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.

Moving Toward Critical Obedience

In my last post I talked about -When we are acquaintances with Jesus –

  •  We pray before mealtimes
  •  Say please and thank you
  • Recite prayers
  • Put the empty grocery cart away
  • Replace the empty toilet paper roll

These are all good foundational practices. We just can’t stay there. Staying in the acquaintance stage is like choosing to remain a five-year-old your whole life. Then you stay stuck when it comes to obedience because you can’t hear His voice. You only do what you know which has come through rote memorization.

My Sheep Hear My Voice

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. – John 10:27

The first time I heard the voice of the Lord, I was a teen who needed a miracle. My family had returned from a weekend trip to find our yard covered in snowdrifts. I was half asleep when I stumbled from the VW van to the backdoor mudroom. I took my coat and boots off and went straight to bed. The next morning, I couldn’t find my glasses. I can’t see two feet in front of my face without them. Mom helped me look. They weren’t in the van, my bedroom, the bathroom, or anywhere. I stayed home from school. I sat in a rocking chair and read The Secret Garden for the thousandth time. I had a severe headache all day. I prayed for the Lord to show me where my glasses were. 

Suddenly, in my mind’s eye, I saw them at the bottom of a snowdrift behind a snow shovel. I got up, walked outside, picked up the shovel, stuck my hand into the snowdrift, and pulled out my glasses.

Obedience Bumper Cars

I wish I could tell you from that point forward I walked in complete obedience and relationship with the Lord. I haven’t. It’s been more like a bumper car ride. I have an inkling of what He is saying and I reason myself out of obedience. Then I bump into consequences. 

Just last night, I was feeling super exhausted. I knew I was heading into a CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) crash zone. I asked the Lord why I couldn’t stay in the zone – feeling good physically- instead of piece of pummeled meat. With CFS, I have to keep some pretty wide margins to feel the way most people do on a daily basis. Normalish – not as though they are walking through quicksand. 

A Smaller Yard

It’s as if I have a smaller yard than everyone else. If I stay in the fence, I’m fine. If I leave the yard, I’m not. If you read my article the other day, you know I’ve been overdoing it a lot and bumping into some consequences.

I do hear the still small whisper telling me to slow down, stop, and rest. Then I just want to paint one more wall, watch one more lecture, clean one more room, and guess what happens? I don’t hear the voice as much. I’m too busy praying for God to heal my body and relieve me of the circumstance.

This lesson is one I’m still desperately trying to learn. It’s completely different and even more critical than big obedience. The big obedience will flop if the little ones don’t happen. By that I mean, my relationship with God will stalemate. I’ll be too physically ill to do what I’ve been called to do and that’s so sad – all because I wanted to paint one more wall.

ARE YOU STUCK IN ACQUAINTANCE OBEDIENCE?

During this time of social distancing, I’ve been doing some deep thinking. I’m a thinker, to begin with, so it’s not a huge leap that with more time, I’d think more. The idea of planting seeds, adjusting to a new normal, and stepping back from trying to do it all, I’ve been thinking about obedience in a new light.

Obedience is an interesting concept. In the Christian faith, it is often equated with “being good.” It can mean being kind and not taking the last piece of pie or chocolate. Out in public, it may be letting someone go in front of me in line. You know- walking in the fruit of the spirit – walking in love toward one another – putting the needs of others before yourself. It’s kindergarten Sunday school level obedience. I can imagine myself sitting at a circular table with other kiddos and the teacher leading us in simple recitation – We love because God loves us. I learned important foundational concepts there and acquaintance obedience.

Acquaintance Obedience

The sort of obedience I’m referring to is acquaintance obedience. It’s the kind of niceness we extend towards strangers or someone we just met. I think of it in terms of adoption (I think of everything in these terms). Adoptive families have what we term a “honeymoon” phase when we put our best foot forward and we Moms wear our makeup. Funny story -when we were in Poland living in the orphanage, the morning after we had “moved in,” there was an knock at our door. It was a caregiver with Gregory, who wanted to see his new Mama. I didn’t want Gregory to see me without my hair brushed and my makeup on. What craziness. Times have changed in our relationship, for sure. 

We can get stuck in acquaintance obedience with Christ. It’s like being nice and eating your veggies without complaining. It’s low-level obedience. Children are required to do that. Higher-level obedience means staying after class and asking the teacher (Jesus) exactly what He wants you to do with your gifts and talents. Then doing it, no matter how crazy it sounds. 

Jennifer Lee says it like this in It’s All Under Control:

“Nothing else on our to-do lists matters as much as knowing we were completely obedient to His.” 

