School and separation anxiety.

Well the boys are now back in school. The house has been restored to some normality, temporary tidy and looking fairly clean with cupboards restocked. I have finally been given some time to restore some order to my life. Starting with a blog : I thought in honour of the new school year I would write about something that dominates are everyday school life, it is very personal and not often shared with others. Warning I apologies if it is very long however I am hoping it may offer support or understanding to others (It’s sometimes harsh being a parent in such a judgemental world today).

For my youngest despite being slightly reserved and shy at times school has been a breeze, he loves learning and the social aspect of going to school. However this has not been the case for my eldest who has been living with anxiety most of his school life. Before starting school life was awesome, he was confident, easy-going, happy, social and loved life. He was the type of child who was easily excited by anything, always had a big smile and had lots to say. He wanted to learn about the world and everything fascinated him. He was a pleasure and a joy to have in my everyday life. This all changed rather fast overnight on entering school, Anxiety transformed him into someone else term – time and inhibited his ability to function as a normal child at home.

I hear you say and have been often told well at some point all children experience occasional anxiety, it’s a normal part of growing up and going to school they all learn how to deal with it. This maybe true for the majority of children unfortunately some children our better than others at coping with this. For my son it became very much a daily and regular big part of his life. Many will easily jump to conclusions and blame the parents especially the mum for creating it, clinging on to their child and not letting go or letting them grow up independently. However if you have lived with it and witness a love one go through anxiety you will understand that this is not always the case. Sometimes it is beyond the parents control, situations the child has experience and personality have a big role to play.

As parents we had tried everything and I mean everything! From the soft, to the hard approach, had are heartbroken watching tears, question everything we were doing a thousand times ! We did everything in our power to support him though it (and still do), tried every tactic we could think of or suggested to us and went out of our way to encourage independence. Felt pressure from certain others that we were the ones creating it despite all we wanted was a little bit of understanding, support and just someone to listen. I know I am not and have not ever been an over-cautious parent and am not responsible for my child’s anxiety despite at times being made to feel as If I was by others.

Despite my professional background (which I believe help me realise it was beyond normal whatever that is) and being witness to seeing it in others though my past work. Though this gave me some understanding and drive to fight I felt helpless at times in helping my son. I have never really experienced anxiety in my own personal life it’s taken a while to figure it out and understand fully. It has been a long, hard exhausting and at times lonely journey that we are all still on. However it has got easier for us to cope with and there has been glimmers of light at the end of the somewhat dark tunnel. Each day we are moving forward and with coping strategies in place it is becoming easier.

For my son his anxiety could/ cannot be comforted with a few words and was/is out of proportion with the any given situations. He struggled daily though it and became an expert at masking it in front of others however he does/has experience real and excessive worry and fear that is part of his everyday life (letting it all out within the safe walls of home). Furthermore this worry and fear interfered with his everyday life and became hard to control at some points. As parents we hunted for support, we were often brushed off by family, friends and professionals being told it’s just a phase, he will get over it. However after 4 years, signs and symptoms that seem never-ending and when you are wrapped up in the world of parenting a child with anxiety these words don’t offer support but insult, causing loneliness and hurt.

Every school day became a battle, as from the moment he woke up he showed signs of high levels of anxiety in regards to going to school, being in different social environments and situations.  In short the morning school run became a challenge in more ways than one. Clinging to me at friends parties and play dates, refusing to go alone or if at all. Never wanted to be more than a few feet from me or separating from me. When unconfutable He often appears nervous, lacking confidence and shy to others however as his parents we see the signs of panic, fear and uneasiness. We were/our lucky as behind closed doors at home we share a close relationship he was never afraid to discuss openly his feelings of being powerless at school and fear of failure. Everything was to hard and he would/still does say ‘I’m tired’ when he is frighten to express his feelings. We learnt early on he would often say this in moments of anxiety.

