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Anxiety in Kids

anxiety in kidsAnxiety disorders are the most common mental health diagnosis in kids; ten to twenty percent of all children will meet criteria for an anxiety disorder before the age of 18. But it’s hard for parents to figure out when worry is part of typical child development and when it’s a concern.

Some anxiety in kids is normal. Anxiety can inspire children to do stuff like wash their hands and double-check their homework. Anxiety becomes an issue  when kids get stuck in it to the point where its getting in the way of their lives. For example, it’s fine if a child double-checks his math sheet; it’s not fine if he can’t sleep because he’s obsessively going over and over the numbers, erasing the paper to the point that his pencil rips through and begging you to check it for him.

When worry becomes extreme and/or intrusive, that’s when it’s time to get help. If your child is missing out on her regular everyday life or missing out on events that you know she would otherwise enjoy then her anxiety has become a problem.

Anxiety is often co-diagnosed with depression (particularly in teens) and anxious kids may also be misdiagnosed as having attention problems. (Anxious kids often have a hard time focusing particularly in contexts that worry them — at school, for example.)

Which Kids Become Anxious

Some kids are born with a more anxious temperament than other kids and these children often have anxious parents (because temperament — innate personality traits — is generally believed to be nature although how we live out our temperament depends on nurture). If you have struggled with anxiety there’s a higher chance that your child will, too.

The kind of temperament that tends to anxiety is sensitive, cautious and negative. You might recognize yourself in some of these traits, too.

Sensitivity: These kids are aware of their surroundings and may pick up on details that other people miss. They may be the first ones to notice someone’s new haircut or when someone else replaces their contacts with glasses. They may overhear adult conversations even though they’re in a room four doors down. They may detect subtle changes in someone’s demeanor and ask you later why Aunt Cora was mad. These kids may also have sensory sensitivity; the world feels less comfortable for them whether they are sensory seeking (wanting more intense sensory input) or sensory avoidant. His anxiety may be heightened because he’s uncomfortable in his socks or because he doesn’t like the way this new school smells.

Cautious: I’ve met plenty of anxious kids who go hurtling into space on their bikes or rollerblades but lots of anxious kids will be the ones hanging back from the fray. They may be the ones observing the party before they join or the ones who read up on shark attacks in Florida before your summer vacation. They may be the ones who need a lot of cajoling, the one who makes the family late for the wedding because she wants you to tell her — again — exactly what’s going to happen there. They may be reluctant to try new foods or new things.

Negative Emotionality: This is another way to say pessimistic. These are the kids who are sure bad things will happen. They’re the ones who counter your encouragement with a lot of concerning “what ifs.” Says Dad, “Let’s head to the pool!” Says child, “But what if the lifeguard isn’t on duty? What if I get a cramp? What if you don’t notice I’m drowning?” This is a child whose theme song could be Mel Brooks’s “Hope for the Best, Expect the Worst.” And when you say, “You’re being ridiculous” they’ll counter with, “I’m being realistic.” This is a genuine worldview they have and logical arguments may not make a dent in it.

You can see that these can be great traits in small doses — and the anxious kid can be a pleasure much of the time — but when taken too far, these traits can be crippling.

Sometimes there’s a specific event that triggers a child into an anxiety disorder. For example, a child who gets lost at the mall or who witnesses someone get injured. Or a big life event like a move or a change in school may impact some kids differently than their siblings or peers. Lots of children will spend their early years worrying and then when they hit their tweens, that’s when the worry turns out to full blown anxiety.

Anxious parents can inadvertently make things worse for their anxious kids both because they share certain personality traits but also because anxiety is one of those super-catching emotions. Think about it — back when we were hunting and gathering, it made sense for one person’s anxiety to trigger another person’s anxiety. If a tornado is bearing down on your tribe it’s a help if everyone gets ready to run. We have mirror neurons — so called because we reflect our emotions back to each other — to keep us all in step. This is why when faced with a child wailing about the upcoming spelling test we get revved up, too, and pretty soon everyone is yelling.

If you have questions, hit me up.

