"Why can't you just..."
"If she/he just.."
"You need to try to not..."
These are words that are horrible to any child, but to a child with anxiety they are poisonous. It tells them that they are not good enough. When it is your child that hears these words, monthly, weekly, daily, from adults and peers, it seeps into the unconscious mind, playing over and over, tells them that they are outcasts.
Every year I must work with my anxious child's new teacher or teachers, to help them understand how to deal with the anxiety that my child carries around like a cloak to protect them from impending doom. Some years the teachers just listen, watch and adjust as needed. Those are the great years and those teachers are truly good for all children. Others, it is a battle to make my child conform until I finally help them understand that conformity is not something that happens by forcing it on the anxious child. We live in a conformist society and I understand the desire of the teacher to try to help the child learn to conform. However, there are some children that find it impossible to conform.
I try to explain my child's anxiety like this - it is not a choice, my child is always in fight or flight and the degree to which my child is in it, is the degree to which you can expect participation or some level of conformity.
If my child has had too many emotional upsets, my child can spin into no-man's land quickly and behavior becomes inflexible, irrational and things are done that seem very odd to people who are not used to dealing with high levels of anxiety. Things that can't help but attract the attention of everyone around, such as screaming, throwing things, loud crying, climbing on or under things not meant for climbing on or under.
All of these actions or behaviors are the anxious child telling everyone that they have hit the maximum allowable input and all input feels painful at that moment. They are doing whatever they can to stop hearing, feeling, allowing in more information because they feel as if everything is meant to hurt them, take them down.
Can you imagine feeling most days that you are waiting for what feels like impending doom, end of your life or your loved ones lives? If you are always waiting for the next shoe to drop because your body is constantly on alert for it, it would be impossible to avoid feeling like the littlest things are "awful", or "painful" because those children do not have a regulator inside of them. They are on high alert all day long. Everyday is a struggle to get through and feel "okay". Or to try to fit in with peers and not be looked at as "crazy" or a "trouble maker".
If you have a child with high anxiety or you know of a child with it, please allow them extra space. Extra breathing room. They need quiet time at home or in a safe environment, everyday, so that they can relax some of those constant, jarring inputs. They need extra understanding when they blurt out inappropriate things or just blurt in general when others are talking. They are not trying to be rude, or disrespectful. They just want to feel like they are like everyone else. Just for a minute. Because the internal war they fight everyday with themselves is bloody and horrible.
Then there is also the external war they must deal with. They receive so much input about how much they damage other people, situations, things. They are constantly told that there is something "wrong" with them.
As a Mother of a child with anxiety, I request that you please use care in choosing your words. Use kindness. They will pull any anxiety you have to the surface with their own. Please use your copping skills to manage your own, because if you let your anxiety interact with their anxiety, it enlarges the anxiety in both of you. Then you may say things that they will never forget, because deep down, they may feel whatever horrible thing you say to them. And then you just confirmed that they are abnormal, unlovable and an outcast.
Please don't compare children with other children. Even those without anxiety. We each get to be who we are, no need to compare. And everyone has a place and a job to do in their lifetime. Maybe the anxious child's job is to show us how our schools make children sit down too long, and do not allow them enough freedom to be children and connect with nature. Nature and movement is a great way to help with anxiety. Maybe anxious children are here to break down the structures we have created that do not actually work for everyone. Maybe they are here to pull our anxiety to the surface so we can see it clearly and heal it. They may be here for something we have not even thought of yet. Whatever the reason, I am grateful for those anxious children, especially my own, who teaches me new things every single day.