Tag Archives: troubled children

How to help your child cope with anxiety

How to help your child cope with anxiety
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anxiety2We all get anxious, but it becomes a “disorder” when it prevents a person from normal functioning. Anxiety and panic are very real, whether triggered by life in general or certain things such as phobias. Take it serious–it’s not something an extremely anxious child can “get over”.  Willpower alone does not work.

Anxiety disorders are also one of the most common psychiatric conditions in children and adolescents, but often go undetected and untreated. Early, effective treatment can reduce the negative impacts on academic and social functioning.

Excessive worry or anxiety about multiple issues, which lingers six months or more, can indicate an anxiety disorder. 

anxiety3Anxiety is often expressed in physical symptoms:

  • Anxious mood: excessive worry, anticipating the worst
  • Tension: startles or cries easily, restlessness, trembling
  • Phobias: fear of the dark, fear of strangers, fear of being alone, fear of animals, etc.
  • Insomnia: difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, nightmares
  • Intellectual difficulties: poor concentration, memory impairment
  • Depression: decreased interest in activities, inability to feel happy
  • Somatic complaints (muscular): muscle aches or pains, teeth grinding
  • Somatic complaints (sensory): ringing in the ears, blurred vision
  • Cardiovascular symptoms: tachycardia, palpitations, chest pain, feeling faint
  • Respiratory symptoms: chest pressure, choking sensation, shortness of breath
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms: difficulty swallowing, nausea or vomiting, constipation, weight loss, abdominal fullness
  • Genitourinary symptoms: frequent or urgent urination, painful menstruation
  • Autonomic symptoms: dry mouth, flushing, pallor, sweating
  • Physical behavior: fidgeting, tremors, pacing
  • Other: risk of abusing alcohol in adolescence, cutting and other self-injury (not suicidal)

Cutting

Physical pain reduces psychological pain by shocking a person’s attention into the here-and-now.  Like a glass of water thrown into someone’s face when they are upset, the shock overrides inner turmoil, and releases adrenalin and endorphins.  It’s stimulating, even energizing.  According to statistics from research, cutting becomes addictive after about 14 episodes.

anxiety6True story: Laurel, age 14, cut herself regularly on her fingers, preferring to cut under her fingernails.  She hid the cuts and scabs with nail polish.  Her father eventually learned about this and asked her why: “I feel more calm because the sting feels good and distracts me.” A therapist recommended that Laurel draw “cuts” on herself with a red pen instead of a knife, and also wear a rubber band on her wrist or fingers and snap it when she wanted to feel a sting.

It is common for cutters to hide their scars or scabs under clothing if they think you will try to stop them, or they will cut in a place you won’t see unless they are unclothed.  They may also make an excuse about an injury if you do see visible cuts.  You can look for unexplained blood on clothing.  Don’t be afraid to ask if they are cutting; many young people have freely ‘confessed’ when asked.

Treatment for anxiety

anxiety5anxiety4A child or teen will often be diagnosed with more than one type of anxiety disorder, in addition to a psychiatric disorder–30% of all anxiety cases include a diagnosis of depression and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), in combination with antidepressant medications “have consistently shown efficacy for anxiety disorders in children and adolescents.” Many anti-anxiety medications on the market are addictive, so a doctor or psychiatrist will be very cautious about prescribing them except on an as-needed basis. Treatment must also include parent involvement, especially if the parents are also anxious. In the case of cutting, allow your child to cause themselves pain that is harmless, for example:  hold tightly onto ice as long as they can, smell vinegar, taste hot pepper.  These may sound strange, but they are effective techniques used in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) to help an anxious person tolerate stress.  You find out more about CBT and DBT here:  Therapy types explained – DBT, CBT, CPS, and others

How you can help

  • Validate or affirm your child’s feelings. If he or she is worried, fearful, upset, or distraught, don’t insist they should not have their feelings, regardless of the reason. You can let your child know that feelings are normal and it’s OK to have a little fear at times.
  • Reduce their dependence on you. Help them learn to cope by offering less reassurance, which can undermine their commitment and skills for coping. Messages that “everything will turn out OK” teaches them that you will help them through all fears, but they need to learn that they can get through fear on their own.
  • Avoid helping too much. If you try to protect your child from all harm, it prevents them from becoming independent and keeps them socially immature; traits they need to learn in their teens. Learning and maturing require that kids handle challenges on their own by confronting small anxiety hurdles along the way.
  • Model how to cope*. A parent’s anxiety greatly aggravates their child’s anxiety.  If you are anxious, tell your child how you plan to cope with it. For example, “Sometimes I feel nervous when I have to climb a ladder, but I just need to take a deep breath, be careful, and do it. If I get too nervous, I can always climb back down, and try it again later.”

* Charles H. Elliott, Ph.D. “Anxiety: Three Messages to Avoid Giving Kids”

anxiety1Escape plans

If your child is in a situation where they are experiencing severe distress, always have an escape plan or an “out” so your child can leave the situation as quickly as possible. Prepare yourself ahead of time so you won’t feel inconvenienced when it happens, and accept this as part of their treatment needs.

  • This reduces anticipatory anxiety when they are exposed to stress, and teaches them how they can manage themselves on their own. This is also a teachable moment when you reinforce self-calming skills.
  • This builds trust in you and a willingness to listen to your guidance. (When I did this consistently, my child grew more comfortable in similar stressful situations.)

Don’t forget to take care of YOU and your foundation

Keep your energy in balance so you can maintain your family's foundation.  Too much spent on your child affects everything else your family needs to survive.

