Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Understanding your anxious child - books that help!

I have an anxious child.
I was an anxious child.
And I have a huge library of books that have helped enormously, so I thought I would share a small selection of them with you.

1. is of course the book I wrote  12 Annoying Monsters - Self Talk for Kids with Anxiety.

This book teaches children what anxiety is, how it manifests in the body, how they can learn to ignore pesky, negative voices in their head that stress them out and not let anxiety stop them achieving their dreams and goals.

Here is some more info about the book, why I wrote it for my clients and where else to buy it. more info

 Note that some of these books are not directly about anxiety, but more about understanding the sort of person you are, your tendencies, quirks and ways of thinking. understanding that and how you think goes a log way to reducing stress, because we all see the world in our own unique way.

 2. Helping your anxious child by five PHDs and an MD.

3. The Introvert Advantage by Marti Olsen

4. The Birth Order Book (why you are the way you are) by Dr Kevin Leman
here is a PDF version

  5. What to do when you worry too much by Huebner and Matthews.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

ANXIOUS KIDS - Why does it happen? What can we do to help?

My background
So, I've worked with lots of different types of kids over 27 years as a high school teacher, Special Education Teacher, Childrens Counsellor and childrens author visiting  schools.

Types of kids
Some kids are obnoxious, but suffering with poor confidence underneath. Some are highly anxious and get into conflict with everyone. Some are hyperactive and no one knows who they truly are. Some struggle to make and keep friendships going and yet are sweet little people. Some walk around in a daze, oblivious to what is going on around them. Some function well and seem happy. Some seem happy but suffer crippling depression and stress that they are incredibly good at hiding from others, including their parents.

See the world through their eyes
For an anxious child the world can be a scary place where they feel ill equipped to deal with what happens. The main thing to remember with any child is that their experience is unique to them. They sometimes feel they are the only person in the world who feels this way and that no one else understands. Accept that this is how they feel, no matter what your thoughts on it. It's important that you say, "So, what you're saying is.... Hm. That sounds difficult." And build from there.

That's why it is so important to LISTEN, even if you don't understand or don't know what to do with the information they give you. To get a snapshot into their world you must first open your eyes. Stop telling yourself that its just normal kids stuff and will blow over, because for this child, it might not. Don't take the risk that it develops into something far more serious than bedwetting or tummy ache before school. Get to the bottom of the problem. It may just be how your child sees the world that is causing confusion and thus anxiety. Are they a bit quirky? Do they have very specific talents and a narrow range of interests? Is their learning style visual, auditory, kinesthetic or multimodal? (see more on that here: Learning styles)

Anxiety is not a cause
Don't look at anxiety as THE PROBLEM. 99% of the time it's something else and anxiety is A SYMPTOM. At the base of all anxiety are thoughts, often very intrusive thoughts that replay over and over and become almost like an unwanted mantra. If your child is naturally anxious, that is, they catastrophise over what might happen and feel sure it will, there are lots of ways you can help! It is not a life sentence to always be at the mercy of your fears or worries.

Books that help
In order to do this you may need help. Some excellent books I have come across are:
12 Annoying Monsters - Self Talk for Kids with Anxiety (yes, I wrote it, especially for these kids)
10 Things your student with Autism wishes you knew
The Whole Brain Child
What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety (What to Do Guides for Kids)
Freeing Your Child from Anxiety: Powerful, Practical Solutions to Overcome Your Child’s Fears, Worries, and Phobias
Anxiety-Free Kids: An Interactive Guide for Parents and Children

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Does your child suffer with anxiety or depression? Take this quick questionnaire

What is 'normal' anxiety for children?
Sometimes as parents we worry that our child is coming home with fears or anxieties which seem abnormal - worse than other kids or having greater impact upon our child than the normal cares and worries should. Bed wetting may follow, tummy ache, crying fits, screaming fits, refusal to go to school - what's normal and what isn't? Do we need to DO something?

A simple tool that may help
This little questionnaire is a terrific tool to get a snapshot of our child's state of mind (or even our own).

This link is connected to an Australian doctor, Dr David Richardson, who has spent his professional life exploring the reasons for mental and physical health that fall outside the usual avenues of diagnosis and treatment. He uses natural and traditional remedies, genetic testing and much more. His website shares the HADS - Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale which is used widely and available in the public domain.

complete quiz online
Anxiety and Depression Quiz 

 Below is a PDF version you can download and print.

