into “I feel excited!”
  4. Talk through an event before you go. Guess what. I still do this to quell my anxiety. One of my adult ways for handling this is looking at routes on the GPS. I ask someone who has traveled it how many tunnels there are. I plan my rest breaks when traveling alone. I count out my change for toll booths. These practices lessen my anxiety. Sure, I run into unknowns, traffic jams, a pit stop, my cooler sliding off the seat so I can’t reach my food (true story). I handle these unknowns better if I know the majority about the trip. Kids need to talk through events even more than adults do. It moves them to their upstairs brain. They can look at the event logically and stunt the growth of anxiety.

Remember, anxiety grows if fed. I fed mine for years. Now, I’m working on starving it out. I use these tips with my kiddos. They know them so well; they use them on me! 

I hope these tips help you and your kiddos. Do you have your own tip? Share it here.

Get Intentional About Playing and Moving

Are you suffering from circumstantial depression?

Are you too tired to move?

Too worn out to play?

Or maybe you never learned to play as a child?

Some seasons of our lives, we just don’t feel like moving.

Why get intentional about moving and play?

One thing we have to get intentional about is playing and moving. We moms can get so caught up in the doing, that we forget about being. I’m not talking about vegging on Netflix or Amazon. I’m talking about intentional play for you and your children. Play builds brains, fuels logic, and gets bodies moving.

Play Therapy was developed in the 1970s to help families learn how to do intentional play with their children. It’s an important part of parenting. It stimulates brains and the relationship part of the playing grows the brain. Did you know that? Relationships grow the brain. So, the play I’m talking about is interactive.

  • A walk on the trail picking up nature and identifying it together.
  • A tea party.
  • Playing with Play doh.
  • Archery practice.
  • Board games.

All of these activities are work for children. We all have jobs. A child’s job is to find out how the world works -what the physical laws of nature are, how relationships work, how to get along. how to win, how to lose, how to build character.

These are all done through play/work. 

Have you ever thought of play this way before?

I’m not talking about “go to your room and play by yourself.” There’s a place for that. In fact, kids are more willing to play by themselves after their emotional tank is full. We mom are the gas that fuels their tank. If you have boys, the last sentence should hit your funny bone. We co-regulate with our kids, we teach them how to play.

YOu’re never too old to Play

Some of us don’t know how to play well as adults, because no one taught us or we think we are too old for play. We’re never too old to play. It’s okay. We can have fun. We can make a mess. Remember Moms, we are the boss and the employee. If the boss says we can have a water fight, we can. Then the employee can clean it up ( that’s us too).

One year, we had moved to a new town and didn’t know anyone. I was suffering some of my own circumstantial depression and God told me to do something fun with each child every day. It was hard. It was fun. We grew closer that year as a family, more than any other time.

We had squirt gun battles, game nights, roller blades on the driveway. Hiked. Biked. Did scavenger hunts at Cabela’s. 

The point is, don’t wait to want to. Do it when you don’t feel like it.

Moving.

Mamas, we have to move. We do a lot of moving with babies, laundry and dishes, cooking and the like, but with all of our servant appliances, we don’t work as hard as Moms of the past used to. We can easily become couch potatoes in between jobs. Couch potato-ing makes us feel sluggish. Our lymph nodes fill with toxins that don’t drain without proper exercise. We get headaches, backaches and cranky attitudes. We need to move. Guess what, it takes the investment of time and energy. You can do it! You can! Find an accountability partner. If you want to see your children grow up, graduate, get married, and have children, you have to start working on moving today. Not some day when you have the time. Now is the time to move and play.

Why is my child hoarding/having food issues again and what can I do?

My Food Issues

When I was in college, I struggled with food issues. I’m sure it began before then, but symptoms peaked during my college years. I began severely restricting my calories, allowing myself to eat a bowl of oatmeal as my one meal of the day. Once I ate, I worked out, walked with weights on my ankles for five miles at a time. I was slowly killing myself. I just didn’t know it. What I felt was light and powerful. Not eating was something I could control in a very out of control world.

It wasn’t until I was in my early twenties that I read this statement in a fitness book “food is fuel.” I had never thought about the concept before. I grew up in a home where we ate meals together at a table. It wasn’t just food, it was family time. It was healthy food as well as healthy connection time.  I don’t know how and why I went astray. I don’t think anyone could have “talked me” out of my food issues by telling me they were “bad” or “wrong.” I also don’t know why I enjoyed the floaty feeling not eating gave me. I don’t enjoy it now.

But this isn’t about me. I say all that to say I understand food issues. I know they aren’t very understandable or clear to most people. It’s like those people who don’t understand depression who say, “Just pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get over it.” That doesn’t help at all.

