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Is Your Child Causing You Anxiety?

I don’t know too many parents who can say that their children have never caused them some sort of anxiety. Maybe it was because your toddler spilled their juice in the aisle of the store, or maybe it was because your baby was loudly screaming in church, or maybe it was because your 9 year old argued with you in front of your friends, ending with an awful “I hate you”. Regardless of the reason why, we are all sometimes full of anxiety, stress, and embarrassment about what our child has done or said. While it’s a normal reaction, it’s not something that we enjoy or look forward to. Most of us want to crawl under a rock and wait for everyone to stop staring at us. Hopefully though, these times are few and far between.

But what about those parents whose kiddos act up more often than not? Do you ever get to the point where you’re dreading spending time with your child, because you know there will be disagreements, push-back, anger/yelling, or stress from one or both of you? If you’re shaking your head yes, don’t worry you’re not a bad parent and you’re not alone. In this blog, I want to give you some tips about how to keep calm yourself and help your child do the same in those stressful situations.

Many parents struggle with raising a child with a difficult temperament. I know because I’m one of them! My 8yr old son is a combination of a sensitive, high needs, and crabby temperament (these are explained more in my Parenting Solutions program). This means that he can require a lot of attention (good or bad), and then be super sensitive to a sibling not wanting to play with him or my telling him no. Now, the word sensitive can be used different ways. You might have a sensitive child who gets upset, cries, mopes, goes off on their own, needs to snuggle, or gets angry. Guess which one my son is? Yup, he gets angry. The simplest thing can sometimes set him off, and next thing I know he’s stomping off and yelling. So what’s a parent to do in this situation?

The first thing to do is to remain calm yourself. If you blow up at him/her, they’re going to want to do the same. Then it becomes an ironic situation of your yelling at them to calm down…you know, as you’re yelling at them. Try to follow these steps instead…

  1. Try to remain calm while assessing the situation. 
  2. Know what your child needs based on their temperament (ie do they need your comfort or to be left alone).
  3. Follow your child’s cues. They may start out needing a minute alone, but then they might want to talk or just need a hug.
  4. Don’t push what YOU think they could use! If your child is angry, it’s not likely going to be helpful that you remind them of what they did wrong in that moment. You’re better off waiting awhile. Sometimes it’s important to circle back around to this and other times it’s just best to move on. Each situation should be considered individually.
  5. Be sure to bring up sensitive topics at the right time. If you need to reprimand your child for something they did that morning before school, talking to them the moment they get off the bus might not be the best time. Let them have a snack and relax a bit before bringing it up. Timing is key!

The tips above are good for helping your child through a stressful or emotional situation, but what should you do to help your own anxious feelings? Well, firstly, doing the above steps to help your child will indeed help you too. If your child is feeling less stressed or upset, then so will you! But sometimes our kids like to spring things on us, where they just get upset for no reason and you can’t prepare for that. When unexpected things arise, here’s what I want you to do… 

  1.  Take a deep breath. Gather your thoughts a moment before you say something you might regret or react in a way that’s not helpful.
  2. If you have an immediate answer or response, say it calmly. Remember, your child will mimic your responses.
  3. If you don’t know what to do or say, it’s totally okay to walk away! Say you need to go to the bathroom to (hopefully) give yourself a minute or two to collect your thoughts. It’s much better that you say nothing in the moment, if what you want to say isn’t helpful. You can always come back a few minutes later to say something in a kinder tone.
  4. Try to begin what you say with a kind word of empathy. For example, “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that you had a bad day!” or “I know that you’re frustrated right now.” or “I can imagine how mad you might be feeling”. Empathy goes a long way! It will also help to calm your child down.
  5. See if you can talk through the emotion with them and help them come to a resolution with your help. For example, “I can see that you’re really frustrated right now because your sister took your book. What can we do to fix this (older kids can offer a resolution, you will need to help the younger ones)? Why don’t we all sit down together to read the book?” Or you could have suggested that the sister gives back the book for 5 minutes before she gets a turn. Whatever the resolution, the point is that you all stayed calm and worked out a solution that would benefit everyone. 
  6. Once the child is calm and happy again, praise them for the things they did well in the situation. For instance, you might say “I loved that you were willing to compromise with your sister by taking turns!” Oftentimes, we’re quick to point out the negative stuff and we forget to compliment the good, which is really the most important part!

If you can work on these things with your child, you’ll both end up being calmer and less anxious. It’s also important to carve out that one-on-one time with your child (each of your children if you have more than one). It’s extremely important that you have positive experiences with each of your children, but it’s imperative that you have them with your most difficult one. You both need those happy times to feel good about each other and your relationship with one another. You need to see those awesome qualities that make your kiddo special, and they need to see a happy, non-yelling parent they can continue to look up to and love unconditionally. So if it’s been a while since you did something nice with your child, look at your calendar and set a date today! I’d love for you to post below what you’re planning on doing with your child to make their day special! Happy bonding!

