Welcome to my blog, Parenting Anxious Kids. I am thrilled that you’ve stopped by. I just want to make it super clear from the outset that I am not a parenting expert! I am a mum who is raising two children who struggle on a daily basis to manage their anxiety. Although I have a degree in Social Work, a Masters and am completing my doctorate, more importantly, I have lived experience, and am wanting a space to share, and build a positive supportive community of other parents. I hope you can stick with me on the journey. Feel free to add comments, email me, or suggest topics you want to discuss.
Warning: This post might be confronting if you have been bullied, or have had suicidal ideations. I would urge you to look after yourself, and if you love someone one who is struggling, check in with them. Know that you are not alone. Remember it’s always better to seek professional help earlier.
For me, this is a really hard one to write. This post has been prompted by the recent writings from the talented James Edgar Skye from the blog, The Bipolar Writer. Skye’s post was focused on bullying, and the link it might have to later mental health challenges. His post was a timely one, as days later, Australia was mourning the suicide of a 14 year old girl called Dolly. Dolly took her own life after she was bullied to a point where she could not see any other option than to end her own life. Her death has reignited the debate around social media and bullying.
The absolutely unacceptable statistics on bullying.
I have just spent years working on a doctorate thesis, on the topic of bullying in medicine. So, while I don’t know much about a heap of other stuff, I know the statistics on bullying! In America, stats suggest that 3.2 million students get bullied each year, with 160,000 teenagers skipping school each day to avoid bullying! (Do Something.org). At least 1 in 4 Australian students get bullied at school, and those figures don’t really reduce once people enter the work force. For some industries (like medicine), bullying rates are possibly even higher. A recent Australian statistic suggests that 39% of all workplace claims for mental illnesses are prompted by bullying, harassment or exposure to violence (Safe Work Australia, 2017). Which ever way you look at it, there is a definite link between mental health and bullying.
Own experiences of bullying
While I have been harassed in the workplace, and there were girls at school, who were just plan mean, my first real experience of bullying occurred, in an academic setting, and when I was (ironically) working on my doctorate thesis. Most meetings with this bully left me in tears. He would belittle, and humiliate me. He was in a position of power, so I felt unable to stand up for what I knew were my rights.
Both my children have also been bullied. Last year one of the kids in my 13 year old’s class asked him why he didn’t just kill himself. My eldest son, had also been bullied by kids in high school, and also by a teacher in primary school. I believe that, to a degree, the bullying that occurred at the hands of that teacher, may well have contributed to his later anxiety around school attendance. The teacher in junior school humiliated him in from of the whole school, it was so bad that other parents heard about it, and wrote in to the school. The teacher is still teaching there. What’s the lesson kids learn there??!
Have you been bullied? What were your experiences?
So what is the answer?
I wish it was that simple. If someone says to me, “I can completely eliminate bullying”, I’m always sceptical. It’s a complex problem, with multiple dimensions, from social pressures and expectations, power dynamics, and has human behaviour at the very core of the phenomenon.
I always believe that we should choose kindness, and remember that every one has their own vulnerabilities. I would also encourage people to ask themselves, “have I ever bullied someone”? Behaviours don’t always include obvious gestures, and might include isolating, excluding, demeaning, undermining or humiliating a person. It’s worth reflecting on this. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person!! Instead, I’d suggest that people think about the circumstances that lead to this behaviour…was there a time pressure, a significant amount of stress, or peer group pressure. How would you handle that situation differently, now?
The last few weeks I have found my kids (or maybe I should say their behaviours) to be pretty challenging. In this post I reflect on some of my motivations when making parenting choices…
The Terror of Parenthood!!