I spoke of to-do lists the other day on the blog. They are my jam. I like to get it done. Sometimes, I find myself doing things, being nice, and then asking God to bless the things. 

Ask God what to do first

It’s not the best way to navigate my life. Obedience is asking God what to do first and then expecting Him to show up and guide me. When we are in a close relationship with Jesus, we are in conversation with Him. I think of the day when I die and meet Jesus face to face. I’ll literally be in the middle of a conversation. I won’t need an introduction because we weren’t just acquaintances when I was on earth. Someone won’t have to introduce me like this:

Here’s that freckle face girl who cried a lot and told everyone to adopt kids.

It will be more like:

Picking up a conversation where we left off.

My conversations with Jesus these days

My conversations now are along these lines –

Yep, Jesus, it was super scary when you told me to step out and buy that house in the mountains and then the world kind of went to pieces. You were there with me. We had fun listening to Jennifer Allwood and Joanna Penn podcasts, painting, hanging up pictures, moving furniture, and getting the house ready to be a respite. We did it together. 

And when you asked me to spend money on a course in the middle of our “What if” scenario of financial scariness? Yikes. I did it. Learning a lot. Bundles of scary stuff to do. You’re right here with me, helping me face new challenges creatively. 

More on obedience tomorrow!

In what ways are you moving from acquaintance obedience to close relationship obedience? 

Mistaken Goals for Adults During Quarantine

We’re living in a strange time. There seems to be an emptiness layered with anxiety, it’s a cake we would never order.

Looking for “Normal”

Yesterday when hubby and I got back from the Blackwater River, we did some yard and deck work, arranging furniture, raking the yard, picking up sticks, and it felt so normal.  We like the “normal” feeling so we came inside afterward and hung up some of my book wreaths. We were tempted to keep working after a late dinner. It was nearing 8pm ( my wind-down til bedtime). I think our reason was double fold. We both like to work and we want to get projects finished. Secondly, we like the “normal” feeling. I liked feeling as if all was right with the world as we picked up sticks in our new yard. I like the feeling of finishing a project. The problem? Only working is a mistaken goal. Time is a gift of this season. I’m tempted to squander it on projects instead of people. Squandering time is never satisfying.

Mistaken Goals

I’ve been doing a short series on Facebook and Instagram from How to Have Peace When Your Kids are in Chaos on mistaken goals. It’s easy for kiddos and adults alike to slip into a mistaken goal for this or any season. Since I don’t have anything in our lifetime to compare this COVID 19 season to,  I’m feeling my way through the tunnel. I bump into some walls along the way. I’ve bumped into a few physically, emotionally, and spiritually. 

Give  Choices

A few days ago, I shared the mistaken goal – total control. 

“When a child has had no control over his life and no guarantee that he will be cared for, he will try to exercise control in any war he can. Even as an adult, I often fall into the trap of trying to control my circumstances, so it’s not surprising that kiddos from hard places do the same. 

What can you do to realign this goal? Give choices.”

In the past few days, I gave myself some choices. Are you giving yourself some? Or are you also (raising my hand) working to feel “normal” until you are exhausted and then feeling empty and unsatisfied. Don’t get me wrong. Work is good. Obedience is better. Obedience is gazillion times more satisfying than plain old work. 

I think of a vision of a mama saying, “I sacrificed all my energy and every second of my day so you can have a good meal and a clean home ( worthy of a magazine).”

 Then I hear the scripture echoing in my head:

“Has the Lord as great a delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices

As in obedience to the voice of the Lord?

Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,

And to heed [is better] than the fat of rams.”

I Samuel 15: 22

OUCH. Yep. Why is obedience better than sacrifice? Obedience is about relationship with God and unbroken companionship. Relationship with God without obedience is like saying, “I love you, I’m just not going to do what you ask me to.” Imagine our kiddos saying that to us.

The other day, I was talking to Marcy Holder*, and I shared with her how I keep working way too hard. It’s as if I can’t turn it off. I think I invented my own mistaken goal – I’m not valuable unless I’m working. I’m like a cartoon character who keeps running into a brick wall. Then I stop and say, okay, I’m feeling broken and exhausted. Then I get up and do it again the next day. 

A few weeks ago, I wrote down a to-do list in my Sunday coffee meeting with God. Then I proceeded to work straight through my list until, you guessed it, I hit the wall. I prayed and asked God to show me what was wrong, “God you told me to do all of this? What’s wrong?”

I could hear the whisper of the Holy Spirit say, “Not all in one day.” 