Three Thoughts on Why Food Issues are Back

Maybe during this social distancing crazy time, your child who has made progress in food issues has suddenly regressed. Issues you thought were in the past are now in your present. Why?

I have a few thoughts on why.

  1. When stressed we regress. Think about that for a moment. During this crazy season, what’s one habit you had left behind that you’ve picked up like a comfy cardigan. Maybe it’s smoking. Eating tons of sweets. Staying glued to your phone. Biting your nails. If you have a habit fresh in your mind, you will better understand your child’s regression. He is stressed even if he can’t verbalize it.
  2. Food is something controllable. See my story above. Looking back, it was probably a bad idea for an introvert like me who had strong family ties to go to the big university. It stressed me in ways I couldn’t verbalize. Gone were the family dinners. The devotions with breakfast. So I turned against food. I controlled my environment by not eating. It couldn’t tell me what to do. Maybe food for your kiddo is comfort. Maybe stealing/hoarding makes him feel as if he has a voice. To explain this phenomenon, Dawn Davenport wrote an article titled “Hoarding, Overeating, & Food Obsessions in Adopted & Foster Kids” for Creating a Family. In it, she notes, “Many adopted and foster children with a history of food insecurity are very interested in food when they first arrive home, which presents as a collection of behaviors often referred to as ‘hoarding.’ Hoarding is a natural reaction to food insecurity and may present as eating quickly, stuffing large amounts of food in their mouths, stealing and sneaking food, and getting upset when food is limited.”
  1. When in survival mode, we are impulsive beings. We don’t think about the consequences. I wasn’t thinking about the long term consequences to my physical body I was creating. Plus, no one really knew how much I was restricting my calories. I fooled them by keeping a cup of coffee in my hands at all family events (yikes, am I doing that now?)

So what do we do?

If someone would have been aware of  my food issues, they could have helped me if done in the right way. “Food is fuel” totally changed my mindset about food. It sent me to my upstairs brain and I had to think about food in a new way. 

Impulsiveness is a sign we are in our downstairs brain. The executive function is out to lunch (pun intended). How do we engage the upstairs brain?

  1. During a time the kiddo is not in impulsivity mode, teach some science. With younger kids, teach them to recognize the feeling of a full stomach. Talk about food and how it makes you feel. Let them do the same. When I eat ____ I feel… Let them be honest even if it doesn’t make sense to you. Work on helping the kiddo recognize the feeling of satiety. Have him put his hand on his stomach and  become aware of when it feels full. This is not a one-time practice or a quick fix. It takes years. Also, to develop a healthy relationship with food, it’s important to know which foods are healthy and why we eat them. 

 The point is to get the kiddos in their upstairs brain. This is where logic lives. For older kiddos -teach them as much science as they can handle. Find info like this for them to read on their own (instead of preaching it) –

“Eating sugar also affects how we act and feel each day. If you’ve ever tried to give up sugar, you know that during the first few days you are feeling cranky and miserable, almost like a drug addict without his or her drug of choice. Sugar consumption causes a hormonal roller coaster of alternating high levels of insulin and blood sugar. These hormonal shifts can dramatically affect your attitude and your ability to concentrate during the day. Sugar has been found to be a major contributor to diseases and symptoms like:

 • Atherosclerosis 

• Attention deficit disorder and attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder • Behavior problems

 • Cancer 

• Chronic fatigue syndrome 

• Colon cancer 

• Coronary heart disease 

• Food intolerance 

• Kidney disease 

• Liver disease 

• Malnutrition 

• Osteoporosis 

• Overgrowth of yeast, especially Candida albicans 

• Tooth decay 

• Violent tendencies”

Isabel Price, New Life Promise
  1. Don’t make the issue about the child. Whatever you do, don’t make any eating struggles about the child. Avoid saying things like, “You’re going to get fat if you eat like that!” Remember, the point is to develop a healthy relationship with food, not to have a restrictive, punitive mentality. Teaching kids about healthy choices and how to recognize their own feeling of “full” is a better way to address eating struggles.
  2. Give your child choice and voice. One of the ways you can give your child choice and voice is a snack basket. I did this with my kiddos when they were struggling. It helped them feel secure knowing there was a snack available at all times.

Food hoarding and food aversion are not something your kids made up to annoy you or other people. Food issues are a behavior with a need behind them. Overcoming them takes time, research, patience, and a ton of self-sacrifice — but it is possible.

How to Have Peace When Your Kids are in Chaos Webinar

Are you an adoptive or foster parent

  Are your kiddos in survival mode?

 Do you feel stuck in reactionary mode instead of proactively parenting?

Or maybe someone in your family has had some trauma in their past?