Second in the series: Child Anxiety Symptoms

Last in the series: Helping Kids with Anxiety

Support Women (and have fun doing it)

momologuesOne of my very most favorite local organizations is POEM (Perinatal Outreach and Encouragement), an organization devoted to supporting women who are struggling with postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety and/or recovering from a traumatic birth. POEM was founded and directed by three women who came out of their own PPD experiences committed to helping their fellow moms and has been in operation since 2005.

POEM’s annual fundraiser is a performance of Momologues, a play sharing women’s stories with motherhood. The year’s play is happening May 2nd at The Emerald Room, Makoy Center, 5462 Center St. Hilliard, OH 43026. You can get your tickets by clicking here. (I have clients until 9pm that night so I am very sad to be missing it. I hope your schedule allows you to catch the show!)

I interviewed Tonya Fulwider, the director of POEM, which is now under the umbrella of Mental Health America Franklin County, about the performance.

How did POEM get involved in showing the Momologues?

The short story is that in a brainstorming session, someone actually organically came up with the idea for a play/stand up/show/poetry slam entitled “MOMologues.” After Googling it, we discovered the production with that name, which had, only days before, begun talks with a production company to allow others to produce the show. We were among the first to produce a staged reading of the show outside of the original authors and cast in Boston. We’ve kept in touch with lead author and director, Lisa Rafferty, over the years.

We wanted to spread the word about the services that POEM provides, shed light on the issue of maternal mental health, educate on the realities of motherhood and celebrate mothers. The truth is, that while PPD and related illnesses are real and common, much of the work we do is addressing realistic expectations: it’s not all bliss; childbirth will likely not be a magical, bonding experience; being a mom is often hard, boring, frustrating – with moments of amazement, wonder, and the biggest love imaginable – but is mixed in with day to day stresses and regular life challenges. This led us to try to find a way to merge the two issues: maternal mental health promotion/awareness, and myth-busting about the realities of motherhood.

Am I right that this is the third year or has it been going on longer?

This is our 4th year. We showed first script in the series for the first two events in 2011 and 2012 (which covered pregnancy through about Kindergarten) and MOM2 (which included comedy from preschool through elementary) in 2013. We’ll perform the final script in the series this year, and have plans to produce a Columbus-area specific script in 2015 that will cover all stages of motherhood.

Who are the performers?

All cast members are moms of diverse experiences and backgrounds. Most are local theatre performers as well.

  • Emcee Ann Fisher (WOSU 89.7FM)
  • Casting by Amy Anderson
  • Melissa Muguruza (also our director)
  • AJ Casey
  • LiLi Keon
  • Tammy Muse

What will people see in The Final Push that may be different from the first two incarnations?

The Final Push is a staged reading that features much about the hijinks of kids in middle school, high school, and seeing them leave home – but references other maternal experiences as well. While each script focuses on a grouping of years, most moms will be able to relate to the stories, either as mothers or in their interactions with their own mother, partner/spouse and in other social situations. Each play in independent – you don’t need to have seen other years to enjoy any of the sequel productions.

We selected this script for this year to complete the series, as we intend to create our own original work for 2015, collecting stories from local moms of all ages and backgrounds. Everyone has a funny, moving, you’ll-never-believe-this story about motherhood and we want to bring moms together to feature these stories unique to our own community. Sharing our own authentic experiences is powerful, fun, uplifting, moving, and bonding. It’s much of what we do in our program, and it’s a perfect way to celebrate moms each May, the month we celebrate Mother’s Day.

Finally can you talk more about how this benefits POEM?

As mentioned, The MOMologues serves as a creative platform for talking about maternal mental health — something that isn’t talked about, really, all that much considering how many women and families (nearly 1 million in the US each year) deal with these devastating illnesses. Yet, it seeks to also go beyond the specific issue and program support to say: Let’s get together, moms. Literally, get together. Let’s support each other. Let’s laugh at ourselves, and certainly our kids. And, yes, it’s a fundraiser too 🙂 All of the proceeds from The MOMologues go directly to POEM program services: the outreach program, phone support line, information and referral services, support groups, Mentor program.

Now registering for Parenting for Attunement, a class that helps you become the parent that your child needs and that you are meant to be. Learn more by clicking here.