There are no quarantine metals

It’s tempting during this time to think we have to do all the things and do them perfectly. It’s tempting anytime, but more so now. Moms, there’s this invisible pressure to be the most grateful you have ever been, work harder on your home, make the best meals, play all the games, all with the heavy burden of trying to carry it all. We know in our hearts, God is in control. Let’s just be real here. Feelings and truth don’t always agree.  It’s as if I think I’m going to get some sort of prize or medal if I do everything perfectly during the quarantine. Will there be some sort of celebratory ceremony when this all ends? Will I get a medal for most walls painted? Books written? Online workout classes taken? (Asking for myself).

Plant Seeds

I’ve said this several times in the past few weeks, I feel as if this is seed planting time. With that said, we must decide what sorts of seeds we are planting. Obedience? Mistaken goals which will produce mistaken fruit. Pursuing “normal” feelings instead of resting and trusting God is in control? Which seeds are you planting? Apparently, I’m planting a variety pack. 

*Marcy is spiritually-focused personal coach, you can find her here plus she’s a guest on The Whole House Podcast releasing Monday, April 6th.

My Word for 2020

I started choosing a word a year many years ago because some friends told me about it. Actually, God chose it for me. Some years it took months for me to hear it. Some years I tried to reason it out of existence. The word would sneak into my thoughts again. The word would suddenly appear in my Bible reading, in conversations,  and on signs. Then I wrote it down in my journal. (You can read about last year’s word here). About four years ago, I found out Debbie Macomber wrote a book –

ONE PERFECT WORD: ONE WORD CAN MAKE ALL THE DIFFERENCE

I checked out of the library on cd and listened to it on a solo trip to South Carolina. I had lots of “aha” moments during the listen and wished I could write and drive. If you are wondering what all this “Word of the Year” stuff is, I recommend you read or listen to her book! On to my word. 

My Word for 2020

In September I attended Winsome Retreat for women at White Sulphur Springs. I really needed some time with the Lord. My stress level was on overload. I needed to make some drastic decisions or my body would go into full-on CFS crash mode. I’ve been there before (almost bedridden) several times. I know the signs. 

My problem? I like to work. Really. I do. I like to do good things that help people. I like to do ALL the things. What happens is I treat life like a buffet, I put all the good things on my plate, I try to do them all well and I get sick. Literally. Then one by one or all at once, I have to quit, I have to scrape all the things into the metaphorical trash.  My body crashes. 

My Vision

I was really hoping for an angel appearance at the retreat. I wanted an angel to show up and read a list of items to “scrape off my plate” followed by a “thou shalt do this.” I didn’t get one. What I did get was a tiny vision in my minds-eye during a worship session. I was suddenly a freckle-faced toe-headed little girl with my hair sticking out on the sides. The table was laden with food and adults were sitting around it. I heard a voice say, “Act like you are chosen, come to the table.” I walked to the table and climbed up on a stool. I was grinning. That’s it. 

As I drove home, I kept thinking of the word chosen as I listened to Taylor Leonhardt’s “Diamonds.” Here are some of the lyrics:

Shadows can speak louder than anything

And you believe the lies they’re saying

You are not an afterthought, love himself dreamed you up

Dressed you in diamonds, called you his star

Been hiding all this time, your hands over your eyes

I see you, darling, you have my heart

Not good enough, that’s what you tell yourself

Invisible, nobody notices

You are not an afterthought, love himself dreamed you up

Dressed you in diamonds, called you his star

Been hiding all this time, your hands over your eyes

I see you, darling, you have my heart

I see you darling

You’re a precious thought hidden in the heart of God

How good it is to know you

You became a word none of us had ever heard

How good it is to know you, how good it is to know you

I cried as I listened to “Diamonds” over and over the hills and around the mountains. I often think of myself as an afterthought and truth be told, I hide behind work. 

With all this talk about self-esteem and the Christians yelling things on social media, “Don’t talk about self-care or self-love, just talk about Jesus.”

Before you pick up a stone and pelt me with it, may I point out that being chosen was God’s idea. Not man’s. The whole reason we live and breathe on this blue and green orb is that God chose to create us. He chose to love us. He chose to adopt us as His own because it was his kind intent.

Even as [in His love] He chose us [actually picked us out for Himself as His own] in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy (consecrated and set apart for Him) and blameless in His sight, even above reproach, before Him in love.

For He foreordained us (destined us, planned in love for us) to be adopted (revealed) as His own children through Jesus Christ, in accordance with the purpose of His will [[a]because it pleased Him and was His kind intent]—

– Ephesians 1: 4,5


I’ll end with the above Scripture which is one of my favorites! Make sure you read it a few times and let it soak in. Did you chose a word for 2020? Feel free to share it in the comments! Join me here next time for “What Chosen-ness Looks Like in Daily Life.”