Being mum to an anxious child

What is it like being mum to a child with severe anxiety?

It is helping her downstairs every morning despite the fact she can do it herself. It is reassuring her, yet again, that she won’t fall just because once, several years ago, she heard mum fell down the stairs and hurt herself.

It is encouraging her to dress herself when she is afraid she may fall over because that happened once before and she never forgets.

It is reassuring her that her clothes have been washed and that she has worn them lots before and said they were ‘OK’. It is showing her, as always, that the labels have been removed so they won’t hurt her, the trousers are soft enough and the socks have no sharp bits. It is telling her she is beautiful so often in the hope she will one day believe me.

It is letting her see the breakfast cereal in the box otherwise she will refuse to eat it in case you have somehow bought another brand by mistake. It is pouring out just the right amount in case some accidentally spills over the bowl because she lives in fear she may somehow get in trouble even though she never has.

It is brushing her teeth religiously because the dentist said she should do it twice a day and she worries what will happen if she doesn’t.

It is walking to school making sure we avoid uneven ground because she may just fall and hurt herself and that would be a disaster.

It is going over and over all that the day at school holds because she is worried you may have forgotten her PE kid (we checked three times before we left the house) or she may have done something not quite perfect in her homework the night before. It is the heartbreak of watching her become mute as she walks through that school gate holding your hand like you are sending her into the lions den.

It is watching her walk (never run as you may be pulled up for that!) to her line, avoiding eye contact or body contact with any other child in the playground in case they say something that upsets her or they accidentally touch her. It is looking at her standing facing the front, arms straight by her side like a soldier as she lines up, terrified she may lose points for her class because she is not forming a straight enough line.

That was just the first hour of our day.

My daughter will bite her lips, chew her tongue, barely eat or speak but conform to everything school expects of her. She will inwardly break her heart if she spells one word wrong in a speaking test (and break down about it that night at home), she will freeze during gym lessons when they ask her to stand on a bench for fear of falling. She will take a school dinner as she doesn’t want to be seen as different yet she will hardly touch it. She would never ask for someone to help her cut it up as she is too anxious she may get in trouble for doing so. She would even eat something she was allergic too if she felt it would make a teacher happy.

Living with that level of anxiety is not healthy yet so many children experience anxiety on that level daily.

I can reassure her. I can encourage her and prepare her for change, but I can not take her anxiety away.

Watching her refuse to eat because she had a wobbly tooth was awful. Hearing her cry because she can not read a word in her new reading book breaks my heart.

Sometimes you may see me climb on soft play with my seven year old and think I am crazy. Sometimes you may hear me say I laid beside my child until she fell asleep and you may feel I need to let her grow up. You may see me lift her on and off escalators and think I am keeping her a baby. If you knew I held her in my lap and cradled her and wiped her tears last night would you perhaps think I was over protective?

I am not an overly anxious person and it is so hard to parent a child who fears every moving animal is out to bite her, every child is out to hurt her, every adult is wanting to get her into trouble and every broken toy is her fault.

Her anxiety is huge. Her worries are real.

Today I will do my best to help her as I do every day. Tomorrow she will be just as anxious and I will try yet again to help her. We get through one day at a time.

I acknowledge her anxieties but I also help her overcome them.

That is the role of a mum to a child with severe anxiety.

That is what it is like being mum to an anxious child.

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Let silent words be heard

My children live in a different world to me. They have autism. I don’t. They order the world, understand language and process sensory feedback in an entirely different way to me.But because they were diagnosed at just 3 years and nine months and 4 years and 10 months old they were unable to tell me much about their world. So I took it upon myself to learn about theirs.

I bought so many books about autism. And read them all. Around 99% of them were written by people like me who do not have autism but who felt they understood what my children may be experiencing. I went to training courses about autism. They were all run by people without autism too, trying to explain something they have never lived with. But I did find out something very early on: no two people with autism are the same. I already had that figured out with two very different children both with the same diagnosis!

I wanted to know what it was like for my own two children. I wanted to know how best to help them and teach them. I wanted to be part of their world.

So I watched them. I sat with them. I held them. I listened to them even when it seemed like to everyone else there was nothing to hear. And everyday I prayed that one day they would open up to me.

This week my six-year-old explained to me a little about why she never spoke a word in nursery for the two and a half years she attended. Speech and Language therapists diagnosed selective mutism. I had no idea why my daughter was speaking so fluently at home but not at all outside of the house.

It was relaxed, accidental, and natural. As I read a bed time story to her and read a line that said ”Hi Tony!’, called Topsy, but her voice came out not quite loud enough’ (Topsy and Tim start school by Jean and Gareth Adamson). Naomi suddenly opened up. She knew how Topsy felt. She went on to share how that happens to her all the time: She wants to talk but the words just won’t come out of her mouth, how it was like the words just stuck in her throat, and sometimes her mouth could not even open up. She was scared and worried that she would get a row. She was shaking because things were new and different and she seemed so small. Her voice was scared of new people and liked to hide and sometimes she was sure she was talking because she could hear herself but now she realises it was just her brain and not really her mouth. She was worried that once her voice did come out she may not be able to control it and it might never stop. It was like someone jumped into her mouth sometimes and just stole away all the words she was trying to say.

Here I was suddenly getting a glimpse into her world. We had read this story so many times yet tonight she suddenly realised she could identify with one of the characters. And more than any book, or course, or professional input, I got to learn so much more about my daughter, her anxiety, her selective mutism and her autism.

Naomi’s twin brother is totally non verbal. I may never ever get the privilege of a night like this with him. I may never know why he bites himself, insists on mashed potato and gravy at every meal, only ever wants to wear a red school jumper or what keeps him awake all night. So I will have to learn to listen to him some other way.

Last week there was a social media campaign to support and bring awareness of non verbal children, especially those with autism. You could say that for a long time that applied to both my children, but for very different reasons. When Naomi heard about it she was desperate to be part of it. For her brother. But also for all those other children who like her have struggled to communicate with selective mutism.

I struggled to write this week. Writers block? Maybe. Or maybe I just needed to be quiet for a while and let those silent words be heard.

My children live in a different world to me. Both of them want to tell me what it is like. Only one of them can now explain that with words. The other is silent.

But let us listen. Let us put our fingers over our mouths to keep them from speaking. And let those who are struggling have a change to tell us in whatever way they can. Let us hear from our own children. Let us hear from those who struggle:

Let silent words be heard.image