See those three smiling faces? Aren’t they darling?
I’m lucky enough to call them all mine.
Over the years, I have shared a little about the struggles I have had with my oldest two and how they were both eventually diagnosed with Anxiety disorders. As I have shared stories and tips for things that have or haven’t worked for us, I have received an overwhelming response from other moms dealing with similar things. I try really hard to maintain some semblance of privacy for my children, especially my oldest who is now in middle school. But, as other moms have reached out to me for advice or direction, I have felt the prompting to share more about my experience with parenting anxious children. And because following a prompting has never steered me in the wrong direction, I’m taking a deep breath and giving you a little deeper look into what life is like with a house full of anxious people, how it affects us and what tips and resources have worked or haven’t worked.
My oldest is now in 7th grade. He was first diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder at the age of 8, but we saw signs that he was struggling with more than normal childhood fears as early as age two. I cannot tell you how many times I have been told, by well-meaning individuals, ‘Oh, he’ll grow out of it. This is totally normal for his age.’ At first I listened and just dealt as best I could. I watched him miss out on things that should have been fun for a preschool aged boy. Things like, not participating in the school Halloween parade or hiding behind his sister’s stroller at his soccer games instead of running around on the field. But, in third grade, after having to drag him to his classroom for three solid months, I got a phone call from the school principal. I almost didn’t answer because I was busy waiting, at the bus stop, for my son to come home. For whatever reason, I did answer and heard “Mrs Elkington, this is principal **. I have Dylan here with me and he is refusing to get on the bus. Would you mind talking to him?” After five more minutes of pleading, we did manage to persuade Dylan to get on and reassured him that I was waiting for him at the bus stop. Turns out, he had a substiute bus driver that day and was so worried the driver wouldn’t know where to drop him off, he was paralyzed from stepping onto the bus. This was not the first and certainly wasn’t the last experience of him being too scared to do a simple daily part of his routine. But, this was the event that propelled my husband and I to seek help. We knew that we were dealing with more than your average childhood fears and we knew that we could not handle this on our own.
My middle daughter is currently in 3rd grade. Again, we started noticing signs of something going on with her as early as age two, but it took a knowing gymnastics coach (when L was 5) gently asking if L might have anxiety. The lightbulb went on in my head and I started having flashbacks of all the things I had missed along the way. She has officially been diagnosed with Social Anxiety, Selective Mutism and most recently ADHD. She has been the most challenging to figure out and I will be sharing more of her story later.
And now my little 3 year old pixie. My mini-me. She is so much more social than her brother and sister and I have had such high hopes that she would avoid this challenge (for my own sanity and for herself). But, I am seeing the separation anxiety seeping in and it is much like her brother’s was at this age. I am not ashamed to admit that my heart breaks a little more each time I pick her up from school crying.
We have had many fails along the way, but I feel like we are finally at a place where we have discovered how to best help each child - for the stage they are in right now. It is different for each of them and I know that as they get older, we will most likely have to adjust how we are managing their different needs.
I shared this on Instagram earlier this week, but I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to let go of who you wanted/hoped your child would be. Accept them for who they are, special needs and all. The more space I have given my kids to be who they are, the more I have 1) been able to appreciate their amazing, unique qualities and talents and 2) they have been happier and their anxious tendencies are minimized.