What's the next step?
Once you have completed this survey with your child (make sure they don't see the results or scale at the bottom of the page, That's adult business.) You can reach out to a health professional, look online for books that may assist you and websites that can direct you to further help. My book was written especially for kids, and is also for adults too, especially those who feel they may have passed on traits to their child.
Click here: 12 Annoying Monsters - Self Talk for Kids with Anxiety

Your parental instincts are usually right
Don't give up! If you really suspect your child is suffering, persist in looking for answers. Sometimes the right counsellor, someone kind who actually understands children and has experience working with them, can change your child's life around.

Monday, 13 March 2017

Anxious children become anxious adults - is anxiety beautiful?

I just saw an author talk about her new book claiming anxiety 'can be beautiful.' While I agree that anxiety has been diagnosed as a disorder, making it shameful in a way, it is simply a different way of thinking some of us have. Anxiety is a natural response to our environment, keeping us safe and observant. The problems arise when it becomes too persistent and disrupts our life with intrusive thoughts we struggle to control.

My book for kids is written with a slightly sneaky agenda - to help kids identify those particular intrusive thoughts and give strategies for dealing with them, taking back control! And its a sneaky agenda because the book is designed to get mums and dads reading it too. So much of what we are we have inherited from our family.

So take a look at this little gem. I wrote it from experience, my own and hundreds of kids I have worked with over 27 years. Click here: 12 Annoying Monsters

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Anxious children feel better with DIRT!

Yep, you read that right.
Studies in the UK and USA have shown that children and indeed adults too who garden or play in the soil experience positive mood changes. They become calmer! Certain microbes in soil, Microbacterium Vaccae,  actually stimulate the brain's production of Serotonin, the body's calming hormone.
Read more at Gardening Know How: Antidepressant Microbes In Soil: How Dirt Makes You Happy http://www.gardeningknowhow.com/garden-how-to/soil-fertilizers/antidepressant-microbes-soil.htm,
You can read more here, on the Australian Science website - soil and depression
No wonder I can't wait to get out into my garden some days!

For anxious kids, this can be a fabulous way to effect change, especially if they are prone to depression.

So, what do you do if you live in the city?
  1. Buy a big pot for your balcony and fill it with soil, not potting mix, from the local nursery/hardware store. 
  2. Plant something edible, like lettuce, bok choy, spring onion, or herbs such as rosemary, chives, dill, coriander and thyme.
  3. Plant something colourful - this lifts the mood to.
  4. Tend your mini-garden daily. read up on what sort of ph the plants like, watering and plant food, pruning etc.
  5. Don't use gloves! But wash your hands when you're finished of course.
  6.  If you don't have a balcony, a spot near the window will do.
  7. Pull out the weeds! Again, don't use gloves. Get right in there and get dirty.
  8. Instead of a sandpit, build a small soil play area and add some utensils such as bucket, spade, old plastic pots etc. The 'clam shell' shallow outdoor pool/sandpit would be perfect.



Kids are suffering 
I am deadly serious. And very angry.
People are causing children extreme distress by ranting about Donald Trump and 'predicting' the end of the end of the world.

At my daughter's school the principal had to make special announcements to each class about the US election of Donald Trump. Why? Because stupid, insensitive people, including parents and teachers, had voiced their private views about Trump in such a way that children were beginning to fear for their future. The same thing happened at cub scouts this week. A little girl, aged ten, was depressed and upset, because 'that evil man is president and he's going to blow up the world.' In the city another principal had to make announcements to quell the hysteria raging in her school.

Keep personal political views out of the classroom!
What are people thinking?
Kids today already have enough pressures. Through social media their innocence is being taken from them at an earlier age. They struggle with interpersonal skills because they spend too much time online. Anxiety as a syndrome is skyrocketing. And irresponsible people are making it worse.

Children do not need the pressure these intolerant idiots are causing by spreading their hatred. I offer no comment on the man. I don't even live in the USA. But I do know that he was elected democratically and that's what the majority of the people wanted. How things proceed from here we shall have to wait and see.

Teachers DO NOT have the right to push their own political agenda in their classroom. This is WRONG. I have been teaching for 27 years, so I know what I'm talking about.

Our job is teaching our children to understand the democratic process instead of undermining the very thing it strives to achieve - freedom of speech and the right to vote.

Friday, 27 May 2016

DEPRESSION and suicide in children - what can parents do?


It's official. And the statistics are horrific. Twice as many teens die from suicide as from car accidents. How did this happen? What brought us to this shocking predicament?

Why are Teens Killing themselves?
Experts struggle to pinpoint one central cause, and that's not surprising. There is no one causal factor in this complicated issue. Some teens are unhappy to the point that they see no purpose to living any longer. I can't even begin to imagine what it's like for their parents and families.

