This will change the way you parent your sensitive child.
One of the hardest things about being a parent is realizing that you can’t always make things better.
There are times when your kid is in pain or something has been broken — either physically or emotionally — and, as a family member, you just have to step back and deal with the fact that there is nothing you can do in that moment to make things better.
It can be heartbreaking. But I’ve been surprised to also find that sometimes the solution to the problem is just accepting that some things can’t be fixed. (Or, at least, can’t be fixed in a way you could predict.)
For example, my daughter suffers from anxiety.
I love how she looks at the world. How she’s constantly debating “BIG” questions. Our bedtime conversations can turn downright metaphysical on a good night, with her asking me philosophical questions about life, the universe, and everything in between.
However, the flip-side of that is that she thinks about EVERYTHING, even the bad stuff. She thinks, broods, dwells on the negative and the terrifying. There are few things more heartbreaking than watching a nine-year-old consumed by existential dread, and there are moments where I just wish I could turn her brain off and give her some peace.
That’s the thankless burden of being a parent when your kid has anxiety. You can’t “fix” it.
But, I will say, realizing that was one of my biggest “A-ha” moments of parenting.
A few years ago, my daughter was suffering from anxiety at school all the time. Almost every day, we’d get a call from the office, telling us that our daughter had a stomach-ache. Knowing that her “worries” were the root of the problem, we began taking her to a therapist.
And the therapist’s strategy was GENIUS, but it wasn’t something I ever expected.
I expected the therapist to “cure” my daughter’s anxieties — to eliminate them or make them disappear.
Instead, this is what she told my daughter: “Yeah, your anxiety is never going away.”
Which… yeah… took a while to understand. It felt almost defeatist at the beginning, like she was offering my kid no hope. But that wasn’t what she was doing at all.
She was trying to let my daughter know that her anxiety was just another part of her. It was NORMAL. It was HER normal. And it wasn’t anything she should be ashamed or worried about.
For example, my daughter complained that, when her class had a test, her stomach would tie up in knots and she got scared that she would throw up in class.
But her therapist explained, “That’s just how you’re ALWAYS going to be feel when you hear that you’re going to be tested or you’re nervous about doing something.” She argued that my daughter would probably always feel a little lurch in her gut when she was put on the spot like that for the rest of her life.
The key was — realizing that those feelings were completely normal, completely mundane.
“What? My stomach is in knots again? Ah well, happens all the time.”
The problem had been my daughter would feel that nervousness in her stomach and immediately spiral into a panic. “Why did my stomach do that? Am I going to be sick? I’m going to be sick! I’m going to throw up! Something is seriously WRONG!”
And, no, nothing was wrong. That little stomach twinge was just her NORMAL.
She just had to realize that, see it as something almost achingly familiar, and just move on. She had to imagine it like an old football injury. Yes, her trick-knee would always hurt when it rained, but it wasn’t going away and it wasn’t dangerous or anything. It was just a part of her life now.
Coming to that understanding about anxiety was a huge step forward for me as a parent.
Because, when you dive into every situation declaring your intention to FIX everything, you’re letting your child know “something is BROKEN.” And that’s hard to consider once they realize that they’re the broken thing.
It was much, much harder for me to help my daughter accept the difficult things about herself – and accept them myself as a parent.
But, as soon as I did, you could see the benefits almost immediately. My daughter OWNED her anxiety, she talked about it like a familiar thing, and her stomach-aches and panic spirals began to fade away.
Does her anxiety sometimes flare up from time to time? Sure, but so does mine. But, once we took away the stigma of having anxiety, it became much, much easier for her to learn to live with it. Which was a much better solution than her dumb old dad trying in vain to fix it.