Son Has Anxiety About World Ending
by Mary Follin and Kristi Crosson
Read on Fredericksburg Parent & Family magazine
THE PROBLEM: I’m afraid my 13-year old son has gotten into some stuff on the internet that’s causing him a lot of anxiety. He’s convinced the world is going to end soon, and he can’t stop talking about it. He’s lost interest in the activities he used to enjoy, like playing guitar and watching sports on TV with his dad, and he’s trying to convince everybody else to worry, too. (Again, by talking about it all the time.) He has also confided to me that he feels hopeless, and he doesn’t know what’s going to happen to him after the world ends. He is suffering so much, and I feel awful for him, but I don’t know how to help him.
MARY SAYS: Have you ever found your mind grinding away at something you said in a work meeting or obsessing on an imagined health scare? You’re bee-bopping along, happy, and all of a sudden, bam! In an instant, your thoughts turn into a runaway train without brakes.
At best, it’s annoying, but at worst, obsessive thinking can consume you in a most uncomfortable way, which is what is happening to your son.
Unfortunately, heightened anxiety is a common fallout from a global disaster, which we have been in since—since—wow, it feels like forever. There’s no shortage of bad news to fuel endless doom-scrolling, which an anxious mind loves to feed on.
Common sense might tell you to limit your son’s internet use. But aside from dealing with the pushback you’ll get, it’s not that simple. To revisit our earlier metaphor, the train has already left the station.
Your son is in desperate need of coping tools. For whatever reason, he has joined the thousands of children who have lost the resiliency that comes so naturally to young people. He may be a particularly sensitive boy, or he might be dealing with another issue that is too overwhelming to look at, which makes obsessing on the end of the world an easier option.
He also might be picking up on how you’re feeling.
If you are a parent, you’ve probably met your own demons this year, having to deal with the demands of raising a family and having a pandemic thrown in just in case you didn’t have enough going on. How are you managing? What races through your mind while you’re lying in bed, eyes wide open, at 3 in the morning? Are you experiencing heightened anxiety or depression?
Most significantly for your son, what are you saying about all of this?
If you’re not doing the ‘everything’s coming up roses’ thing, that’s good. Trying times are best dealt with honestly, rather than putting on a happy face even when you don’t feel like it. But if your son is only hearing about your worries and fears, perhaps it’s time to share the helpful strategies you use for dealing with them.
And if you aren’t using any, now’s a good time to start.
First of all, be aware of projecting gloom into the future, which might sound like this: “COVID 19 is just the beginning. They say what’s coming down the pike will be a lot worse.” Or: “Kids are so behind in school. How will they ever catch up?” Or: “Now that I’m working remote, I feel far away, like I’ll lose my job any day now.” Indeed, you may believe all these things, but unless they come to pass, they’re just scary stories, invented to feed that insatiable anxious mind.
Mind your words, please. Our children need us to. At the age of 13, children want to be autonomous, and they want someone to be in charge. These opposing ‘wants’ create a breeding ground for uncertainty and fear, but they also offer an opportunity for growth.
True, we may find ourselves facing another pandemic in years to come. But does that portend a dark fate, or have we learned something about how resilient we humans can be? Yes, many kids have had a less-than-desirable school experience over the past 12 months. But could this gap in our children’s education possibly be a chance for them to get off the hamster wheel of pushing through? I mean, what’s the hurry? And have you ever lost a job? How often does that turn into something better?
These are not small issues. But a shift in perspective can turn setbacks into opportunities, while at the same time relieving suffering for everybody in your household.
I would also encourage you to give your son a device to use when he feels himself beginning to ruminate about death and destruction. This simple, 3-step ‘box breath’ is extremely powerful at calming down the nervous system. It’s quick, easy, portable, and nobody ever needs to know you’re doing it.
Here’s how it works:
Try it. Right now. You’ll be amazed how relaxed you feel. Your son may need to use this device 20 times an hour when he first begins, but over time, just thinking about the box breath will prompt his system to chill out.
And finally, keep in mind that although you might try to convince your son the world is NOT going to end, do we really know for sure what will happen next? Trying to control an outcome only offers temporary relief from anxiety. For a more sustained sense of wellbeing, one needs to come from a centered place, knowing deep down that no matter what, everything is as it should be.