On school mornings when I manage to successfully get him into the car he would cling to me tight with a sweaty hand on the walk to school, withdrawing into himself. Going more pale and his shoulder/whole body would tense. The goodbye would always be tough, with him fighting tears, needing reassurance all the way. If looks could kill I would be dead by now. It has been and still is exhausting at times dealing with the school refusal and his separation anxiety as he for most of his eight years refused to spend any time away from me when not at school, clinging and not moving a few feet away, refusing daddy’s efforts of attention, playdates, parties and afterschool clubs. Reluctant to even fall asleep without constant reassurance, attention and being close. separation anxiety brought on other forms of anxiety (fear of failure and social anxiety) from the fear of losing me and my support. The only relief came about in school holidays and weekends when he was reassured we were together.

Before starting school he was a great sleeper, eater and took to potty training in a flash. This all changed overnight. He develop problems with going to sleep and staying asleep. Leading to him always being tired and weak. His complexion was paler and he had bags under his eyes permanently. Despite always being offered and encouraged 12 hours sleep. He went of food for a time having always being non fussy and eating us out of house and home (though this has now very much been restored in the last few months). He came out of school after the first term wet on a regular occasion and bed wetting became a frequent occurrence. Frequently intense, excessive and persistent worry led to fear about everyday situations as he focused on a worry leading to lack of concentration or focus on anything else. Leading to a vicious circle of fatigue, exhaustion and the ability to control the worry/fear resulting in further sleep disruption, tantrums, headaches, stomach-ache and generally permanently tiredness.

We now know his school and separation anxieties are very real, not just a passing phase stemming from his early childhood experiences. Unfairly for him he’s had a few despite how we as a family have tried to deal and cope with them they were bound to have an impact at some point. Four years of hearing loss/ glue ear leading to speech and language delay resulting in feeling powerless and isolated when around others – his only security and understanding was within the home. Starting school before he was ready – a summer baby led him to feel excessive pressure from an education system in this country which does not allow for different targets based on developmental history and him placing unreasonable expectations on himself, caring to much/ too strong to please others. After a opt on his ears trying to catch up four missed years whilst other peers carry on developing. The pressure of others, school and ones he chose to place on himself he has always felt like he has to ‘keep running’.

If that wasn’t enough from the age of two he has had to live with severe food allergies that have on more than one occasion resulted in rides in ambulance, epipen usage, and overnight stays in hospital placed closed to intensive care. On our last stay in CCCU after he came to after several hours of steroids being pumped into him he was told he was very lucky he survived and was here to tell the story! He is (and us as parents have been) often wrongly identified and too much defined by his allergies, some do not see beyond this. Creating barriers that isolate –  we just want to scream yes his allergies are serious, yes are lives are very much dictated by them but there is more to us all, he is not just a boy with allergies and I’m not just ‘that overprotective allergy mum’. (However that is another story to be told another day).

All of these factors have contributed to where he is now. So though no fault of his own and a lack of support for him from professionals at times when he has really needed them. These have all taken a toll on my son’s life and us as a family, shaping his personality and views on life.

We are still very much learning and coping in how to deal with his anxieties on an everyday basis and dare I say it so far this term has got of to a good start. long may it continue. We have found and made up our own methods that help us to cope , they may not work for everyone but they seem to be helping us. We have been very lucky to have the support of CAMHS over the last few months which has made an unbelievable difference for our son and how he deals with his anxiety. I think in truth the answer was quite simply, though one on one therapy someone else other than mum and dad really listen, taking time to understand him and acknowledge it was real. Understanding the need for him to be supported emotionally and in turn releasing some of the pressure from us as parent. Dont get me wrong I don’t believe its all fixed, we have good days and bad and will continue to do so.

It is only when you have watched someone you love go though Anxiety do you truly understand how Anxiety can truly hold a person hostage within their own mind and body preventing the enjoyment of day-to-day life. As mum it help to release the blame I put on myself and what society expectations can put on you was it my fault? Had I done or was I doing something wrong? Having worked with children all my working life I should of known better, for god sake where was I going wrong? realising the answer was No No No! Just circumstances beyond our control had led us to where we were today. I had done everything in my power to help my son throughout some very tough times and would continue to, excepting actually the reason he struggled with separation anxiety (stemming from other anxieties) was because I had done my job well, I had succeeded at offering a strong support network when he needed it without it he might be in a worser situation.

