What makes children anxious? In some ways, you can understand why kids would be anxious—the whole world is a lot bigger than them. In other ways, they don’t have a clue how large and scary the world can be. What could they possibly by anxious about?
From global warming to election season, I’m anxious about a lot in the larger sense. But I’m also anxious about my kids’ safety, them being well-liked, and their general well-being. So to say that I am filled with anxiety is a fair statement. Maybe one would think that I’d be more understanding, dare I say even patient, when it comes to others’ anxieties. Then again, I never claimed to be patient.
At the beginning of this whole parenting thing (you know, when I had just one young kiddo), I didn’t have a clue why this kid would become a wound-up crazy person in social settings. Arriving at a new place, he’d run around like I just gave him a shot of espresso. The minute we were in a situation where he’d have to button up, he’d scream or say inappropriate things. It was almost as if he knew exactly the most perfect wrong thing to do for the situation.
I have a pretty nasty memory of my son screaming through our cousin’s college graduation. Needless to say, my family understood our RSVP of no for the next graduation.
As I have grown as a parent and began to understand my child more, I realized that this was his way of managing his anxiety. I almost felt guilty (almost). He had spent years with me yelling and reprimanding him for inappropriate behavior when the poor little guy was nervous.
My little guy has textbook anxiety. Anytime there’s any loud noise, an abundance of people or characters (yes, you know those Mickey Mouse people in costumes), he is beyond freaked out. He acts like he’d like to climb back into my womb if I’d let him. Although I thought I’d be more sympathetic to traditional anxiety, at times I’m not. At times I want my 3-year-old to get off my hip and just roll with it. At times I just want the anxiety he is burdened with to just go away. If only it were that easy.
At least there was my daughter, who seemed blessed with a care-free, easy-going temperament. She’s the one who entertains the crowds, walks into a room like she owns it, and generally slides into every situation smoothly.
Generally is the optimal word here.
This past weekend, I took her to an event that we have been talking about for at least a month. She was very enthusiastic in anticipation. We eased into the circumstance. She knew some other people there. It was really set up to be a major success. She, however, did the unthinkable—became withdrawn, sad, and unwilling to participate. Doesn’t she know we all have our roles and I count on her to not walk around life this way? She’s supposed to be able to handle things like this…didn’t she get the memo?
The whole time I went back and forth between humoring her and tending to her—and I even contemplated leaving. To succumb to the anxiety or not, that is the question? At other times I felt angry with her. Why was she “choosing” now to let her nerves get the better of her? She was excited for a month about this, we eased into this situation, there was nothing to be anxious about!
But once I took a step back, I realized the anxiety my daughter was suffering from was something so familiar to me personally, and also familiar from a parental perspective. And anyone who has experienced any type of anxiety probably understands how unhelpful it is when someone tells them to just calm down. It only makes the situation worse.
The second half of the event was spent with my daughter dancing and happy as if there was never a problem. She even exclaimed that she was sad she missed the first portion. Ultimately, she overcame the anxiety that was debilitating her experience. And for that, the event was a success.
But it saddens me to see the anxiety that I know all too well manifest in my children’s lives. It breaks my heart to think that they will be carrying this extra baggage of worries and concerns with them as they go through their lives. What could I possibly do to help them manage this anxiety when I don’t have a clue how to manage my own? Couldn’t it be enough that I passed along my blue eyes to my children? I had to pass on my anxiety, too?