The Devastation it Leaves Behind
Suicide has touched my family and directly affected me. I knew the person I loved was unhappy but was told medication was helping to keep him stable. This was not the case. With a change in medication came a drastic reaction. Within two days he was gone, leaving behind a bewildered and shocked family. We blamed ourselves for not being vigilant enough, not checking in with him, not caring enough, but the truth is, once a person has decided to take their own life virtually nothing will stop them. This was not a cry for help, this was a willful ending of life.

Is it Harder for Kids these Days?
Our children, those precious little people we love and nurture, are under greater pressures these days. I know it sounds like a cliche; trite, a one-size-fits-all phrase, but I do believe it's true. Working with kids for over 25 years, and largely on a one-to-one basis, I've come across highly anxious boys and girls but it wasn't until the last ten years that I've actually dealt with suicidal children.

So How Did I begin to Help These Children??
I began with listening. I listened to the parents and then the child. I listened with my heart, with compassion, but I was at the same time making sharp-focussed observations, drawing the strings of their lives together to get a clearer idea of what their life was like for them. Want to know what I noticed?

  1. The child usually had no chores in the home
  2. Home routines were patchy and unpredictable
  3. The child dictated their own bedtime
  4. The child had little respect for parental authority or the relationship with at least one parent was strained
  5. Emotional distance between the child and at least one parent. Misunderstandings had developed into repulsion.
  6. Parental fears and anxieties were high
  7. Parental authority was limited or virtually non-existent
  8. The child had few if any hobbies, some were totally unsuitable
  9. The child watched whatever they wanted on TV and DVD, including MA and R rated films
  10. The child had unsupervised access to the internet
  11. The child had few or no friends
  12. The child spent a lot of time staring at a screen playing games or watching things instead of being in the real world
  13. The child frequently expressed anger when talking about home and family
  14. The child felt no one understood their feelings
  15. The child behaved inappropriately at school
  16. Parents rarely said 'no' to the child or refused them anything
  17. The child had issues with food - poor diet, refusing to eat certain foods, bulimic etc.
  18. The child had socialising difficulties
  19. Parents maintained a facade of neatness and orderliness but underneath things were messy and complicated
  20. Parents seemed unable to see their child as a normal child, maintaining he/she was 'special' and treated them accordingly
  21. Parents felt powerless
  22. Parents had blinkers on when it came to their child's behaviour. They knew it was a cry for help but didn't understand what they were seeing
  23. The child resented their parents 'interfering' with their life
  24. The child's insatiable appetite for control ruled the family roost
  25. The child had persistent, intrusive, negative thoughts they either didn't recognise or didn't know how to deal with
  26. The child felt isolated and alone in their world, despite being in a loving family
  27. the child felt they were a burden, with no redeeming qualities
  28. The child had fantasised about how they would kill themselves, as the only solution to their problem
So, What Now?
Can you feel the pain, just reading that list? It makes me wonder how it can get to that point without anyone noticing or changing what they did, but the truth is that these things are often generational problems or stem from a specific event in the past and the subsequent slide downwards can take many years. In one case, the child had almost died as a toddler and the parents were frantically worried of losing them every minute of the day. This distress had transferred to that child and made life hellish and confusing. The first thing I did was to inform the child what had actually happened to them (no one had ever said anything) and tried to explain how this had affected the parents' behaviour and decisions over the years. Another child had bulimia, which the parents knew about but 'trusted' their child that it was no longer happening. The smell of vomit in the bathroom should have been a giveaway, but... A kind of blindness descends when parents feel they have run out of options and energy to deal with the situation. Another child was like a miniature Attila the Hun, issuing orders and making demands while addicted to internet porn. Another child had actually started cutting their body 'to release the pain.' Another had already decided the best way to die.

Family Relationships
At the centre of all of this is the family - the child-parent relationship. Some of the most significant features I noticed was that the parents were either too timid or assumed they had it all under control. Both can be fatal mistakes.

A child, before they slide into a depression, begins to feel unsafe, like they are floating, with no solid ground on which to stand. This might be triggered by a death in the family, when parents don't know how to process grief or don't realise how their child is processing their own grief. It might begin with problems at school; teasing, bullying, exclusion and no real investigation is carried out as to the cause. Children can be cruel to each other, it's instinct and at its basis there is usually a fear of some kind. Children don't just wake up one day and decide the best thing to do is kill themselves. they reach such desperation over a long period of time. There are signposts along the way, but sometimes they are missed, but I'm inclined to think that a basic lack of structure in the lives of these children is often a significant factor. If we, as parents, don't stand up and make the decisions for the family, then the child feels forced into doing it. Despite demanding control, children don't actually want it. What they want is for us to lead them, to provide safety, a warm place to nestle in and be loved. But how some parents react to their child's distress can actually make it worse, despite having all the love in the world for that child.