If you’d like more parenting help, please check out my Parenting Solutions course! I have a DIY and a group version, where you can have lifetime access to 10 video lessons, get awesome ideas for how to handle your situations, have access to many printable charts to help you, and have access to me for answers to your unique questions! I also offer this program as a one-on-one option, where we will have weekly calls to walk through what you’re learning and how well you’re able to implement it all. Contact me on the above link with questions on these options. I also have a free parenting guide that might further help you too!

Stress, Anxiety, and Sleep

As parents, when we think about stress and anxiety, we often think about ourselves or other adults having it. But what if I told you that your kids can have just as much or even more stress than you?! It’s true! Kids experience stress every day… moving to a new grade/school, making friends, worrying about tests/projects/grades, playing sports well, potty training, eating healthy, doing chores, having new siblings, experiencing a death in the family, witnessing thunderstorms/hurricanes/tornadoes, sleeping well, and the list goes on and on. My point is that our kids are stressed out and feeling anxious, and it’s time we helped them deal with those feelings.

If you’re both stressed about sleep, then I highly encourage you to work on fixing that first (for both of your sakes). In fact, whenever you have the ability to resolve the issue that’s giving your child stress, then that’s the way to go. You always want to get to the root causes of a person’s stress and anxiety, whenever possible. However, you’re not always going to be able to resolve the stress at the source. So how can you help your child feel calm, cool, and collected?

There are several things you can do to help them (and you) learn how to deal with their stress or fears as they come up. Let’s take a look at each of these…

1. Deep Breathing – Taking several slow, deep breaths can be very relaxing! It provides oxygen to all the major organs in our children’s bodies, stimulates the lymphatic system, increases their cardiovascular capacity, helps to detoxify the body, and relieve pain. It can make them feel calmer, happier, and improve their posture. This is good for ages 3 on up.

~When my twins were about 6 years old, I started doing deep breathing. My one twin would often have anxious feelings right before bed. Things didn’t seem to bother her all day, but they would at bedtime. For a long time I thought she was just trying to stall, but I eventually realized that it wasn’t intentional. After that we started doing deep breathing and guided imagery (#5 below). To explain deep breathing to them, I would have them envision that they had a yummy birthday cake in front of them. I would ask them to take a deep breath in so that they could smell the cake. Then I would ask them to hold their breath until I couldn’t to 3, and then I wanted them to blow out all of the candles. It was a great way for them to understand how to do what I was asking!

2. Quiet Meditation – Listening to soft music or environmental sounds (ex: rain, crashing waves, birds tweeting) can relax their mind and body, as well as calm down nervous, angry, or sad feelings. Relaxing music or sounds can be played for newborns on up!

3. Guided Meditation – Someone talks to your child over soft music, asking them to “feel” or recognize different parts of their body. This allows them to focus their mind on what’s being talked about and not what happened earlier that day or what’s happening tomorrow. It should allow them to fall asleep before it’s over! This is likely going to be more helpful for teens.

4. Guided Imagery (electronic) – Instead of having a person talking to them about “feeling” individual parts of their body, there’s a person telling them a story (each one has a theme or story line). The idea is for them to either fall asleep listening or get very sleepy, calm, and relaxed. This is good for preschoolers on up.

5. Guided Imagery (storytelling) – Instead of using an app or web to provide the story, you can give them some things to think about before bed by telling your own story.

~For my twin daughters, I will often say things like “Pretend you’re fairies in Fairytopia and it’s the night of the ball. You still have to design your gown. What will it look like? Will it be long or short? What color will be it? Think about all of these things as you go to sleep tonight.” The idea is NOT for them to tell you the answers to your questions, but for you to be able to leave them with some nice thoughts instead of the not-so-good ones that might be floating around in their little minds. Of course you would adapt this for boys. This can be especially useful with school-aged children.

6. Yoga – Stretching and holding poses in a classroom or home setting. Your child can do traditional yoga or you can allow them to be creative with it. Not only is yoga calming but it is also exercising. Exercise at any time in the day can help kids sleep better at night. This is something that you can do right along with them, too! There are mommy and me and kids’ yoga classes, so this one is good for ages baby and up.

You can find examples of these methods for free on YouTube, some websites, or apps (and yes, there are paid-for versions too). I encourage you to try one or two with your child. You may find that one thing works better than the others, or that one method works better for one of your children than the others. While deep breathing and guided imagery works wonderful for my 8 year old girls, my 5 year old son can only tolerate my storytelling, and my 17 year old daughter chooses to listen to storytelling on her phone. I will often come in her room, hear a man telling a story, and see that she’s passed out, so it clearly works for her!

My point is that you might have to experiment a bit to find out what works best for your child. While they’re younger the best thing you can do to help calm down your child is to be there for them. Having parents close by during stressful times can turn a toxic stress situation into a tolerable one, so don’t underestimate your power! Just  snuggle, hug, kiss, listen to, and love your child each day!

 

**For more information on helping your child, teen, or yourself with sleep issues, please visit my Services Page. I also offer free 15min phone assessments, if you’d like to learn more.