People spend a lifetime trying to find that eternal nugget—through faith, centering practices, nature, and many other sources. Seekers always find. Share your own journey with your son, and perhaps you will discover in each other a companion to journey with—a hidden gem, buried deep inside these crazy times we’re living in.
Kristi is on vacation this week.
ASK MOM offers parents two perspectives on today’s child-rearing issues—one from a mom with grown children (Mary), the other from a mom raising small children (Kristi). If you’re looking for creative solutions, or your mom isn’t around to ask, drop in! If you have a question for Mary and Kristi, we’d love to hear from you! email@example.com
Teaching a child to read? Learn about our online phonics program!
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Mom Loves One Child More Than the Other
by Mary Follin and Kristi Crosson
Read on Fredericksburg Parent & Family magazine
THE PROBLEM: My daughter, who is now eight, was so easy I couldn’t wait to have another. As a baby, she had a smile for everyone. She’s the kind of kid who will busy herself with a coloring book in a restaurant, and she hardly ever puts up a fuss when I ask her to do something. But then, a year-and-a-half after she was born, we had Adam, who was unhappy from the beginning. He screamed a lot for the first two years, and still fights with me on EVERYTHING, even though he’s seven, old enough to know better. The problem is, I’ve finally admitted to myself that I love my daughter more than my son, which is about the worst thing I could do for both of them. I feel so ashamed, like I’m a terrible mother. Shouldn’t I love them both the same?
MARY SAYS: Aaahhhh, the blessing and the curse of an easy firstborn. When new parents have the kind of baby who coos at strangers, sleeps through the night, and naps on long trips, it’s tempting for the happy couple to believe they’re pretty good at this ‘parenting’ thing. It might even tip into judgy, especially when their friends pop out a screamer: “Just pat him on the back and he’ll go right back to sleep,” you say, or “Try a pacifier, that worked like a charm for us.”
Unwittingly, these two think they’re the ones who created such a model human being. And to a degree, they have. But then along comes baby number two, an alien who drops into your otherwise happy home. This one takes charge from the get-go, and you’re never quite sure how to please your new boss.
In other words, children are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.
What complicates the situation is that children often have personalities similar to one parent or the other. I am guessing your daughter’s temperament is like your own, which is why it’s been so easy to engage with her. Adam, however, sounds like he has a different personality type, one that may even remind you of someone you were never too crazy about. (Mom? Dad? Aunt Lil?)
But they are both yours, which is why you are concerned about your feelings toward Adam.
For starters, let's talk about the word ‘love.’ Love can’t be divided or split in two, it can’t be measured. Be assured, you have plenty of love inside of you for both of your children and all the other children in the world. Love is whole and complete, impossible to ‘parcel out’ to one more than another.
When you conclude you love your son more than your daughter, it’s more likely that Adam is triggering something inside of YOU you don’t like. Or that you’re triggered by. Or ashamed of.
And for Adam’s sake, it’s important you figure out what that ‘something’ is.
Using pen and paper, write down everything about Adam that drives you crazy. (Something about writing by hand helps to reveal the truths we are trying to get to.)
Now it’s time for reflection, pen still in hand. Was there ever a time you were scolded or shamed for acting out? Talking too loud? Maybe your teachers complained that you never listened, talked too much, or couldn’t follow directions. Maybe the opposite was true, and you NEVER spoke up. Early on, perhaps Mom or Dad convinced you that what you had to say wasn’t worth hearing, and now you have this child who says whatever is on his mind as loud as he can.
Try and recall when the original wound was inflicted, and you might understand why you react so strongly to Adam. Once you are able to identify these characteristics in yourself, you will see your son as a gift you’ve been graced with to help you embrace your own injured places, ones that have been hidden in shadow for too long.
If you do this, the healing can begin—for yourself, and for the beautiful boy who has been placed in your care.
KRISTI SAYS: The idea that we should love two people the same way only sets us up for failure. However, in parenting, it’s important to treat your children with the same amount of love and respect if you don’t want to breed resentment. Children pick up on our emotions and behaviors. They know when they aren’t the favored one, and this can lead them to behave in unlovable ways.
There are two separate issues at hand here, and both need to be addressed. One is how you feel, and the other is how you behave.
Let’s start with your feelings. It sounds like your daughter was one of those babies that most people can only dream about. Easy, compliant, and smiley. Your time with her peaceful disposition was cut short by Adam, who entered the world with needs you struggled to meet. You wanted to make him happy like your daughter, but he didn’t comply. On top of that, they were so close in age you were raising two babies together.