Do you feel as if your home is constantly in chaos? Then this is for you…

I can’t promise you that you will have perfect peace in your home.  I can promise you that if you invest the time, you will have more peace and less chaos. 

My Story

I’m a parent, just like you. I am the mother of seven, four through adoption. When I adopted, I had no clue how to parent my newbies. Traditional parenting had worked with my three bios. It didn’t work with my newbies. Everything I tried seemed to backfire. I needed answers and fast!

I naively thought that because I had early childhood trauma, I was equipped to handle kiddos who had experienced the same.

When my husband and I adopted a sibling group of four from Poland, all of them came with open emotional wounds. I can’t share their story. Their story belongs to them. Suffice it to say, their triggers and my triggers met head-on and resulted in chaos.

I did the logical thing. I bought books. I researched. I read books to my husband at night when he was trying to fall asleep, “Listen to this,” I would say. “This is why he is doing this.”

It’s Not all about the behavior

I thought it was all about the behavior. Maybe you think that too. Maybe you, like me, think that if you learn the science, you can figure out the why behind the behavior. I thought I could fix the behaviors and the chaos would be gone.

In the next two images, I share my roadmap for what I thought works and what actually does work. If you are really struggling like I was, maybe this applies to you too.

  • Learn the Science
  • Apply the Science
  • Change the Behavior
  • Peace

It didn’t work. I was so busy trying to fix my kids that I didn’t realize the biggest part of the chaos was me. It’s not that my kids were acting or reacting properly. They struggled with regulation because of their past experience.

Take a minute right now and think about the last chaotic interaction with your child. Did you see your child as rebellious, contentious, and constantly pushing your buttons on purpose? Are you looking through the lens of your past? Does each interaction take you back to your childhood and the way Mom or Dad responded to you, or are you looking through the lens of the child’s past? Are you seeing how their former caregivers/bio parents responded to them (not to judge them or their past but to better understand them)? 

Instead of starting with the science and trying to change our kids’ behaviors. We must start with our beliefs. They will take some reframing. We can work through the myths and misconceptions of adoption our culture is saturated in. We must do the hard work of making sense of and peace with our past. After we begin to make sense of our past, we can then learn and apply the science. Behaviors will change and we will have more peace!

Want to have more peace in your home?

Join me (Kathleen Guire) for a webinar!

When: Thursday, May 28 at 7:00pm EST

Sign up below! Only ten people will be accepted. First come first serve. I like to keep my webinars small so I can talk to everyone! Once you are signed up, I’ll send you a Pdf explaining what to expect!

YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE SOCIALLY AVAILABLE ALL THE TIME

Media distancing is difficult these days

When I was a young girl, the world was in turmoil. Civil Rights marches. Protests. Violence. The TV blared bad news all day. I had the sense that nothing was right in the world.

It felt like it does now. The only difference is we have more news sources, more ways of getting information, including social media. We can get the idea that we must be socially available all the time.

How about you? Do you feel the need to be socially available all the time?

To answer every notification?

Scroll three or four times a day? 

Infinite scroll allows us to endlessly swipe down through content.

“If you don’t give your brain time to catch up with your impulses,” Mr Raskin said, “you just keep scrolling.” ( A former employee of Facebook)

When scrolling our emotions can run through the gamut. One moment we are laughing, the next crying, the next depressed. It’s an odd sort of feeling we pick up. We can  pick up fear and panic when we didn’t have it two minutes before we opened the app.

You don’t have to be socially available all the time.

We feel as if it is our responsibility to be available all the time. 

Jennifer Lee says:

“Social availability has become our soul’s adversity.” 

We can buy into the lie that we must post, answer comments, and keep everyone updated on our lives and then do the same for them. It’s a farce, a fallacy, a ford we don’t want to cross. When we feel that we MUST do something, it then becomes our master and we are it’s servant. It becomes adversity we create all on our own. We can begin to think that social media is REAL connection. It’s not. It can be a ripple effect after we have relationships or connections. Social Media cannot replace human connection. Maybe that’s why some of us feel so out of sorts right now. We know:

  • Social availability or scrolling is not connection, relationship or education.
  • Scrolling, posting, photographing, reading and commenting is not living.
  • We also think we must stay on top of things by “checking” social media. What if we miss something?

Constant Social Availability is Harmful to Our Kids

Remember how I said my early childhood was? By the time I was in middle school, my mom had put the TV in the closet. REALLY. No TV. I spent the majority of my childhood without one in a time when the TV was the staple of every household. Was it a radical move on her part? Yes. Did I get teased and made fun of? Yes. Where my thoughts, foundation, and ways of navigating choices filtered by what I saw on TV? No.

