About a year and a half ago, my then six-year-old started complaining of a sore tummy at bedtime. At first, my husband and I dismissed it as a stall tactic. But her reports of a sore tummy persisted. Every. Single. Night. I sought advice from our paediatrician. After ruling out allergies, food intolerances and constipation, the doctor suggested it was likely (mild) anxiety. The ‘diagnosis’ began a path to help our daughter cope. In addition to a lot of affirmation and dialogue with her, one of the tools that worked best for us was mindfulness exercises. Specifically, meditation exercises lead in the book & CD Sitting Still Like a Frog available for about $18 online at Indigo or Amazon. The book and CD were recommended by her doctor, and is designed for children 5-12 to help them deal with anxiety and difficult emotions. Our doctor advised our daughter listen to the CD every night before bed. We noticed immediate results. We had an old alarm clock with a CD player built into it, so we put it in her room, and she would look forward to listening to the exercises. To this day, she still listens to the CD every night, without fail. She admits she doesn’t actually do the exercises anymore, and I feel the narrators voice has become a soothing sound to get her to sleep. But regardless, it continues to make bedtime much more manageable.
As explained by our paediatrician, there is no ‘fix’ for anxiety. As parents, we should focus on finding tools to help them cope. Additionally, the anxiety continues to change, manifest and evolve as your child develops. And this was the case with our daughter. After about a year from the first sign of anxiety, our daughter began having the same “tummy aches” before school as well. In consultation with our paediatrician, we began sessions with a psychologist. We’ve learned some simple and effective coping techniques. And if you all are interested, I’m happy to share some of the techniques in an upcoming post.
CHILDREN’S ANXIETY PART TWO:
I wanted to follow-up on my previous post last about children’s anxiety. In that post, I recommended a mindfulness CD/Book, and I also mentioned I would share learnings from our sessions with the psychologist in an upcoming post.
First, I had a few follow-up questions from some of you on Sitting Still Like a Frog that I wanted to share. Someone asked me about the book, and how I used it with my daughter. When I first got the book, I reviewed it, but I did not use it as a resource to help my daughter cope. For us, it was all about the CD. Another parent in the Shop & Tell community asked about the variety of exercises on the CD, and if kids are supposed to do the exercises in bed. I should have clarified in my first post: only a couple of the exercises on the CD are conducive to lying down in bed (track 11, for example). Many of the exercises require your child to sit up. So, I suggest taking your time over a series of nights to try all the exercises, and find those that address the specific ‘worries’ of your child, and see which your kid likes best. Try doing one or two exercises out of bed, and then turn on track 11 once your child gets in bed. And, then, if your child is like mine, you can play some of the tracks on repeat once they are in bed. At that point, the narrator’s voice acts as a soothing presence more so than anything else. Keep the feedback coming!
Now, onto learnings from our sessions with the psychologist. As noted in my previous post, after about a year from the time my daughter first showed signs of anxiety, the symptoms changed, and her ‘tummy aches’ became a factor before school as well (in addition to bed time). In consultation with our paediatrician, we started sessions with a psychologist. I won’t go into detail about our sessions, but I can share three techniques that worked for us.
- Theme Song: work with your child to find an inspiring song that can pump them up when they are feeling worried or anxious. My daughter chose Fight Song, by Rachel Platten. We downloaded it onto an old ipod, so she can listen to it whenever she needs to. We listen to it right before we start the bedtime routine, and we also bring it on the walk to school on mornings when I sense she is worried or anxious.
- Visualization: have your child visualize the worry or the “ache” in their tummy. Then either have them draw or act out how they can ‘kick the worry’s butt.’ We make it fun, and have our daughter do punches and karate chops before school to put her worries in their place. We find it a good way to lighten the mood and a literal way to shake your worries out.
- Believe and Validate: this last tip comes from our psychologist, and was also shared with me by another parent I spoke with along the way. The psychologist suggested that we talk to our daughter about times when we feel worried (both in our personal lives and in our professional lives), how it makes us feel, and ways we’ve found to cope. It shows our daughter that everyone gets these feelings, and she isn’t alone. I had a break-through Oprah-style ‘aha’ moment when speaking with another mom early on in the process. She had a teenage daughter who was struggling with severe anxiety and depression, and her story broke my heart. The one bit of advice she shared with me was to BELIEVE YOUR CHILD AND GET HELP. Don’t sweep it under the rug or brush it off as your child seeking attention or ‘faking’ because they don’t want to go to school. She shared with me that her biggest regret was that she didn’t emerge as her daughter’s ally early enough. She felt she waited too long to show her daughter she was on her side. Hearing her story broke my heart, because she carried such heavy guilt. I was so appreciative that this mother shared her story with me, and it inspired me to strive to build a level of trust with my daughter as it relates to her anxiety. I completely acknowledge that helping an eight-year old with mild anxiety pales in comparison with dealing with a teenager with anxiety and depression, but I am trying my best to establish a foundation whereby she sees me as her go-to when she has these feelings – that I will believe her, and I will do my best to help her cope.
I’ll sign off by wishing strength and patience for all of us, as we do our absolute best to raise confident, happy and healthy children.