I might be alone here – but surely I am not the ONLY person on this planet that finds parenting terrifying?? Even when my babies were doing nothing more challenging than refusing to eat their vegetables – I think – if I’m honest –I always felt some aspects of parenting overwhelming. For me there has always been a fear that I might be doing ‘the wrong thing’ – whatever that is?! – and unfortunately there is always someone there to tell you how you could parent better – or, if only you tried this (or that), your child would be smarter, happier, faster, richer, more successful, or peaceful, mindful, wonderful, musical, or grateful…
Teenagers: a species unto themselves
While our household survived the infancy, and the younger years, I now have teenagers. For those of you who read my blog, you know that they come with some extra needs (quirks/challenges/assets – it’s hard to know what to say without assigning them a big clunky label?). With teenagers, we now face a whole new set of issues, that I could never have anticipated. From a parenting perspective, the last couple of weeks have been tough. At 17, J is at such a tricky age. He wants to individuate from his parents – which is such an appropriate developmental milestone, however, there are some behaviours that are pretty difficult to manage (and were definitely overlooked in the chapters of the ‘What To Expect When You’re Expecting’ book!). The behaviours (that I know about) include a few missed curfews, telling lies ( I am so naive, I never saw that coming), parties, girls, and some drinking. I should also add, that last year J stopped going to school (we are hoping that he’ll go back to complete his final year this year), he spends most of the day in his bed, and that he seems to have an almost lack of motivation (perhaps that is depression – although his therapists don’t think he is too bad at the moment?!?). I often find myself asking, ‘is this behaviour ‘expected’ teenager behaviour, or is it something else related to his mental health’?I was a teenager once too, and I made lots of really poor choice, quite frankly I still do, however, I didn’t have the extra mental health challenges that my teens have – it must be almost impossibly difficult for them to navigate those teenage years. What, am I trying to say here??…I guess, that I still worry, I still don’t know what I am doing as a parent, and I’m still desperately trying not to stuff it all up…
I have found walking the tightrope between keeping him safe, and allowing him his freedoms, increasingly difficult. Particularly when I’m also trying to juggle medications (I worry that drinking alcohol may well be self-medicating), and keeping an eye-out for self-sabotaging behaviours, as well as the red flags of his depression/anxiety.
Reflecting on my parenting decisions
Each time I actively parent, or discipline, I am prompting myself to think about my motivations;
am I saying ‘no’ (or ‘yes’) simply because I fear the consequences if I say the alternative? I’m not sure fear alone is enough of a reason to make some parenting decisions – particularly when it comes to teenagers.
am I basing my parenting response or choice solely on making myself feel better, or less anxious?
*What do you do, or who do you rely on to help guide you through the inevitable tough patches of parenthood…obviously apart from wine and chocolate 😉
Despite being the (self proclaimed) Queen of “you need to look after yourself” – I am not always great at following my own advice. I sometimes say to the kids, “do as I say, not as I do” 😉
So, I find myself stuck in that weird no-mans-land of time between Christmas and the New-Year…not sure what day it is, eating left over turkey and mince-pies for breakfast…
and this little bit of space has got me thinking….
Last year I did a Word of the Year exercise. I chose the word, COURAGE. It was a suprisingly powerful exercise. No NY resolutions to break, just a word. Because I am a visual kinda person, I made a board up, with what I thought the word might be able to
help me with. It’s a really personal thing. What is an act of courage for me – may not be for you. Friends of mine chose different words, that meant something to them. Christine Kane does a pretty user-friendly version of this exercise. As a mum of kids with mental health challenges and extra needs, I require courage on a daily basis. Seriously. I also need a stack of, what Brené Brown calls ‘grit’!.
This year, however, I have decided that I need to rediscover who I am. I have focused for so long on the needs of others, not just my kids of course, that I have forgotten what I value, and what makes me tick. No surprises then that my word this year is… Rediscover.
For all those amazing, strong, clever, resourceful, kind and compassionate carers out there, I tip my hat to you, you don’t expect anything in return, and you often don’t really get a holiday, or a break from the role of caring. I encourage you though, to consider grabbing a word of the year for yourself…
If you could choose one word for 2018, what will it be??