My mom taking the TV away was a gift. I may have thought it was a curse at the time. I entered college basically TV- show- illiterate. Still to this day, I don’t understand some TV references. (I’ve never watched FRIENDS – just a few snippets – so I don’t speak the lingo). I have never watched most of the shows my peers digested as a regular part of their diet. I’m not bragging. We kids BEGGED for a TV. What’s the point? Media distancing practices are beneficial if done for the right reason. Mom didn’t want our minds poisoned by TV.  

Just a thoughtIt’s okay to make choices for our children’s sake. It’s okay to choose to limit social media, tv, news articles, news apps, newspapers, etc…

If we are more concerned about what friends (even church friends) or Aunt Betty say about our social media or TV restrictions  for our family, then we are looking towards man, not God.

Ask yourself – ten years from now, what will this matter? What are you feeding your mind and the minds of your children?

  • When we are distracted by social media, we are teaching our children to live a distracted lifestyle.
  • When we are too busy to look up from screens to engage, we teach our children that screens are more important than connection.
  • When we react with depression, anger, frustration, and fear, after looking/reading a post, we teach our kids that nothing is right in the world. 
  • When we react more quickly to the notification on our phone then we do to the kiddo’s request, we teach them devices are more important. 
  • When we tend to our devices more than we tend to our homes, we will be out of balance.

Here’s another way to look at Social media-

You wouldn’t indiscriminately go into anyone’s house, eat their food, listen to their worldview, absorb their theology, listen to their advice on every subject, so why go to them on social media?

Lately, I haven’t been on social media a lot. With the move to our new house, we have gained the limited ability to use wifi. It’s been an odd blessing during this season. I have to go into my office to get a signal. (So sorry to all of you who message me or comment on posts- I sometimes don’t get them for a day or two.) So, I’ve been socially distancing myself mentally and physically. I’ve taken to writing articles (here) on the website again. I’m staying in my own “house” on the world wide web as well.

Hopefully, as a result of this craziness, we will see  a rebirth of actual articles on websites. We can then choose whose “house” we go to for encouragement, edification, and information.

Just a thought – Maybe it’s time we stepped back and did some more thinking in our upstairs brain

We could camp out there, dust off the books and put our thinking caps back on. We can enter the land of literal, logical, and linear. We can leave the survival brain downstairs. We can leave behind the fight, flight, and freeze, reactions. 

Of course, I’m not bashing social media altogether. Just as in my house example, we don’t randomly run from house to house when we aren’t socially distancing, don’t run to everyone’s “house” on social media now. Here are three simple tips:

  1. Instead of scrolling, go to a page. If you are checking on family, just go to their page to see what they are up to today. If someone has been putting out some encouraging content during this time – go straight to their page. My favorite page during this season has been Marcy Holder. (She was on the podcast recently – find it here – scroll down to “Show Up for Your Own Life”). She’s a spiritually- focused coach. Every day, I feel as if her message of encouragement is just for me. 
  2.  Instead of checking notifications, turn them off. I don’t have mine on and even if I did, they wouldn’t work in my house. It’s too much of an emotional roller coaster to answer the ping. Just a thought – Did you ever think we’ve been trained by social media to respond? Like little mice, we run for the “food?” Let your friends and family know the best way to reach you, text, email, phone call, or snail mail.
  3.  Don’t get your news from social media and don’t believe all the news you see. PERIOD.  As Winnie the Pooh says -Think. Think. Think.

Frances Schaeffer said in How Should We Then Live:

“Actually TV manipulates viewers just by its normal way of operating. Many viewers seem to assume that when they have seen something on TV, they have seen it with their own eyes… For many, what they see on television becomes more true than what they see with their eyes in the external world.”  

Remember every minute of TV and social media news has been edited by someone with a subjective viewpoint. We are in essence, seeing the image someone has decided we should see. Media is manipulation. 

Again, I’m not saying social media is all bad. It’s a great time to pull back from all the extraneous use and think about the ways we are impacted. Just as I know going into random people’s houses is not a great idea, going into their “houses” indiscriminately on social media isn’t either.

I’ll end with the Message Translation of Psalm 1, I’m usually a die hard Amplified Bible girl, but this one made me laugh. And it fits the bill.

How well God must like you—
    you don’t hang out at Sin Saloon,
    you don’t slink along Dead-End Road,
    you don’t go to Smart-Mouth College.

2-3 Instead you thrill to God’s Word,
    you chew on Scripture day and night.
You’re a tree replanted in Eden,
    bearing fresh fruit every month,
Never dropping a leaf,
    always in blossom.

4-5 You’re not at all like the wicked,
    who are mere windblown dust—
Without defense in court,
    unfit company for innocent people.

God charts the road you take.
The road they take is Skid Row.