So what can we do to prevent our children from becoming suicidal?
It begins in the home, in the ordinary everyday things. Children don't know what is good for them. That's our job to know, from experience. So here's a few ideas:
  1. Always know where your child is and who they are with. At any moment of the day. Or night. Choose their friends and associates carefully. Make sure the parents have strong, sensible values. If your child is spending time at the house of a friend, know exactly what kind of house it is.
  2. Have clear expectations of the child's behaviour at all times. Just because they're having a bad day doesn't mean they can take it out on everyone else.
  3. Do not let the child decide what is appropriate material to watch or listen to. Everything we put into our minds becomes a part of us. Music with explicit lyrics is completely inappropriate for children. Films with adult ratings ditto. Also silly TV shows where the child characters are sassy, opinionated and demanding while the parents are weak and indecisive. Provide GOOD ROLE MODELS for your children, especially with what they watch. Research the shows that will provide a healthy outlook.
  4. Provide quiet time during the day. It's so important to wind down and when kids are hyped up they sometimes don't realise they need to calm down a bit. Especially before bed. Reading aloud to your child at bedtime works wonders. It has the added benefit of broadening their vocabulary, so they can express themselves better.
  5. Chat. Every day. About school, home, stuff that's bothering them, fun things, their hopes, likes and dislikes, who they played with at school, who they'd like to be friends with. Listen carefully. Try to imagine your child in the playground and see how their behaviour affects their life in the social context. Do they need help with socialising skills? Are they being too demanding of others? Are they being bullied? Keep the chat channel open. 
  6. Do fun things together. Take the time. It's an investment in your child's happiness, not a chore!
  7. Encourage kindheartedness and compassion towards others. Get involved in a local charity, like a dog's shelter. Collect blankets and towels to take there and donate food. Teach your child to be a good friend, by being generous. Always insist the guest goes first or chooses first. When we understand the needs of others we are less likely to focus solely on our own.
  8. Show you trust your child by teaching them how to be responsible and giving them opportunities to prove themselves to you. In our house we preface any new privilege with 'this is a test, ok? to see if you're ready for this.' If they fail the test, they're not ready and need more assistance and time.
  9. Teach your child to cope with failure. We cannot learn anything unless we accept that we WILL FAIL occasionally. No one is perfect. No one, no matter how they appear on the outside, gets it right every time.
  10. Give your child the tools to be self aware. We all inherit tendencies from our parents. Its genetic. But you can learn to modify yourself to minimise the problems that arise. Make sure your child knows and accepts their little idiosyncrasies with a positive attitude to manage or change. 
  11. Above all, teach your child to be aware of their own thoughts, to recognise a single thought, when it enters their head. people often have no concept that a thought is an actual thing. It can be stopped in its tracks if its causing distress or harm.
  12. Be consistent, especially in your routines at home. Chores, consistent mealtimes and bedtimes are the minimum. Children will try to change it, but that doesn't mean you give in. They will try every trick they know to get around it. Don't let them. 
  13. Seek help if you feel like your grip is slipping. If that help isn't any use keep looking, asking around for personal referrals to professionals until you find someone your child can talk to. It doesn't have to be a psychiatrist or psychologist. In fact, counsellors are better in many ways. They focus more on listening rather than diagnosing.
  14. Keep reading, learning, growing as a parent. There are so many awesome books out there. Key words to use in searches are: attachment theory, discipline, emotional intelligence, anxiety in children, resilience, responsibility in children, birth order, Jungian personality typology, body language, Manhood by Steve Biddulph, raising boys, raising girls, How Love Works by Steve and Sharon Biddulph, The Five Love Languages by Gary Larson. 
  15. You will notice a blue book to the right. Its '12 Annoying Monsters - Self Talk for Kids With Anxiety.' I wrote it for my clients but it became so popular I decided to make it available to everyone. All over the world this book has sold, helping kids and parents to tackle and manage anxiety, before it develops into something more sinister. You can purchase a copy by clicking on the link. 12 Annoying Monsters
  16. Encourage your child to confide in another adult you trust, say an aunt, uncle or grandparent. Sometimes we can tell others things we can't say to our family
  17. Get plenty of rest, exercise and good food. Being healthy, cooking together, being active together, these provide opportunities for chatting as well as getting some of those frustrations out of the system. Our trampoline gets a bit of a workout on days when a certain person is cranky or frustrated with her day. By order of her mother! 15 minutes minimum.
In helping your child in the above areas you will also find you're helping yourself. What a wonderful gift for both of you! I wish you the best of luck.