This year I ran out of festive steam – and ended up hanging the lights up on the wall. I told the kids it was ‘seasonal modern art’…
It’s the day before Christmas here in Australia, and for our family it’s been a tough run up to the day. Our 17 year old has been pushing boundaries that (I think) are probably age appropriate – but because of his mental health, these behaviour (staying out late, drinking (although he might deny that one) make him vulnerable to other risk taking behaviours – and the associated adverse outcomes. I think…we have managed to balance the risks – with his “I’m not 12 anymore mum” – and at last count he was tucked up in bed safely!
For those of us caring for a loved one with a mental illness, or balancing their own mental wellbeing, the holiday season can bring extra challenges. Like you all didn’t already know!!
The pressure to have the ‘perfect’ day (the word ‘perfect’ is actually banned in our house), combined with hosting or visiting family members, work & social obligations (I’ve ditched all but the minimum), not to mention the financial costs associated with the season (a recent newspaper article pointed to the fact that at Easter, many Australians are still paying off the debt they gained at Christmas time!) – means that often we (when I say ‘we’ – I really mean ‘I’!) are pushed beyond our already stretched physical, emotional or psychological capacity.
Like many of us, including myself, if you’ve lost someone you love, this time of year can be extra tough. Your’e not alone.
This year, go gently, be kind to yourself, cut down on obligations, take time out for yourself (I do quick 5 minute mediations using an app called Wildflower) , and celebrate the little (no – I mean really tiny weeny) things – someone with depression getting out of bed, or having a shower, receiving a smile or a hug!.
I’ll start by saying if you want advice about medications – please consult a medical doctor. This post is about my experiences of having a teenager on anti-anxiety meds. This is a parental perspective – not my child’s – I can’t imagine – even though I try – what it is like to be a kid on medications that alter or ‘stabilise’ your mood.
The photo above is from a stash of meds I found on my sons desk – unknown to us he didn’t take them for a few days.
Mood. Last week Js mood was very low, and he was becoming increasingly agitated- when I went in to his room to try and talk with him I noticed his pills scattered around his desk – poked under papers….and behind his Playstation. Every night for sometime we have given him his meds – we didn’t always want to be like a psych nurse and have to watch him. I get the sense that having to play the role of ‘medication giver’ somehow, immeasurably alters, or impacts your parental status.
Doubts. When I asked J why he didn’t take his meds, he wasn’t clear in his explanation. Maybe he didn’t know himself, or perhaps didn’t want to share it with me. I’ll be upfront. I know that his meds help him. I know that it should be like any other medication, but I feel rotten giving him meds that alter his moods – although I hated giving him beta blockers when he had his heart condition too. I second guess whether I am medicating for his benefit or mine. He is easier to manage – more predictable and less anxious – when he is on medication – but I have to remind myself – that I’m sure he benefits from them too….so why would he skip them for 4 days?
This is the tough thing about supporting someone you love ❤️ through a mental illness – it’s not me that is experiencing the symptoms, or the side effects of the condition or its medication. I’ll never know what it’s like – I just have to hope that the choices I make, and the support I give, actually helps – and doesn’t hinder.
How do other parents feel about providing medication for their child?
So. Last night our 17 year old woke us up at 3.20am. He said his head was racing and he didn’t know what to do. You see our gorgeous boy doesn’t just deal with anxiety and depression, he has some personality ‘quirks’ that his psychiatrist has to date been a bit (purposefully) vague about. What we understand is that he has some perfectionist traits. Not in the way that many people use the term – “ohh I’m such a perfectionist” – but rather in a destructive, ‘I’m never good enough’ way.
Part of our sons particular bag is that he is/was a superb athlete. Soccer to be exact. I have little doubt that soccer has helped keep him alive in the darkest moments of his mental health journey.
