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Books, Toys, and Gadgets…Oh My! Top Gadgets, Books, and Strategies to Battle Anxiety in Young Children

Charles Spurgeon once said, “Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strength.” 

If you are parenting a little one with anxiety, you know all too well what this means. It is exhausting to spend so much time worrying about THEIR worrying. However, treatment for anxiety has come leaps and bounds in recent years, and the marketplace has exploded with “fidgets” and “calming sensory toys” that promise to take away your child’s anxiety. 

While we do not promise that any single book or gadget can take away the battle that is anxiety, there are a few I have personal experience with and recommend for various reasons.

Top 5 Calming Gadgets

Chewelry

These chew necklaces can be a lifesaver for children who chew on hair or clothing when anxious. My own son, whom I would usually not consider anxious, would begin to chew on the neck of his shirts when overstimulated. He was coming home every day with sopping wet shirts.

I ordered him these necklaces from Amazon that look like Legos, but can be chewed on. It did not make him stand out to his peers, but did provide much-needed sensory relief and saved quite a bit of clothing.

To read the article in it’s entirety visit https://www.thelilyjoproject.com/2021/03/04/books-toys-and-gadgets-oh-my-top-gadgets-books-and-strategies-to-battle-anxiety-in-young-children/

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Families look different, and that’s okay! Raising kind and compassionate children in an increasingly judgmental world…

By Brandy Browne

Being a parent can be really difficult sometimes. When our children come to us with a comment, such as “—-‘s parents aren’t married, and they have three kids” or “—- has two dads,” it can be really challenging not to reply with a comment that has an unintentional judgmental tone. If I am being honest, I hope my children grow up, get married, and then have children. However, no matter what choices they make, they will always be one hundred percent loved. I never want my children to tell their friends, “My mom said you aren’t supposed to live together and not be married.” Regardless of how that child’s family looks or functions, they are worthy of respect. Also, goodness knows that many two parent traditional households these days are dysfunctional at best! It is absolutely essential that I raise my children to treat others with compassion and respect, regardless of how different their circumstances may be from our traditional two parent home. The great leaders of the world today hail from many different types of family compositions, and having a certain type of family is not what depicts what type of human being you are. Enjoy this clip while I read Families! Families! Families! by Suzanne and Max Lang and discuss how to tackle the touchy topic of “families can look different, and that’s okay” with your children!

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The Declining Mental Health of Educators: 15 Resources for Teachers & Youth Workers

By Brandy Browne

Few professions have as many professionals with a diagnosed mental health disorder as teaching. Smiley (2020), a reporter for Occupational Health and Safety, reports, “In fact, a recent study from the UCL Institute of Education reports that one in every 20 teachers (or about five percent) suffer with a mental illness that has lasted, or is likely to last, more than a year”.

Educators are influencing the lives of our youth every day, but come home and suffer; too burnt out to deepen relationships with their own family. 

Often, it is correlated to the trauma teachers witness in their students. It is possible to develop a mental health issue due to secondary exposure to trauma. We are so focused on lessening their burden that it becomes our own to bear. 

Growing awareness of the plight of poor mental health in our teachers around the world has led to a boom of resources available that attempt to provide support to educators and lessen the hold that mental illness has on the profession. 

To read the article in it’s entirety, visit https://www.thelilyjoproject.com/2021/02/23/the-declining-mental-health-of-educators-15-resources-for-teachers-youth-workers/

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Separation Anxiety- When is it something more?

By Brandy Browne

As we approach the school building, my daughter suddenly clings to my hand, and I see tears begin to well up in her eyes. I brace myself for the inevitable meltdown to come when it is time for me to send her on to class. I used to think that she would outgrow this particular behavior, but, at ten years old and with a recent diagnosis of generalized anxiety and panic attacks, I have come to accept that it is not going anywhere, and my job is simply to help her learn to cope with the storm inside her body. 

Even as a toddler, my daughter would cry when I dropped her off with her grandmother so that I could work. She would cling to my leg, and my mom would peel her off. I always felt terrible as I drove away, but convinced myself it was just her age, and it would not always be like that. Her first year of school, she cried nearly every day for months. This time, I convinced myself it was because we had a new baby at home. However, this process has repeated itself for years. She usually has at least mild symptoms (eyes filling up with tears, repetitive questioning “When will you be back, Mom?”, little rituals such as a certain number of hugs, etc.) before every transition, even something as simple as me running to the store or dropping her off at an activity. 

This is not a child who is starved for attention, as we spend most of our days together. Stanford Children’s Health (2020) describes this phenomenon as “separation anxiety disorder.” When a child displays signs of separation anxiety that are not age appropriate (such as my daughter still clinging to my hand and occasionally crying when it is time to go to school at ten years old) for longer than four weeks, separation anxiety disorder may be to blame. 