Adam just felt hard, which can lead to disappointment.
You’ve been holding onto that letdown for 7 years, and now you’re admitting to yourself you love her more. It sounds like you’re throwing in the towel and giving up on what could be a beautiful mother-son relationship. Comparing him to her and wondering why he can’t be more like his sister may be what’s at the crux of this issue.
It sounds like you LIKE your daughter more because she complies and listens to you. It also sounds like you LIKE your son less because he’s harder to manage. (Liking is not the same as loving, by the way.)
A few important things to understand:
All children need to be shown love. They also need your time and attention. If your feelings toward your son are causing you to withhold love, then I would encourage you to work on this. If you are withholding love because your son isn’t doing what you think he should, then your love toward your children is conditional. Perhaps that was how you were raised, so it’s understandable, but it sounds like you want to do better.
If you want to improve your relationship with your son, start by treating him as a unique individual. He’s not the same person as your daughter, and it’s unfair for you to expect the same things from him.
Try carving out 30 minutes each day, just for him. Go to the park and kick a ball around or do a messy art project. Read him his favorite book for the millionth time.
Also, watch your words. Have you ever said: Why can’t you be more like your sister? or I can’t believe you did that again, or even When are you going to grow up? As parents, we say things out of frustration, but starting now, you’ll want to be more intentional about what you say to your son. Use your words to build him up, not tear him down. If you observe something positive, praise him for his efforts, no matter how small:
“I really liked how you built that tower with your blocks. It was so smart and creative.”
“I enjoyed playing at the park today. When do you want to do that again?”
“You’re doing a great job getting ready for bed. Thanks for putting your pajamas on so quickly.”
Correct his behavior when necessary, but don’t compare his behavior to his sister’s. Gently correct him if he’s disrespectful, give him natural consequences when he acts up, and understand that he needs a different approach than your daughter does.
If you change your behaviors, your feelings will eventually follow. You’ll discover one day that you don’t love your daughter more, you just love your children differently. The truth is, they are two exceptional, beautiful human beings who need to be loved by their mother in unique ways
ASK MOM offers parents two perspectives on today’s child-rearing issues—one from a mom with grown children (Mary), the other from a mom raising small children (Kristi). If you're looking for creative solutions, or your mom isn't around to ask, drop in! If you have a question for Mary and Kristi, we’d love to hear from you! firstname.lastname@example.org
Read more ASK MOM advice in Fredericksburg Parent & Family magazine.
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My Daughter Repulses Other Kids
by Mary Follin and Kristi Crosson
Read on Fredericksburg Parent & Family Magazine
THE PROBLEM: My daughter is desperate for a friend—even ONE friend would do—but every time another child pays attention to her (which is rare), my daughter does something to make herself as annoying as possible, like starting these odd clinging behaviors. And by clinging, I mean following kids around and talking nonsense. She might get stuck on a knock-knock joke, or a silly song, and most kids don’t know how to respond. She even reverts to baby talk when the other child ignores her. I’ve seen this happen before, but now her (third grade) teacher is bringing it to my attention, too. What really makes me sad is that my daughter is so sweet—and loyal—and would make a wonderful friend if she could only get through the awkward stage of getting to know somebody.
MARY SAYS: For whatever reason, some children are less adept at picking up on social cues, and your daughter might be one of them. While there may be other issues going on here (and I think it’s important you check into that possibility), there are some behavioral techniques you can share with your daughter to help her make friends more easily.
But first you need to put yourself in her shoes. While it’s obvious to you that she is intentionally turning off the exact people she wants to spend time with, she most likely doesn’t realize she’s doing it. To her, the other kids ‘speak’ a language she doesn’t understand, so she’s made up her own set of signals to use, like: Follow that kid.
Then what? She has no idea, but she knows she needs to do something. Thus, the knock-knock jokes and baby talk.
So please don’t point out to your child how she is bothering the other children. Right now, these annoying behaviors are all she has. Instead of encouraging her to give them up, offer her some more powerful tools and explain to her how much better they work.
