Solve your own anxiety to help your worried son
I am extremely worried about my eight-year-old son. His anxiety is wearing us both down. His father and myself separated when he was just six months old.
He now works abroad but we have a good relationship and he sees the child when he is home at Christmas and other holidays. My son worries a lot about me. When I leave him at school in the mornings he always says, "drive safe" and "what time will you be collecting me?"
He then watches the clock in afterschool and if I am a minute late he feels sick. In the recent bad storm we had, I phoned the afterschool to tell them to inform my son I was on my way to collect him early as I knew he would be worried. But, by the time I collected him, he was already suffering a bad anxiety attack.
His face was red, he was extremely hot and his heart was pounding in his chest. I had to bring him home and dose him with paracetamol and he was fine after about 20 minutes. I suppose I, too, am an anxious person but I do not let him know that. I was hoping you could give me some advice about what I could do to help him.
Separation anxiety is typically a phase that many children will experience. Most commonly, though, we see it in younger children perhaps up to the age of four or five.
Most families will have experienced some form of separation anxiety with one or more of their children. It is common to see it in children going to pre-school or in the early weeks of children attending primary school.
The other time that we see separation anxiety is when children are anxious generally and it is just particularly visible when parents are leaving them for periods.
I think, given that your son is eight, that this latter situation is the more likely to be the case for him. He may just have a naturally anxious disposition and it becomes especially visible at times when you have to go.
Despite your best intentions to shield your son from your own anxiety, I would imagine that he is aware of it and it may be influencing the levels of his anxiety.
So, as a precursor to helping your son to deal with his anxiety, I think you will really benefit from addressing your own anxiety.
Dealing with your anxiety will involve understanding the nature of your fears, how they manifest themselves physically and psychologically and finding ways to regulate that anxiety so it doesn't overwhelm you.
The best way to do this will be to talk to someone, professionally. I think you may find cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to be the most effective way to understand and deal with your anxieties.
CBT helps us understand the links between our thinking, our feeling, our physical selves and our behaviour. By challenging ourselves in one or more of these areas we can see the impact of this change, positively, in other areas.
For example, by learning relaxation skills to reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety (like a pounding heart or muscular tension), we can feel more confident to try a behaviour that we might otherwise avoid (like meeting new people), knowing that we can regulate the anxiety (be more relaxed and feel more relaxed) without it building and overwhelming us.
A good therapist who is skilled in CBT can teach you some great skills and techniques to deal with your worries and you can then teach them to your son. That way, he may learn that he can cope fine with the uncertainty of when you might arrive to pick him up, for example, confident that he won't have a panic attack.
At the very least, by dealing with your own anxieties you will be role-modelling, for him, a very proactive approach to living where we can learn to face our fears and do things anyway.
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