|Photo image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici via FreeDigitalPhotos.net|
That being said, I DO live with at least one child in my home who suffers from anxiety disorder to a level that it can be disruptive in their life. It has been a long, lonely, sometimes shameful road for us to walk together. And being a parent who does not suffer from the same disorder as my child, I can find myself incredibly frustrated. You cannot just talk a child out of an anxious outburst with logic. There are times where this makes me extremely irritated and impatient as a mother. Suddenly, my child's anxiety becomes my anxiety in the sense that I am agitated, and I want it to end NOW.
As the holidays approach, I am contacted by more fellow parents who are struggling through an elevated level of anxiety in their children. They are frustrated. They don't have the time for it. Anxiety shuts down life in its tracks, because it's afraid to move forward. Parents wonder how they will manage school, Thanksgiving, Christmas, relatives, expectations and demands with these escalations. Their stress increases as those who are not familiar with anxiety push too hard, causing their child to shut down even further.
Hear me when I say that there is no simple answer to such a complex issue. However, God, by the power of His Holy Spirit supplies us with what we need to improve things, if we seek His face. I am not suggesting a cure-all, but just enough light for the step we are on with this journey raising our children.
Here are some things that have helped our anxious child:
- When there is an anxious outburst or episode, it is the worst time to push harder with a "get ahold of yourself" or "pick yourself up by your bootstraps" mentality.
- Counter the anxiety with your calmness. Everything in you wants to throttle that child and make them come to their senses, but your irritability will only escalate the situation. The more worked-up your child gets, the calmer you must be.
- Offer comfort, but don't push. Be emotionally available to that child, willing to just put an arm around them or rub a back without words. This simple act of compassion can be so incredibly soothing to the person whose world is emotionally whirling out of control.
- At the same time, if they need time to be alone, respect that space, staying aware of safety. In our home, no one is allowed to break things. If you are hearing objects being thrown or suspect some self-harm is imminent, calmly intervene with simple words like, "I know you're upset, but you may not take it out in this way. You may scream into a pillow or twist a towel. Which will it be?"
- Speak the Life of Scripture into your child once the emotional outburst has deescalated to a level where they can hear you. God PROMISES His word will not return to Him without accomplishing its purposes. We can feel good, whispering that blessed assurance into the ears of our challenged children. While it may not feel like we're accomplishing anything in the immediate term, we are leaving the hope-filled imprint of truth on the heart and mind of a child who feels like all is lost. That can be such a life-affirming gift.
Some of the Scripture I have been known to speak into my anxious child as I try to calm include...
- In you, Lord my God, I put my trust. I trust in you; do not let me be put to shame nor let my enemies triumph over me. No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame, but shame will come on those who are treacherous without cause. (Psalm 25:1-3, NIV) Since shame or fear of embarrassment can frequently be a part of an anxious person's catastrophic thinking, these verses not only provide assurance, but also provide a positive way for us to pray. And as I always tell my children, "If it's big enough to worry about, it's big enough to pray about."
- "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV) Anxiety most often likes to walk hand-in-hand with it's buddy, depression, and this promise is a bright encouragement when life feels like God has nothing but bad in store.
- So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10, NIV) "Fear not" or "Do not be afraid" is the most frequently commanded set of words in the Bible. If God thinks it's important enough to encourage and soothe us with as a people, it should be important enough for us to do the same with our children. I particularly like this verse because of God proclaiming that He will uphold with his "righteous right hand," which would be known by the reader of that time as a place of high honor. Our anxious kids need to know how much God treasures and esteems them.
- Aren’t two sparrows sold for only a penny? But your Father knows when any one of them falls to the ground. Even the hairs on your head are counted. So don’t be afraid! You are worth much more than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29-31, CEV) What powerful words Jesus uses to reassure us! It continues to blow my mind that the Maker of the Universe has numbered every hair on my head. Imparting that to my child again gives such reassurance and personal value for them to carry into the face of their fears.
- "God will take away all their tears. There will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All the old things have passed away." (Revelation 21:4, NLV) We are a people made for eternity. Pointing our children to our Eternal Hope helps with increasing endurance for this life.
In addition to all of these things, we have found both consistent medication and Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) essential to challenging and overcoming anxiety disorder. While this disorder is in no way "cured", it certainly occupies a far smaller piece of our overall family life, and the child who suffers through the worst of it has learned to talk back to their thoughts more often than not. What a blessing!
PRAY: Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139: 23-24, NIV)
~ Barb Dittrich