Due to his illness, we have had to turn down scholarship opportunities to US colleges, National League trials, state championships, and recently a trip to Brazil to represent Australia. So last night he got some negative technical feedback on his a particular part of his skill set. I have been very reluctant for J to be involved with soccer on such a highly competitive level – particularly when there are many coaches who are not supportive of kids with illness (either physical or mental) or they appear unable to communicate or engage compassionately with junior players.
While my standard response to my young perfectionist is “just because you can doesn’t mean you should” – next year he is earmarked to start in a talented player program. J says it’s all he wants to do. Don’t get me wrong – I am enormously grateful he wants to do something – he’s dropped out of school – and most days he struggles to get in the shower. However, his program next year terrifies me. The pressure that he’ll place himself under. I think I’ve come around to the idea that just because you might have a natural gift for something doesn’t oblige you to do this…despite pressure from others outside the family unit – here’s looking at you coaches, educational institutions, and sporting clubs.
Just because a kid has some great talent in an area – does it mean they should pursue that? I’m not convinced the price of his talent is worth paying.
So how do we repair the damage done to his mental wellbeing from negative or poorly delivered feedback?
What strategies do you use to support your child when they’ve received challenging feedback from others?
As a parent of a teenager with a mental health condition, I feel like I have lost the confidence in my ability to parent effectively.
For those of you who have been following my story, I am back from japan. Jet lagged and definitely on the wrong side of tired. Don’t get me wrong, beautiful country, fabulous time and all, but now I’m back. I think the asthma attack experienced by G, at 35,000 ft, somewhere between Guam and the coast of Australia, helped prepare me for my homecoming! No need to divert the plane, it was superbly equipped with spacers, nebulisers, and 30 bottles of oxygen. Two bottles of O2 later, and we arrived safely back in Melbourne!
The real issue I wanted to discuss here, is the vexatious question of disciplining a teenager who is living with a mental health condition. I had left my 17 year old, J, home with his dad – who is a pretty responsible grown-up. J is not quite well enough to travel such a long way, and while I was thankful that everyone was in one piece when we got back, the day we returned home, I had noticed that Js room was appalling. I am used to appalling bedrooms – really I am- you learn not to sweat the small stuff when you’ve got a kid who is depressed and unwell… however, I registered….along with 10 days worth of wet towels on the floor, food products, empty soft drink cans… that on newly cleaned carpet, his bedroom walls and blind – there is a mass attack of tomato salsa. I know, as I’m writing this, I’m thinking – this IS small stuff – however – at what point do you say, this is not ok? When can you say, that your behaviour, lack of regard for property, and at times people, is not ok?
Before my eldest son became unwell, I used to trust my judgment in parenting. I actually used to imagine I was pretty o.k at this parenting business. Now, I second guess myself, and my choices, and, at times, I find myself paralysed with indecision around, how I should, or shouldn’t react. Can I, or shouldn’t I, sanction, suggest, or try and encourage my child in any particular direction? What are the possible psychological repercussions, if I respond negatively to his behaviour? While intellectually, I know there is a difference between self-harm, and suicidal ideations – , the idea, however, that a small critique from either parent, might be enough to push, my already fragile child, back into self-harming behaviours, is, quite frankly, untenable.
Js psychiatrist, quite rightly I imagine, just repeats the mantra of keeping him safe – “safety first”… I know that parenting a teenager can be tricky enough, but this parenting gig becomes almost impossibly difficult, when it’s overlaid (or underpinned) with the knowledge that your child is mentally or emotionally vulnerable. Add to that an extra layer of complexity, where other parents are often unwilling, or unable to share with you, their own experiences of parenting a child with a mental illness (hello stigma)…
I’d love to hear feedback as to how others deal with guiding, or discipling their kids who are living with extra mental health challenges. I’ve got to go downstairs now, step over the mess, and somehow crow-bar J out of bed, to get him to his psychiatrist appointment.
I am happy to report that – in a fashion not dissimilar to clean-up teams who come in to deal with the mess left behind by mafia hits … I managed to scrub most of the tomato salsa off most of the surfaces…