It’s All Anxiety!
Tina Feigal Copyright © 2012
So how does one tell if your child is being disrespectful, mean, or just feeling anxious? And what do you do about it?
Here’s the story of a successful mom who realized, “It’s all anxiety,” and from there, could help her son overcome it. And guess what? Some of the anxiety was hers to overcome, too.
In early February, “Heidi” came into my office saying she was completely at her wits’ end with her 11-year-old son, “Matthew.” She described him as very intense and creative, and as a kid who doesn’t handle it well when he doesn’t get his way. He was also very hard on himself, overreacting to being late to the dinner table by saying, “I’m late aren’t I? and throwing a book, storming around the room, and finally plunking himself down in his chair. He was seething while pinching the salad tongs on his finger. His dad “Tony” asked him to put the tongs down and instead, he threw them at his dad. Needless to say, this brought a big reaction.
When Heidi talked to Matthew later, he denied throwing the tongs. Heidi wonders if she is raising an aggressive liar, and her own anxiety about her parenting is at an all-time high.
Matthew’s other characteristics include “absent-minded professor”, very sensitive, and disorganized around time. He’s also bright enough that he refuses to do some assignments in school, as he knows he doesn’t “need” to do them. He’s probably right. Matthew hounds his 7-year-old sister, “Anna”, saying her name over and over. When he’s upset, he gets physical with her, and is very intent on having her understand him.
Evenings are a nightmare, with Heidi hounding Matthew to do his homework, take a shower, brush his teeth, put on his pajamas, and get to bed by 8:30.
On the plus side, Matthew has a lot of great friends who are also smart, dramatic, and intense. He always finds someone to play baseball and he’s easy-going in groups. He’s fine alone, too, if no one’s available to play. If only his home life matched his friend life!
We talked about how Matthew’s behavior at home didn’t fit his mom’s idea of how a kid should be. She felt judged by others that he was so out of control. Her own guilt and anxiety were driving her crazy, and she was starting to notice that Matthew was acting out of the same emotions. To get to the solution, she had the habit of asking him, “How are you feeling?” She felt she really needed to know his feelings in order to do a good job as a mom, but it only made the situation worse. Heidi was losing sleep over how Matthew was responding to everything, and her life felt out of control. I encouraged her to see him for who he was, and to reduce the volume on the judge voice in her head. Connecting with Matthew was the only way out of this situation, and Heidi understood. I suggested she let go of insisting on hearing his feelings, so he could “bubble to the surface” with them himself, on his timing.
At the second appointment, Heidi reported that she’d “had a cow” over Matthew’s lack of time management. Then she decided to take a different tack: she joined him. She said, “You’re like me. We don’t really feel the passage of time.” She also apologized for being on his every move between dinner and bedtime. She asked him to list what needed to be done and then handed him the responsibility for his own routine. “It’s up to you,” she said, letting go of her own anxiety about his possible lack of sleep and crankiness the next day. “OK,” was Matthew’s reply.
Fast forward to the next appointment: I’d suggested the family have a meeting where they engaged in a caring conversation. Heidi made a heart on a piece of paper, and everyone in the family wrote ways in which they showed they cared for one another. The ideas just flowed from the kids, and they even read them aloud the following week. Anna made copies of their heart for her grandparents. Matthew’s contribution was, “We tell each other our emotions.”
At the fourth appointment, Heidi’s immediate report was that things were going really well. Matthew’s bedtimes were no longer an issue. Heidi decided to let this be a template for dealing with many of the parenting issues with Matthew. “He’ll work all these things out,” she said, letting go of yet another layer of anxiety.
Now Matthew is feeling free to share his real emotions with his mom when he needs to, instead of angrily defending himself against her insistence that he bare his soul on her timing. He’s an avid reader, and was enjoying a novel series, until some of the topics got pretty scary, with bad things happening to the good people. He popped into her room at 9 p.m. one night and instead of worrying that he was staying up too late, she asked, “Would you like me to lie with you?” “Yes,” came the reply. Heidi regarded it a huge victory when she was able to just be there, and not dig for all of his emotions. The more she controlled her own anxiety, the less anxious Matthew became, and the more willing he was to be vulnerable and seek her comfort. A true victory indeed!
If you’re thinking about ways to bring about a better home life for yourself and your family, parent coaching can help in just the way it did for Heidi. Don’t hesitate to take the first step toward bringing peace where there was defensiveness, and harmony where there was aggression. You want to build a bridge to your child. We’re right here to hand you the tools. Click here for more information.