Open your conversation with what she truly wants. Ask her how she feels about making a special friend, and if she’d like to come up with some ideas about how to do it. Describe in detail why she would make a wonderful friend for a very lucky person. (You describe your daughter as sweet and loyal. Who could ask for more?) Then, share with her a time when you felt awkward about meeting someone new, and tell her it can happen to anybody.
Next, let her in on the ‘secret’ to making friends that a lot of people don’t know. People love when you ask them questions! Tell her it can be tempting to talk only about yourself, but people feel good when you care enough to ask about them. This may be a tricky concept for a third-grader, which is why she'll need to practice with you.
Here are few questions to get her started:
What’s your favorite color?
What do you like about school? (Or what DON’T you like about school, depending upon where your daughter is coming from.)
How has your life changed since the pandemic?
Do you have any brothers or sisters?
What’s your favorite food?
What’s the best book/movie you’ve ever read?
Once your daughter has chosen a few favorites, she’s ready to go deeper. She needs to learn to ask a second question about the same topic. For example, let’s say her new friend tells your daughter that ‘yellow’ is her favorite color. A second question could be, “Do you like bananas?”
The second question is harder because it can’t be memorized, so role playing with you is particularly important. Let your daughter play herself, and you be the new friend. Have her practice asking you the same few questions—many times. Each time, throw her a curve ball and help her think of a second question, based on your new answer. Stick with this until she can do it on her own.
Then switch. YOU be your daughter and let her be the friend. (She’ll love this!)
Learning a different way of relating to other people isn’t easy. But with enough practice, she’ll get more comfortable with it. She will also begin to exercise her ‘listening’ muscle, which is a critical part of relationships that many adults have yet to master.
KRISTI SAYS: I think making friends is harder for children in this generation. Some kids are so used to being in front of screens, let’s face it, they don’t know how to respond when real children want to interact with them. Add to that the hover-parenting culture and the prevalence of leveraging technology for “face-to-face” learning in the past year, and you have a recipe for social disaster. And at that age, kids have always been awkward.
At least, I was.
While I am quite the extrovert now, we moved every couple of years growing up and making friends was tricky. I’d get nervous and sometimes the only thing I could do was act silly. Not everyone liked that. I got rejected a lot. But sometimes kids would laugh about it and be silly with me, and it was wonderful.
As a mom, my heart breaks when my kids get rejected. My daughter (kindergarten) has the opposite problem to yours. She is very shy when she meets new kids. While I just want to jump in and introduce her to all the kids and get them to like her, I know I need to let her navigate these new surroundings in her way. She is learning to watch for opportunities to “be brave” and ask if she can play with others.
The problem is that when a new person is too bold, she gets intimidated by their strong personality. She gets fearful if the other child starts following her. It’s not that she doesn’t like the attention, she simply doesn’t realize the other child just wants a friend.
As a parent, I’ve had to sit down and talk about certain social cues to help her feel more comfortable. It’s my job to model these behaviors and to offer her ideas that can help her out. If I watch her struggle to say “hi” to a new person, all she might need is a gentle reminder that sometimes even a wave and a smile is a good start if she’s feeling too shy.
I also take time to tell her “great job” when I see her do something a little outside of her comfort zone to make a new friend.
Here are a few things that have helped us navigate the friend-making situation:
ASK MOM offers parents two perspectives on today’s child-rearing issues—one from a mom with grown children (Mary), the other from a mom raising small children (Kristi). If you're looking for creative solutions, or your mom isn't around to ask, drop in! If you have a question for Mary and Kristi, we’d love to hear from you!
* Learn about Mary's online phonics program! Teach Your Child to Read with my easy english program that is fun for your kids for kindergarten phonics!
Learn about our online phonics program!
Read more ASK MOM advice.
Scared of 5-Year Old Son
SPEAKING OF KIDS: Musings, stories, and tips about teaching, reading, and parenting.
ABOUT MARY FOLLIN
Mary is the author of TEACH YOUR CHILD TO READ and ETHYR, winner of the Moonbeam Children's Book Award and the Gertrude Warner Book Award. She is mom to two grown sons and enjoys sharing her more seasoned perspective with parents of younger children.
ABOUT KRISTI CROSSON
Kristi Crosson is a freelance writer, homeschooling mom of three children, and author of Healthy Mom Revolution, a blog that offers insights on healthy parenting.
Suzanne Johnson, mother of five children and grandmother of six, is an illustrator, book cover designer, and author of the Realms of Edenocht series.
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