What causes SAD? 

Well, it can be genetic. If a child has anxious parents (ding ding ding, that’s me), he or she may be more likely to develop SAD. According to Stanford Children’s Health, “An imbalance of 2 chemicals in the brain (norepinephrine and serotonin) most likely plays a part” as well (retrieved from https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=separation-anxiety-disorder-90-P02582). Additionally, environmental factors, such as learned responses that are reinforced by parents and caregivers can be to blame. 

How might one treat SAD?

SAD is often treated with the same strategies one might employ in treating any anxiety disorder. Behavioral therapies, anti anxiety medications, family therapy, and school based therapies are all options. It is critical to ensure that all parties (medical team, school, family) are on the same page to ensure that the child experiencing SAD has optimum chances for improving symptoms. 

Children’s Resources for SAD

  1. The Invisible String by Patrice Karst
  2. The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn
  3. Llama llama Misses Mama by Anna Dewdney
  4. Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes
  5. The Worry Box by Suzanne Chiew

Parent’s Resources for SAD

  1. Helping Your Child Overcome Separation Anxiety or School Refusal: A Step by Step Guide for Parents by Andew Eisen 
  2. Growing Up Brave: Expert Strategies for Helping Your Child Overcome Fear, Stress, and Anxiety by Donna Pincus
  3. The No Cry Separation Anxiety Solution: Gentle Ways to Make Goodbye Easy from 6 Months to 6 Years by Elizabeth Pantley
  4. How Parents Can Raise Resilient Children: Preparing Your Child for the Real Tough World of Adulthood by Instilling Them with Principles of Love, Self-Discipline, and Independent Thinking by Frank Dixon
  5. Beyond Behaviors: Using Brain Science and Compassion to Understand and Solve Children’s Behavioral Challenges by Mona Delahooke

Final Thoughts

As a mother who has experienced this with her child, I have spent years wishing things were different or looking for a quick fix. What I have come to realize is that there really is not one. As with any mental health disorder, it takes continuous monitoring and being willing to experiment to see what will work well for your child at that particular point in his or her life. Seek out other parents who are on your journey for emotional support…my own facebook group often posts such resources that center around children’s mental health issues. To join, visit https://www.facebook.com/UnStuck-108043424440195

Additionally, I moderate a group called Kid’s Mental Health Lockdown Resources for The Lily Jo Project, a wonderful nonprofit based out of the UK that focuses on empowering children, teens, and adults to take charge of their mental health. That community would also be glad to have you…to join, visit this link https://www.facebook.com/groups/kidsmentalhealthlockdownresources

Sources

Stanford Children’s Health. (2020). Separation Anxiety Disorder in Children. Retrieved from https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=separation-anxiety-disorder-90-P02582

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My Tough Old Tomcat is So 2020…

By Brandy Browne

Around a year ago, our big tomcat disappeared. This was directly before the COVID 19 crisis began. I looked for him for quite a while, but, seeing as how we live in the country, I figured that something had gotten to him. He is quite the ladies’ man. I figured that his love of the ladies had put him in the crosshairs of an animal much larger than he. Imagine my shock to find him waiting for me by my front porch when I returned from my walk around the lake yesterday. 

I let him tentatively sniff my hand. Once I felt he would let me get close, I examined him. He was wet, grungy, and covered in scars and scabbed over wounds that must have been fairly recent. His muscles were hardened from a year of adventuring and not lounging on the couch every day. Those eyes, though. Big and bright, they have always been expressive. 

We spent the day yesterday getting reacquainted. He lounged on my bed, and by the end of the night, he had moved back to his familiar spot on my chest, purring loudly and kneading his pawns back and forth on me. He slept on an old baby blanket, and chatted to anyone that would walk by during the night. 

As I watched him slip back into his familiar self, loving and carefree, I couldn’t help but think what a metaphor for the last twelve months this situation is. Almost a year ago, our lives were forever changed. This year, we’ve been banged up a bit, and we are definitely walking out with scars on our bodies and our hearts. But, we’re still there…still the same in many ways…longing to share our love and light with others. It just takes love and trust to bring it back out in us. 

As this chapter in our lives continues to evolve, a “new normal” will come to fruition. The battles we have fought and the scars we have been left with will definitely play a role in determining what that normal looks like. The lessons that I learned about myself and what I am capable of will not be forgotten. I hope, though, that we won’t let the last year harden our hearts. May we be loving and may the strategies we had to invent to be able to share love be another tool in our toolbox. Our futures will be built with all the tools we have acquired, and the world is truly limitless. COVID forced us to figure out work arounds for so many situations, and it is my fervent prayer that that knowledge gained will propel us forward to continue to be innovative problem solvers. 

Long story short, may we all be a little more like my war torn cat. