To understand this concept of childhood anxiety, it is important to understand that each person falls within a spectrum when looking at behavior and/or psychological experiences and expressions. The general population deals with anxiety on some level, so there is a common general experience of that (which would be the average experience of anxiety). From there, individuals can experience and express varying degrees of anxiety (or lack of anxiety) from that common experience midpoint.
So, while all two year olds have anxiety to some level (i.e. general fears of dogs or “bad guys” or not being able to find mom in a store), some two year olds (like mine) struggle with anxiety to a greater degree. Here are just a few examples of what moderate toddler anxiety looks like for our little guy:
· Any visit to the church nursery ends in our son being overwhelmed. We’ve been able to increase our time in the nursery (always with my husband or I present); however, the busyness of thirteen 0-3 year olds and five teachers in one room, accompanied by cheerful children’s music is enough to make our little guy look at me with tears in his eyes and say, “Too many people, mama.” That is my cue to call it a day and take us all home.
· A simple moment of bumping into a stranger at a fast food restaurant quickly becomes a personal hurt that is very difficult for my son to get over, especially if that stranger doesn’t acknowledge the incident (or worse gives my son a “look” for his bumping into her…yep, that really happened!). It ends in worry and frustration and me kneeling on the dirty fast food floor, trying to convince my son that it’s okay to leave even without closure with the stranger.
· Weeks when my husband works a seven day shift at the hospital almost always result my little guy waking at least once (if not multiple times throughout the night), afraid and checking to see if his daddy is there.
· Once my son recognizes that he has disobeyed, we often cannot move on from the incident until he has gone back to the beginning of the disobedience and redone the event, this time obeying from the very beginning of the situation.
· Even play often has a system for our son. It is difficult for him to leave tasks or play time until his plan is completed. Interrupting or upsetting those systems and plans causes stress and anxiety for our little guy.
Our everyday experience is one of looking ahead to things that could be difficult for our little guy and doing our best to prepare for those things. We are intentional about transitions. Often I struggle with feeling the need to explain my son and my reasoning in how I parent, wondering what others think of me when I let some things go that other parents would never let slide. I struggle with wanting to explain that often I don’t know that my son’s misbehavior is as much out of defiance as it is out of anxiety or oversensitivity to a situation or stress because something is out of the order that he thinks is necessary. Granted, he still needs guidance and discipline and needs to learn how to obey; however, I am in a process of discerning what is actually going on with him in any given situation. I do struggle with what others think of how I parent, but am learning to let it go more and more as I continue to recognize that every child is different…and that I was entrusted with this child.
Only recently, have I begun to feel like there are more kids, parents, and families in our situation than I had previously realized. My journey to understand my son’s anxiety better began with my attending a lecture at our local university. The topic of the lecture was “childhood anxiety.” I left that lecture feeling like there were other families with struggles similar to ours, that our son’s anxiety was not as extreme as it could be, and that my husband and I were already employing helpful methods in our parenting that were suggested at the lecture. Around that time, too, I began really praying for wisdom in how to love, care for, and parent our little guy. God says that He will give us wisdom when we ask for wisdom. I knew (and continue to know!) that I need His wisdom to be a mom to my little man.
In addition to that beginning place of wanting to understand my son, I’ve since had quite a few friends and resources that have come my way as sources of insight and encouragement. A few months ago, a friend of mine mentioned a blog she loves to read, and while it is primarily about being a parent to adopted children from hard (traumatic) backgrounds, the insight there is helpful for any parent of a child who struggles with stress/anxiety of any kind (to check out this blog, clickhere).
Shortly after that, I was visiting with a new friend, when she shared with me that her son (a little older than mine) has Asperger’s syndrome. Her description of what their daily life is like with an extreme need for routine, calm, and clearly communicated directions made me feel like someone else understood our daily life. While my son does not have Asperger’s syndrome, he does have similar needs that my friend’s son has: high need for routine, calm, and clear communication. For the first time, I felt like someone else understood, that we weren’t alone in this.
And since posting my last post, others have shared even more helpful resources. I have begun reading the book, The Out-of-Sync Child, by Carol Stock Kranowitz, M.A. This book discusses sensory processing disorder and is quickly becoming a very helpful resource. Another friend also suggested that I read a particular post on how to handle childhood anxiety. It was such a helpful insight from a man who struggled with childhood anxiety and how he wished his anxiety would have been handled when he was a child (to read that post, click here).
I am very aware that as I pray for wisdom, God continues to lay various resources in my lap from friends to books to blog posts that all give insight and understanding. We are not alone in our journey as a family. Not only has God been continually present, but we continue to have others either identify with us or be sources of prayer and encouragement as we learn how to handle childhood anxiety.