You’re doing a fine job

This Cocteau Twins song came up on my iTunes rotation the other day and for the first time I caught the lyrics. I thought, “Hey! This makes a terrific Therapeutic Moment!” So I’m sharing it with you. Lyrics are below the (fan-made) video.

Lyrics:

Ooh, you have, ooh, you have
Ooh, you have, ooh, you have

How do I feel about myself?
I try, I am resourceful, I contribute
I belong when I contribute

I don’t have to be perfect
I’m accepting myself as I really am
I’m feeling love for my successes

(Thank you for showing me respect)
I think, yes
(The foundation of my self respect)
I’m doing a fine job

I think, yes, I’m doing a fine job
I’m accepting myself as I really am
I’m feeling love for my successes

(Thank you for showing me respect)
I think, yes
(The foundation of my self-respect)
I’m doing a fine job
(Thank you for your encouragement)
I think, yes
(For my efforts and improvements)
I’m doing a fine job

Ooh, you have, ooh, you have
Ooh, you have, ooh, you have
Ooh, you have, ooh, you have
Ooh, you have, ooh, you have

I think, yes, I’m doing a fine job

(Thank you for showing me respect)
I think, yes
(The foundation of my self-respect)
I’m doing a fine job
(Thank you for your encouragement)
I think, yes
(For my efforts and improvements)
I’m doing a fine job

Traumatic Birth services in Columbus

traumatic birthI’ve been talking to some of the wonderful practitioners who serve women who have been through a traumatic birth and hearing lots of people talking about the possible need for a group to serve this specific population. I’ve also heard that there are some other therapists interested in creating that group but I haven’t heard much about where that’s going.

There are already two wonderful resources for women exploring specific challenges of birth experiences, POEM: Perinatal Outreach and Encouragement (for women who are struggling with postpartum depression) and ICAN (for women who have had a cesarean birth) and I think perhaps a traumatic birth might be redundant but I don’t know. I wanted to talk to people in the know and also find out more about the doctors, midwives and therapists who have expertise and a commitment to working with women who have a traumatic birth history. I have a small list of people whose contact information I can confidently share with my clients but I am always happy to add to that list. This includes other therapists because, as I’ve said, good therapy comes down to a good match between client and counselor. If I’m not the right person for a potential client, I want to help her find that right person.

To that end, I’ve set up a meeting and put it on Facebook. (It’s also on the Event Calendar.) On March 13th I’m hosting a casual networking meeting at the Old Worthington Library at 7:30pm. I’m encouraging those interested practitioners to bring their business cards/brochures so that we can all see what’s already out there and discuss what the needs might be (if there are needs not being met).

If you are someone who works with women and is interested in sharing information, learning about who’s out there doing the work or in giving feedback about the needs of this community, please come on by. You can RSVP on the Facebook page but it’s not necessary. If you have questions, please contact me.

Love and Anger Aren’t Mutually Exclusive

lovingandangryParents often feel guilty for getting mad at their kids or for not always liking their kids. But there are really great reasons to get mad at kids. For one, parenting is hard and children aren’t always easy. For two, it’s really important for children to see us get angry, see us manage our anger appropriately (and that can mean blowing up, calming down, then making amends), and to love them anyway.

We want our children to grow up being in touch with their feelings and able to express them appropriately but we don’t always allow ourselves the same opportunity.

I remember a friend of mine telling me about a group of moms who met each month for support and encouragement. Her cousin attended the group and told her about one meeting when the topic was anger. The women took turns sharing how they worked hard to control their anger.

“I hold my hands in fists,” said one. “I hold them tight to remind myself to stay in control.”

“I bite my lip,” said another. “So that I won’t say something I’ll regret.”

When they got to my friend’s cousin she laughed.

“What do I do when I get angry?” she asked. “I yell. I yell and I yell and I yell and then I feel better and we all make up.”

I’m not advocating that you go screaming at your kids but if you’re a loud family, loud voices are OK. (Some families tolerate yelling more than others so your mileage may vary.) Certainly being angry is OK.

Parents are human, too. Humans are imperfect. Learning to be an imperfect human (versus trying to be a perfect one) is a lifelong process. Being imperfect is a gift we can give our kids, especially when we are honest (and loving) about our imperfections.

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