Keep your energy in balance so you can maintain your family’s foundation. Too much spent on your child affects everything else your family needs to survive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you’ve found ways to reduce your child’s anxiety, share them in the Comments section for others to consider.

–Margaret

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Filed under anxiety, cutting, mental illness, parenting, stress, therapy, troubled children, troubled children

Call 911 – Make a crisis plan for your troubled child

Call 911 – Make a crisis plan for your troubled child
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Don’t let your family become emotionally battered when your troubled child or teen goes through one crisis after another.  It’s the last thing your family needs—more stress and exhaustion!  Since your main job as a parent or caregiver is to reduce stress, you must manage the inevitable emergencies in a way that quickly settles down your family, as well as get help for your child.  Are you prepared to head off a crisis when you see one coming?  Does your family have a crisis plan for when (not if) your troubled child has a mental health emergency that puts everyone or everything in danger?

 

Never be afraid to call 911 when there’s a danger of harm. You will NOT be bothering them!

I got my crisis plan idea from the “red alert” scenes on Star Trek, when red lights flash and an alarm sounds, and crew members drop everything and run to their stations with clear instructions for protecting the ship.

 

Think of your family as crew members that pull together when someone sounds the Red Alert because your child is becoming dangerously out of control.  Each family member should know ahead of time what to do and have an assigned role, and each should know they will be backed up by the rest of the family.  This will be tremendously reassuring to everyone.  Together, you can manage through a crisis, reduce the dangers, and ensure everyone is cared for afterwards.

 

Have a crisis plan for the home, the workplace, and the school

…and start by asking questions.  Here are some examples:

 

o        Who goes out and physically searches for a runaway?  This person should be able to bring the child back to school or home without mutual endangerment, and they should know how to work with police or community members.

 

o        Who gets on the phone and calls key people for help?  Who do they call, the police or a neighbor or a relative?  Does your town or city have a crisis response team for kids?  Some do.

 

o        Who should be appointed to communicate with the child?  This should be a family member or friend that the child trusts more than the others.

 

o       Can a sibling leave to stay at someone else’s house until things cool down at home?  Which house?  An escape plan for a sibling can protect them and help them manage their own stress.

 

o       Who should step in and break up a fight?  And what specifically should they do or say each time to calm the situation?  Believe it or not, your troubled child can often tell you what works best and what makes things worse.  Listen to them.  It doesn’t have to sound rational to you if it works to calm them down quickly.

 

o       How should a time-out work?  Who counts to 10, or who can leave the house and go out for a walk?  Where can someone run to feel safe and be left alone for a while?

 

o       What should teachers or co-workers do to calm down a situation and get their classroom or office back to normal as quickly as possible? 

 

Experiences and evidence has shown that a rapid cooling down of emotions and rapid reduction of stress hormones in the brain supports resilience—the ability to bounce back in a tough situation.  Your entire family needs resilience, not just your troubled child.  A simple crisis plan makes all the difference.

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Filed under bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, depression, mental illness, parenting, schizoaffective disorder, schizophrenia, suicide, teens

Your troubled child’s “recovery”–how you help them achieve it

Your troubled child’s “recovery”–how you help them achieve it
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What recovery looks like – A person with a mental or emotional disorder who is in “recovery” can look and act like anyone else.  At the least, they have stable relationships, a steady job, a place to live, a regular diet, cleanliness, and regular mental health check-ins.  Recovery is maintained when the person pays attention to themselves to notice if the symptoms are starting, and then takes action to stop the symptoms.

What your child will need to sustain recovery as an adult:

INSIGHT  +  STABILITY  +  RESILIENCE

INSIGHT– self awareness

Insight allows a child to recognize they have a problem, and choose to act to avoid the problem.  If insight is not possible, they need a toolbox of options that help them to respond appropriately, instead of reacting to chaotic messages in their brain. Knowing and admitting they have a problem, or knowing techniques for avoiding problems, are very powerful skills they need as adults.

STABILITY – fewer falls or softer falls

Your child is like a boat that’s easier to tip over than most other boats; any little wave will capsize them, and everyday life is full of waves, big and small.  Your job is to notice when the troubled child is starting to capsize and show them how to right the boat, or if that doesn’t work, how to use the lifesaver.  Eventually, your child will learn how to sense when trouble is coming on, avoid the thing that causes problems, and ask others for help.  Sense it.  Avoid it.  Ask for Help.

RESILIENCE – bounce back when they fall

Troubled children have a much harder time bouncing back from problems.  They have extreme responses to simple disappointments like breaking a toy, or poor grades, or something as serious as the parents’ divorce.  Some even fall apart in joyous times because the emotional energy is too much!  You must be acutely aware of this–they will not get back on track by themselves.  Don’t worry that helping them will spoil them or “enable” them.  Eventually they will learn from you how you do it.

“…We are all born with an innate capacity for resilience, by which we are able to develop social competence, problem-solving skills, a critical consciousness, autonomy, and a sense of purpose.”

     “Several research studies followed individuals over the course of a lifespan and consistently documented that between half and two-thirds of children growing up in families with mentally ill, alcoholic, abusive, or criminally involved parents, or in poverty-stricken or war-torn communities, do overcome the odds and turn a life trajectory of risk into one that manifests “resilience,” the term used to describe a set of qualities that foster a process of successful adaptation and transformation despite risk and adversity…”   http://www.athealth.com

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Filed under bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, mental illness, parenting, psychiatry, schizoaffective disorder, schizophrenia