Sheltered Diaries: Anxious Looks Different for Everyone

Ask most parents, and they’ll tell you that children crave a certain amount of structure and routine. In the case of Tiny and other kids on the autism spectrum, that craving may be a little larger than most.

And right now, structure and routine look a lot different than it did a month ago.

But regardless of whether your child is neurotypical or has a learning difference, anxiety in kids manifests in some pretty different ways, largely because they lack the life experience and words to see it and explain it for what it is.

In our case, it often means some defiance and some overreacting to things that normally wouldn’t be a big deal. Today, Tiny’s assignment for homeroom included making a short video talking about what he did for Easter. Normally, this kid makes videos all. the. time.

He even asked me if I could help him set up his GoPro to “catch the Easter Bunny, because if I do, well, that’s just free stuff all year. It’s just math.”

It’s also just kidnapping, I explained, and he agreed that maybe it’s better to just enjoy the once-a-year visits and not resort to a life of crime just for some Peeps and Legos.

But today, this child became unglued at the thought of making a video. After a fair amount of door slamming, we eventually arrived at our reason.

“I don’t want to do a video for my friends; I want to do a video with my friends.”

So since we can’t have friends over, we did the 50th best thing – we trotted out a Muppet-type puppet that Tiny has had since he was a baby. Poor purple Avery – named after former Mavericks coach Avery Johnson (who is pretty much the only voice my husband could come up with for the puppet spur of the moment eight years ago) – has been robbed of his hair not by time, but by a toddler with scissors, and I think we’ve had to hot glue at least one eyeball back in place.

But we unearthed him today to play interviewer and co-host to Tiny’s assignment.

By the first 10 seconds of the video, Tiny was enthusiastically talking about his new toys (thank you, Toy Maven, for playing socially distant Easter Bunny and crafting an Easter basket far better than anything I would’ve cobbled together this year) and giggling with Avery.

Even if your child doesn’t normally suffer from anxiety, this may be an anxious period for them – and they may not be able to express it verbally.

You may instead see a lot of push back and anger. You might see a lot more tears. You may see trouble focusing. A gregarious child may suddenly want to spend more time in their room.

“We tend to think of anxious children as these delicate little butterflies, but when kids are scared, they can be ferocious about trying to escape or avoid anxiety-provoking situations,” child psychologist Eileen Kennedy-Moore told the Washington Post.

Thankfully, we have a full team of people that are ready to help Tiny with some ways to cope and articulate his anxiety. And, of course, like most of you, we know that if it becomes more troubling than some tears and a few slammed doors, we can also seek the help of counselors to help him more.

One of our tools at home is local – the Momentous Institute provides wonderful guidance on their Facebook page and on their website’s blog, about everything from what home school should look like to how to get some deep breathing in.

One of our calming exercises, in fact, comes from Momentous.

This habit of thinking about someone else while we’re anxious is calming, but what’s even more important is the part where we send friendly wishes to ourselves, too. It’s a good reminder that we all – small or tall – need to be kind to ourselves during this period, too.

What does your family do to cope right now? Let us know in the comments!

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Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, Digital Editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including first place for her tornado coverage from the National Newspapers Association's 2020 Better Newspaper Contest, a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She is a member of the Education Writers Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Association of Real Estate Editors, the News Leaders Association, the News Product Alliance, and the Online News Association. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at [email protected].

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