Stifle the Judgement and Recognize Childhood Anxiety

When you believe that you are the reigning panic attack champion of your familial crew, you are faced with a tough reality when you recognize that your child also struggles with extreme anxiety challenges. My concern has been growing as I have watched my child stumble through her schooling with increasing regularity over the past few months. Her grades have slipped, and while she still does fairly well on average, she just seems disconnected.

I do not believe that the mass education system is an ideal fit for a large portion of the children in today’s classrooms, and for a great many, it’s more about surviving than thriving. This is not a new problem. Nevertheless I maintain a strong commitment to the belief that people will match your expectations of them. I push my children to lose the excuses and work hard. I am not looking for perfection, but I won’t accept sloth or apathy either.

So when I received an email letting me know that my daughter had achieved a seriously underwhelming 45 (out of 100) on a grade, I was significantly less than thrilled. I quickly moved from confused into angry. By the time I picked her up from school and could ask her about the grade, I had made it all the way to furious.

me – “How in the world did you make a 45? Aren’t your grades important to you?”

her – Silence. Eyes glazed over while staring blankly out of the car window.

me (fuming and in total disbelief at her indifference) – “Look at me when I am speaking to you! Don’t you understand how one grade like this will affect your average? Doesn’t this bother you at all?”

her (facing me and responding in a sad quiet tone) – “I do care, but the teacher said that it’s too late to turn my paper in now.”

me (steam coming out of my ears and as I frothed at the mouth) – “You didn’t turn it in!?!?  You actually know that you didn’t do the assignment at all? So really you should have received a zero and that 45 was a gift? Did you forget to do the work or did you just blow it off?”

her – “No, Mom. I wrote a paper about some rocks we collected, but I couldn’t find the last page when I was supposed to turn it in. I told her that I was missing the page when she asked everyone for their papers, and she said that she didn’t know what to tell me.”

me (about to get a serious parenting wake up call) – “So what did you do with the rest of the paper that you still had?”

She looked away again and gave a little shrug of her shoulders.

me (instantly realizing what had really happened and feeling like I was on the receiving end of a well-earned gut punch) “You threw the entire paper away because you were missing that one paper.”

She nodded.

And in that moment, I felt my heart twist and break. I finally saw her and understood what had occurred. Her problem had not been one of indifference but rather her inability to see past the panic. She had been so distraught about missing one page in a report that she couldn’t think about potential solutions like asking for partial credit or requesting the opportunity to rewrite that individual page. Her mind chose the path of least resistance – shut this problem down by discarding it.

Her challenge was her extreme anxiety. Mine was my complete inability to recognize her struggle before applying my own assumptions and misjudgements. She had needed support, but I had gone on the attack instead.

I face anxiety struggles constantly, yet I still forget how debilitating the most innocuous of moments can become when panic attacks hit. You couldn’t pay me all of the money in the world to convince me to spend one year of my life as a kid in school again, but I watch my children head there every day and think nothing of it.

All children face challenges, but those who deal with anxiety disorders experience them at an exponential level. Some wear their emotions on their sleeves as they cry, rage, or have panic attacks. Others appear entirely indifferent and unaffected despite the turmoil within. There are always clues to be found, but these hints are quickly obscured when misunderstandings and snap judgements enter the scene. When that happens, the hurt grows and opportunities to learn and heal vanish.

We push our children because we worry about them. We become angry when they stumble because we want them to succeed. In our efforts to help them to avoid various hardships, we create others to take their place. We seek to train them on the intricacies of life, yet we miss the most basic of lessons that they constantly offer us. We have to ask more questions, dig deeper into their stories, and stifle the judgements if we truly want to understand what is happening in their worlds. As parents, we believe that we are our children’s greatest teachers, but the real truth is that they are ours.

Love and light always – Jo

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