• A Rescue Plan For The Anxious Child by Andrea Petersen

This article from The Wall Street Journal, which I include further below in this post, reminds me of my childhood.

I had social anxiety disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. I still struggle with some of these things, but I don’t think it’s as severe in some ways now for me.

When I was a kid, and even into my 20s, I was usually too afraid to make eye contact with waiters in restaurants, or talk to waiters to give them my order – I sometimes forced myself to do those things, however.

None of the mental health professionals I saw for over two decades diagnosed me with anxiety, though I had a severe case of anxiety since childhood. I had to do research on my own to figure out that is what it was called – anxiety.

When I got older and brought this up with a psychiatrist I was seeing, and described it to her, she agreed I had anxiety disorders, as did the next doctor I saw, and they both prescribed anti-anxiety medications for me (the medications did not work. Yes, we tried using the meds at different dosages. Yes, I tried different meds. None of that worked.)

One odd thing about this 2017 article I link you to below is that there is one quite similar to it from 2008 by the same author, also on the same news site.

I have some comments below this:

The Right Way for Parents to Help Anxious Children

Snippets:

Anxiety disorders are common in childhood, and many parents naturally want to shield their youngsters from distress. But that is often the exact opposite of what they should do

December 8, 2017

By Andrea Petersen

…Anxiety becomes a disorder… when it impairs a child’s basic functioning – preventing her from going to school or making friends, for example – or causes serious distress. Anxious kids tend to have physical symptoms, such as headaches and stomachaches, which don’t have a medical cause.

Anxiety disorders are remarkably common among children in the U.S.: nearly one-third of them will have an anxiety disorder by age 18, according to a 2010 study in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry – and girls are more at risk.

Many parents naturally want to comfort and protect their children and shield them from whatever is causing pain. But this is often the exact opposite of what they should do, say experts in the field. Today, psychologists and treatment programs are increasingly focusing on how parents can alter their own behavior to best help their anxious children.

Some parents, for example, may be inclined to let their son skip a birthday party that he’s dreading, or order for him at a restaurant if he is afraid to talk to the waiter. But giving anxious kids an out sends the message that these ordinary situations really are dangerous and that the child can’t cope. Though the immediate upset may recede, the result can be an even more anxious child – and overwhelmed and stressed-out parents.

“Letting those kids escape those situations, there is short-term gain and long-term pain,” says Andrea Chronis-Tuscano, a professor of psychology at the University of Maryland.

Allowing children to avoid stressful encounters means that they lose opportunities to develop important skills and to build confidence for handling new challenges. “Other kids are learning how to navigate those social situations, but the kids who are avoiding them are also lagging behind. That is going to make them even less comfortable in the future,” she says.

Some anxiety disorders can emerge as early as the preschool years, but the median age of onset is 11, according to a 2005 study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry. By contrast, the median age for mood disorders such as depression is 30.

The most common disorders in youngsters are separation anxiety, social anxiety and generalized anxiety disorder.

…. There are effective treatments, including therapy, medication or a combination of the two. In cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), children gradually face the situations that cause them anxiety and learn to tolerate uncomfortable feelings. Studies have found that about half to 70% of children treated with CBT see a decrease in their symptoms and a significant improvement in their functioning.

Antidepressants such as Prozac and Zoloft have also been shown to alleviate anxiety symptoms in children, though they have come under fire because of some evidence showing an increase in suicidal thoughts among those who take the drugs.

Researchers say that the parents of anxious children can make things better – or worse – with their own behavior.

…. Genetics play a stronger role. Studies of twins have found that genes are responsible for 30% to 40% of the variation in the individual risk for anxiety disorders.

…. Anxiety can have a deep developmental impact. In a study published in 2007 in the journal BMC Public Health involving 478 school-age children, anxiety was linked to poorer grades in school. In another study of 140 children age 8 to 14, published in the 2011 in the  Journal of Anxiety Disorders, subjects with an anxiety disorder were more likely to have been bullied recently than those who did not.

Other research shows that these children generally have fewer friends and feel less well liked by their peers.

Having an anxiety disorder as a child also raises the risk of other problems, including depression, substance abuse and even suicide.