So if you don’t have a child with anxiety but have taken time to read this, firstly thank you. please dont judge to quickly that child / parent clinging to each other with tears in their eyes on the playground. There maybe more to the story, life might be a bigger struggle than it appears. Just offer a smile, ear or dont just tell them to ‘turn their back and walk away – he’ll be fine’ but offer ‘Its ok – to cry, your really doing your best and your not alone’, unhelpful frowns of judgemental comments never help but support can go along way.

For those dealing with it, I hear you, hold in there, you’re doing your best and you are not alone!! It does get easier – We finally conquered our first play date and party this summer without a parent being insight – It was a big deal!!!! He might still be unbelievable clingy on the return to school  and continues to need to hold my hand on the way to school as we enter year 4, separation has got easier this term.

My advice to those who feel your child is anxiety is controlling their life and in turn yours. Seek help and advice don’t suffer in silence. Do not try to do it alone  said she who did for to long! Help is out there if you keep looking and fighting for it. Raising children is one of lives greatest rewards but also one of lifes greatest challenges. As a parent WE NEED to find someone to share your concerns with to gain some much-needed relief. I know this is not always easy, I’ve been there and collected the t.shirt. It is hard to find that someone to listen and offer valid support be it a friend or family member (who you dont want to feel like you are boring) or your child’s school (appear not to be wasting their precious time). Someone who does not or certainly appear not to understand you. Eventually you will find that person who will hear, listen and understand.

Never be afraid to push or seek professional help if needed it is not a failure on your part. For us it offered my son a turning point and took a big weight of our shoulders. The fight continues and seems like it will never end at times. However we are conquering it, coping and heading in the best direction we know how.

A few tried and tested ideas of things that may help:

  • Talk openly with your child. About their fears and worries. Remain calm and Non- judgement (provided that security blanket so that they have some where to run and hide).
  • Try your hardest to work with teachers and others that care for your child (though this is not always easy).
  • Encourage hobbies and interests to help build your child self confidence (We have had to do this together but hope it will SOON lead to independence).
  • Learn as much as you can about your child’s anxiety do not choose to brush over (society at times may make you feel this is the best way). However it does help you and your child understand and create coping methods by using relevant statics.
  • Help build your childs support system including family, friends and others (For us without family close by this involve a lot of daddy daycare being stepped up, to relieve the pressure from me and show my son others can offer the same support – Daddy now once a week takes/stays at a club and does the school run. It wasn’t easy involved lots of anger and tears aimed at me from my son’. It has now FINALLY helps and he has gained confidence without me. He has slowly learnt to feel safe and supported by others.
  • Prepare for new activities ahead of time, my son really doesn’t like surprises or change. He has questions that need to be answered before any new event, he needs time to think, discuss his fears and worries if he is to enjoy or benefit from any new experience without anxiety.
  • We created our own Comfort star to be rubbed when worried (ours has lived in trouser pockets, book bags etc.). It gives us hugs and kisses when we are worried and mummy can’t.DSC_0478
  • A Lunch box notes – This has been a big one for my son, as he said lunch time at school was the hardest time. A little note in the lunch box everyday this may be a motivational note or a joke. Google it and you will find loads of examples. I get into trouble if I forget and often get reminded.
  • A self-esteem/mood diary helping us to discuss our fears, worries and emotions this really helped in our darkest moments. We discussed and wrote in it together before bed so there was less to worry about referring back to it if needed. Using it to point out we survive certain events that was worrying us and we were ok.

But most importantly stay strong and understand you are not alone! Ignore the eye rolling, judgemental and non helpful comments. Feel free to give them that extra hug, kiss or the extra words of reassurance if they need it. They are only little for a while if they need us, they need us! There is no perfect way or perfect parents we all have our faults and are all learning as we go. Do it your way, the way you believe and follow your gut. We all know the world can be harsh at time and your child knowing you are on their side will ensure them they are not alone and that they will succeed in life. We do not all need to raise hard Ninja warriors fighting battles alone!

emmas xxx

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