Postpartum Anxiety and Parenting

Many new moms suffer from postpartum mood disorders: depression (PPD), anxiety/obsession compulsive disorder (PPA/OCD), or psychosis (PPP). While many of us have heard of PPD, sadly many will not hear about PPA, OCD, or PPP. PPA (and OCD) is one of those things that can “fly under the radar” a bit. Because you may not be sad or outwardly struggling like with PPD or PPP, it can be easy to miss; however, anxiety can be all-consuming! As a society, people tend to make light of the fact that a new mom who is worried often is just that…a new mom. We have probably all made a comment to someone or in our heads about how another mom is over reacting or worrying needlessly about small things (I know I have). We think, “she’s just that way because it’s her first child”. While that is often true, what if it was more? What if the tiny bit that mom shows us is just the tip of the iceberg? What if behind closed doors, she’s frantic about being able to produce enough breast milk so she’s pumping non-stop, is constantly moving her baby so they don’t get a flat spot, or is up most of the night watching her baby sleep because she’s deathly afraid that if she goes to sleep her baby may stop breathing?

Sadly, PPA is very common, yet usually undiagnosed. Looking back I know I had it with my first child. I was secretly paranoid about everything, especially with her sleep. Wrong as it was, I had her sleep in my bed at the hospital with me (this was 17 years ago so they allowed it then). I laid her next to me with the rails up and basically laid awake all night to make sure she was alright and breathing. She came home having jaundice, and therefore needed to be on a special machine. Needing to be hooked up like that added to my anxiety and caused me to be more aware of her during the night. I started with her in a bassinet across the room, then moved it right next to my bed because I had to keep getting up to check her breathing after I would hear a small sound or whimper. After a week of complete sleep deprivation, I knew I needed to do something. I had to sleep or else I was going to die (or at least that’s what it felt like).

I moved her to her own room after that, but with the monitor turned as high as it would go so I didn’t miss anything. It took me another few days to realize that wasn’t really working either. I finally turned down the monitor and we both did great. Thank goodness that I was blessed to have a very easy-going baby who would later start sleeping through the night by 3 months old! After I nearly died of a heart attack one morning when I woke up on my own instead of being woken up by a crying, hungry baby, I was ecstatic to realize that she had simply slept through the night without any wakings or feeds. Yes, I was one of those lucky mamas – you know, the ones you secretly hate – the first time around (don’t worry because I became unlucky years later when my twins were born).

But at the time it was a good thing she had such a great temperament, as I clearly had a lot of anxiety around her sleep! I was embarrassed to be like that, so I never told anyone what I was feeling or thinking. I was the kind of mom who wanted the world to think I knew it all already at the ripe old age of 24. Admitting I was having some difficulty would be like admitting defeat, so I chose to hide it all. I was lucky to get through those few months pretty unscathed, other than some sleep deprivation early on, but not everyone is so lucky. Many mamas will continue on like that for months, years, or indefinitely. Feeling and living like that can be very difficult for the entire family. Not only is mom usually physically and mentally exhausted, sleep deprived, and hyper-vigilant about everything her baby does, she’s often shutting out those closest to her. Her partner may be feeling left out, other family may be shut out, and even baby suffers as they are feeling the effects of a mom who’s not enjoying parenting as much as she would like to.

Things like postpartum mood disorders can alter us as parents, whether it’s just for a few weeks or months or even years. We may start out with intentions of being a certain type of parent, but then reality hits and quickly realize that we either can’t or no longer want to do those things. How many times have you said, “I’ll never be like that with my kids”, only to find yourself doing exactly that? Maybe you thought you would be a more strict parent, but then change your mind as soon as that precious baby is placed in your arms. Or maybe you thought you would be a bed-sharing family, only to realize that you, your partner, or your baby just don’t want to or can’t do it anymore? Don’t misunderstand, it’s completely normal to change your mind about things as time goes on. It only becomes a problem when you’re changing things because you feel like you don’t have a choice.

Whether it’s PPA, PPD, or OCD, these mood disorders can disrupt your life, but it doesn’t have to. I encourage you to seek help if you need it. Don’t be embarrassed, ashamed, or suffer in silence. There are many other mamas out there just like you! With a little help and guidance, you can still be the mama you want to be. In fact the vast majority of families I work with have at least one parent (usually the mom) suffering from anxiety, as well as the majority of adult clients I see. Of course, sleep deprivation will intensify your anxious feelings, so if you’re not sleeping well because of your child’s poor sleep, then please consider helping your child learn how to sleep independently (provided they’re at least past the newborn stage). Almost all of the parents I work with report feeling and sleeping much better after their little ones are sleeping through the night! If you’re a do-it-yourself type of mama, then you can check out my book All Things Sleep: Kids! and accompanying program levels. Or, if you are beyond wanting to read and just want help right now, then one of my one-on-one packages would work best. If you’re not sure what to do, the best thing to do is to set up a free 15min phone assessment, so we can chat about your unique situation! And if you’ve suffered from PPA, I’d love to hear from you – just post below!