Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Dealing with an anxious child. (Advice please!)

My daughter has grown and changed so much lately. Sometimes it blows my mind that she was ever a tiny baby. She's independent (in a lot of things), creative, funny and overall a really great kid. She's always been well behaved. We've had moments but for the most part she's always been pretty good. I rarely have to spank (yes, we believe in spanking.....) her, put her in time out or anything. Usually a stern word and she straightens up. Sometimes it takes a few times for her to get it but even then I never feel it's out of sheer rebellion but more that she just gets so preoccupied with what she's doing that she doesn't hear me.

But as she's gotten older instead of getting braver and more outgoing and interested in trying new things I feel the complete opposite is happening. She's becoming shyer (is that a word? More shy?! Lol!) and less likely to try things or participate in new things. As I've mentioned before this kinda started back in pre-school. After months of going with no issues she suddenly started to "freak out" when I'd drop her off and she's cry and cry. If asked what was wrong she'd simply say she missed me (or her daddy). I tried to just ignore it. Tell her things were fine and just let it go. The teachers said for the most part she'd be fine not long after I'd leave. Then it started happening at dance. She loved dance then after a month or two she started crying through out the entire class. Until finally I realized it was completely pointless to continue. She wasn't learning or really participating. So I pulled her out thinking maybe she just wasn't ready.

Now she's attending a different school, a much bigger school and has really had no issues. Two or three times we've taken her she's been crying at drop off but that's been rare and has seemed to be when she wasn't feeling well. For the most part school isn't an issue. But church, now that's different.....she goes back and forth. Some Sundays we drop her off and she's fine, a little shy but fine. Other Sundays she starts crying as soon as we pull up. And it's not just sniffling or a few tears. She's all out sobbing and crying, can't pull herself together stuff. Now it's starting to work its way into other things. I took her to the park the other day (she's been a million times!!!), she was all excited until we got there - as soon as we walk up and I tell her to run play she bursts into tears and won't move. Yesterday I asked if she wanted to go to the McDonald's playground and play, she said no. And I could tell she was "scared" to go. Today, because it's so cold out, I asked if she wanted to go to the mall. She got all excited and said yes, they had a fun play area for kids. Got there, took her shoes off and told her to run play and she immediately won't move and starts crying. And there wasn't even anyone there except two little girls who looked about 3 playing together.

I'm at a loss. If I ask her what's wrong she just shrugs. If I press her she'll give me something like, "I just don't want to....." or something vague like that. I've tried every approach on dealing with it from comforting her and encouraging her to bribery and threatening punishment. Nothing works except leaving.

I'll be honest it's embarrassing. It makes me (and my husband) look like we're doing something bad.....I feel like people look at us like we must be mistreating her or something because she's so overly sensitive and weeping her eyes out. She doesn't want to be apart of anything like dance or gymnastics or anything. She's "scared", she says. I've tried to talk her through so to speak and she just refuses. I hesitate to take her anywhere or do anything because I'm afraid how she'll react.

Here's the weird thing though - it's not all the time! My husband took her to Chuck E Cheese the other day - tons of kids, somewhere she'd never been and she was fine. Granted, he was with her the entire time so maybe she wouldn't have reacted the same if he had just sent her off on her own.

I've talked to a few people and most of them tell me to talk to a doctor. But I'm afraid a dr. is just going to want to put her on meds to calm her or something. She doesn't seem to be a nervous child overall, no nervous twitches or behavior. But when people speak to her in public she just looks away and won't answer. She's almost six and I don't know how to encourage her anymore than I do. We praise her, compliment her, encourage her......and yet I feel like it's doing nothing. I don't know how to help her find her confidence and bravery.

Anyone else dealt with anything like this with one of your kids? Or know someone that has? Advice, help, suggestions? Anything please!


  1. i agree that you should go talk to a doctor. but do your research and find one who doesn't necessarily go to meds as the first answer. there are lots of doctors who want to 'talk it out' first. just let them know firsthand that you don't want G on any meds.

    gage was extremely anxious during preschool and would have screaming fits when we dropped him off. he was fine after went left, but the initial drop off was HORRIBLE. i don't know what happened when he started kindergarten, but a switch went off and he is a completely different child.

  2. It sounds like she may be experiencing some combination of social anxiety and separation anxiety.


    You shouldn't draw any conclusions without speaking to a mental health professional (NOT a general practitioner, their first instinct will probably be to put her on meds, and there isn't much else they're qualified to do in this situation.) Try to find a doctor who specializes in cognitive therapy. I agree that medication is probably not a good long term solution. Her anxiety seems moderate rather than severe, and what she needs to do is learn better coping mechanisms for dealing with these feelings, so that they aren't being negatively reinforced by her avoidance of social situations.

    One of the best things you can do is simply not allow her to avoid "scary" situations outright. Walk her into them gradually, stay by her and make your support clear, but don't let her get into the habit of avoiding them. Avoidance will reinforce her anxiety.

  3. Another thing you might do is sit down with her and talk about fear itself, when it's a good, healthy thing vs. when it causes unnecessary suffering. Children her age are not usually aware of the fact that their fears can be irrational or unfounded.

    Breathing and counting exercises can also be helpful. Teach her to take slow, deep breaths when she's anxious or upset, and to count as high as she can. Counting is especially helpful for small children because it's a skill they're still learning, and concentrating on anything other than the source of her anxiety might distract her enough to help her stay in the "scary" situation long enough to realize that it isn't so scary.