Monday, December 23, 2013

managing anxiety

Ever since 7 yo was diagnosed with anxiety, I checked out a big stack of books out of the library on anxiety in children. That was about two weeks ago, maybe more. The stack is making me anxious. To balance out the stack, I checked out two tangential books: Saving Normal about how we overdiagnose mental disturbances, and A Nation of Wimps, a book about how we presume our kids to be overly fragile and in constant need of coddling. I have been slowly slogging through these two books first. 

I have been agreeing with some statements, like the fact that kids' lives are overmanaged, kids are deprived of free play, adults project their anxieties onto kids, etc. I disagree with some others, especially the attack on homeschooling as the ultimate helicopter parenting. But the book had made me think quite a bit.

I am gathering information before deciding what to do. I really would like to fall into more unschool-y groove with 7 yo, lay off a bit. Yet, I keep brushing time and again against his difficulties. He did an hour of code, and loved the coding programs as long as he could select commands from the menu and did not have to type anything in. Once the course progressed, and typing became necessary, he told me that he will not be doing it, since it's too hard. This morning, my daughter was decorating a homemade birthday card for a friend. She drew her friend on the front, and it looked like a person: eyes, nose, mouth, body, hands, feet, ears, hair. She even told me how she is drawing longer hair on the sides of her friend's face, not just a short stubble on top of her head. 7 yo never drew a person like that, neither out of his free will, nor on command. His people barely look like humans. I have not taught my daughter how to draw a person; that is something she picked up somewhere on her own, in a true child-directed learning fashion. He did not. What does he see instead of what we all see, and what is stopping his people from looking like all other stick people? He is stuck by his lack of skills, but instead of plunging in and mastering them on a needed basis, he is shrinking back. 

I have two paths to choose: either keep on working on areas of his difficulty ( perception, writing, spelling) or not push him in those areas at all, and trust that he will be able to find means to compensate. Working on his weak areas probably will entail specialists, and all attendant costs and anxieties. On the other hand, we do not just let diabetics or asthmatics drop dead because of their faulty pancreas or bronchi. We diagnose them and give them medication and check regularly to see that it is working. 

Now, on to anxiety. I am an anxious person myself. There, I've said it. I was parented by a Jewish mother, with attendant pressures to succeed based on her definition of success, and then never being good enough. I have seen this quote somewhere, that all parenting is either a repeat of the way you were brought up, or a rebellion against it. I have been working very hard to move past that. But I am not surprised that 7 yo is anxious. In fact, genetics are so powerful that it would be weird if none of my kids would have inherited parental personality traits, including less-than-stellar ones. So there, I am (most likely) the cause of my son's anxiety, both genetic and situational. However, before I jump onto mediation/relaxation/no sugar regimen for HIM, I might do better to apply these to ME. If I am more calm, I can respond more calmly to him. If I know how to control my anxiety, I can model it for him. Obvious, I know, yet this is much harder to do than just read about another hysterical scare of what's derailing our kids and apply new snake oil to the child, to assuage parental guilt.

Practically, I am planning on seeking external help in the role of a homeschool assistant. I am hoping to go back to doing yoga. I will make time to daven and talk to Hashem in a meaningful way. And I am planning to try out all those anxiety-reducing techniques on myself before expecting my child to become "Less anxious! Right now!"


  1. Our kids are our most "ruthless" mirrors, homeschooled or not. On the other hand, "more anxiety" or "less anxiety" is focusing on the symptom, which points to the cause, as long as we are able to see.

    Having schooled my two older children and totally unschooling the youngest now, I have learned much from all processes, mainly through wanting to unschool (de-condition) myself.

    The journey is within... :)

  2. A book you might like, that I have found very helpful. The Highly Sensitive Child by Elaine N. Aron Ph.D. And the quiz that goes with the book -