… As for how parenting can help, or hurt, Eli R. Lebowitz associate director of the Anxiety and Mood Disorders program at the Yale Child Study Center in New Haven, Conn., has been focusing on what professionals call “family accomodation,” that is, as he puts it, “changes to the parents’ behavior that are aimed at reducing the child’s anxiety or avoiding it.”

This could include sleeping next to a child or answering countless questions for a child with generalized anxiety.

… Jill Ehrenreich-May, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Miami, has developed treatments for childhood anxiety that teach parents about a range of “problematic parenting behaviors” which, she says, reinforce children’s anxiety.

Besides over-protection and overcontrol, she also includes criticism and inconsistency, which can end up reinforcing a child’s avoidance of scary situations.

My comments:

Let me tell you what else did not help me with the anxiety, especially as a kid (I have a feeling there are Christian parents out there right now doing these very same things to their daughters):

  • the helicopter, over-protective parenting of my mother, combined with
  • her (and my father’s) pressure on me to be codependent (though, in other ways,  at the same time, my dad quietly expected me, or role modeled for me, behavior considered typical for males in some situations), and
  • the codependency that was re-enforced, under Christian teachings I was exposed to as a kid, under Christian gender complementarianism.
    (I was taught by Baptists to be a doormat, because they equate “being godly and feminine” with “be a total, submissive, passive doormat,” though of course those who espouse complementarianism will deny they teach any such thing.)

All of those things combined to send the message to me as I was growing up that it is unacceptable for Christian girls generally, or me in particular, to have boundaries and be assertive, which further made me afraid of people.

I was taught by my mother and Christian content that it would be too “masculine, ” “ungodly,” or “mean” to defend myself from rude people and from bullies. I was taught to sit quietly as a person abused, harassed me, or was just rude.

Sometimes such teaching, when it came from Christian sources I was exposed to, came under the “turn the other cheek and love your enemy” label. All it did was enable my bullies and cause me to be even more anxious around people.

My only means of escaping potential abuse or bullying was to avoid people as much as possible in the first place, since I was not given permission to go on the offense and give someone a smack down, when or if they were horrible to me.

Several of my family members have anxiety disorders, so I would assume that anxiety has a biological component in my family.

(Being or feeling anxious are not deliberate choices I am making, in other words, and it’s not a spiritual failing, or a sin, nor is it due to any of my personal sin.)


More On This Blog:

For Some of Us Running Is the Key To Managing Depression And Anxiety by Scott Douglas

Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real causes of Depression and the Unexpected Solutions by Johann Hari

WoeBot, The Chatbot Therapist, Will See You Now – The Rise of Chatbot Therapy

Why Does Being a Woman Put You at Greater Risk of Having Anxiety? by Cari Romm

For Most, Jesus and the Gospels Are Not the Answer for Depression, Suicide, and Other Mental Health Maladies (Part 1)

1 in 3 Protestant Churchgoers Personally Affected by Suicide

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2 thoughts on “• A Rescue Plan For The Anxious Child by Andrea Petersen

  1. Yes. My grandparents often visited when I was a teenager. I loved both of them most memories are good.

    Many days I would come home weeping from high school after a day of explicit sexual comments–not just wolf whistles. My stomach so full of knots I often couldn’t eat lunch.

    Grandma would scold me for being angry at the boys who harassed me. If I didn’t quickly and easily forgive them God would send me to Hell like the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant.

    I wondered why God seemed to give them a free pass and get angry at me for feeling ordinary pain. “Real Christian girls” never experienced negative emotions and went around with smiley signs instead of human faces.

    A charm book from a Christian school I attended said “real feminine Christian girls” were always optimists and extroverts. One personality mold we all had to fit. Even Tim LaHaye knew better than that.

    • I relate, Rachel. I was brought up under a lot of what you mention.

      I was not supposed to show or feel anger. I was supposed to give anyone who bullied me or abused me a second, third, to infinity, chance. I had to treat the bullies with kid gloves and respect even though they were causing me emotional distress. On and on it went.

      It is absolutely healthy to show anger when you’re being picked on. You have just as much right to stand up for yourself as anyone else.

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