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.

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.

Training With Sweets and Events Training

Yesterday, I shared ended my post with a “How To do a Training Session.” You can find that here.

Today lets move to types of training.

Training With Sweets

I put a handful of M&Ms on the dining room table in front of each child. I then gave them instructions about which color M&M to pick up.  If they listened, they got to eat that piece of candy. Failure to listen meant they missed out on the sweet — but there usually wasn’t much of that, and there was always a chance to try again. 

This training had several positive outcomes — the kids learned their colors in English without shame, and they got a sweet reward. There were many chances for redos, and the kids even coached each other by saying things like “That’s not brown!” and pointing to proper color. That last one is so important. The kids learned that families help each other.

I had training sessions with money, as well. I kept a gallon-sized bag full of coins: quarters, nickels, dimes, fifty-cent pieces, and pennies. I dumped the money on the floor and helped the kids work through identifying the coins. After a session, if a child could name a coin without my help, I gave him that coin or a handful of coins. The kids would spend their money on gum or a candy bar during our next grocery trip. This reward was delayed, but it reinforced the lesson. 

Training relieves the child of unreasonable expectations and puts the responsibility on the parent, where it belongs. Training can be lighthearted and fun rather than dictatorial. Most of the infractions we punish for can be eliminated by practicing outside the moment.

Events Training

After obedience training came events training. In this category is the library training I mentioned yesterday. Before I took the kids to the library for the first time, we played library at home, using our bookshelves to practice.

Obedience training must come first. Once children have caught on to listening and following simple commands, then you can add event training. 

When I first attended church with all my newbies, they sat in the regular service with Jerry and me instead of attending children’s church or the nursery. They were not ready to assimilate into the church culture. Since they had never attended a church service, they did not know how to conduct themselves. I could not expect them to know what to do in a church service — to stand during worship, to be silent during prayer, to sit while the message was being delivered, and so on.

To practice, I set up a church in my living room, complete with two rows of chairs. I had the kids sit on the chairs while we practiced a short service. I sang a few lines of a song, “preached” a short sermon, and then let them take turns being “pastor.” Through this simple training game, they learned when to sit, when to stand, and what cues to listen for. The training also generally relieved their anxiety regarding what church services entail.

Knowing what to expect is extremely important for the child with a stress-shaped brain. When going into an unfamiliar situation, the child’s fear is heightened, and he may have an extreme reaction that seems out of proportion with the actual event. Even if you’re just preparing for a family picnic, a child will often attempt to control the situation when he feels out of control.

We also practiced going out to eat. I set the table with my colorful fiestaware, silverware, glasses — the works. Then we filed into the “restaurant” and took our seats. We practiced placing the napkins on our laps, pretending to eat while having quiet, polite conversation, asking for a menu, ordering, and thanking the waiter or waitress.

Restaurant Manners

It amazes me to see parents assume that a four-year-old (or any child, for that matter) will pick up restaurant manners just because the family goes out to eat. I often hear comments like “You should know better!” or “I can’t believe you just did that!”

It reminds me of the Guire family’s first fast-food dining experience in Poland. Thanks to Pani Eugenia, we had taken a field trip and found a McDonald’s to eat lunch at. The new Guires had never been to a McDonald’s, and I wondered if they had ever been out to eat at all.

Jerry and I were watching carefully. We didn’t expect restaurant manners; we expected that the kids would run around or, worse, run out into the parking lot. We divided the group and each watched a contingent. Getting through the line and sitting down with the food was organized chaos, but once all the little ones had a happy meal bag in hand, they settled down to sitting or kneeling on their chairs. Everything was going better than we had hoped. They may have been too enthralled with the strange cuisine to act up. 

Ania had gotten a milkshake, as many of the group had. She removed the lid and jammed a hot fry into the cold contents. She pulled the gooey, drippy fry out and took a bite. Milkshake covered her hands, chin and shirt. She laboriously continued the ritual, messily coating each fry with shake. 

“Look what she is doing,” Audrey pointed out.

Several other youngsters had already followed suit and were also a gloppy, sticky mess. But nobody reprimanded Ania for her behavior. It wasn’t ideal, but she didn’t know any better. It was difficult to clean and all of her followers up, but I couldn’t fault them for shoving their whole fists into their milkshakes. Like her, they didn’t know any better.

This is exactly the kind of behavior I often see parents reprimanding small children for, even though the children have probably never attended a seminar on proper restaurant etiquette. 

For several years, my family ran a catering business with another family. Before an event, we would have a meeting with our “staff” (their kids and ours with a few other teens sprinkled in). During the meeting, we handed out job assignments and went over protocol for those jobs. 

For example, when refilling a coffee cup, you should take the cup off the table with your right hand. Turn from the table and refill it, then carefully place it back on the table. If you’re serving punch, hold the cup over the top of the punch bowl while filling it to avoid dripping on the white table cloth.

I could go on, but the point is this: Don’t expect good behavior if training is neglected. In the catering scenario, if I had sent a sixteen-year-old to serve a fresh pot of coffee without any training, disastrous things could have happened. He could have asked the guest to hold the cup while he poured and risked burning the guest with the scalding liquid.

I know I am going on and on about the same point, but for good reason. Training is such an overlooked tool, and exploring it in several contexts will make it easier to understand, remember, and implement.

Adoptive and foster parents face many behavioral challenges, and you may struggle with what to do in the moment. Where and when is a child supposed to learn these unwritten age-appropriate rules?

It is necessary to have a correcting and connecting response immediately following a behavior. However, you shouldn’t stop there. If a particular behavior continues to happen, the proactive approach is to practice the proper behavior outside the moment. The ETC Parent Training manual encourages parents to “turn to other tools that can help them (kiddos) learn and grow outside of the moment — when you and they are calm and they are better able to learn.”

*This article is a an excerpt from How to Have Peace When Your Kids Are In Chaos- Grab your copy here.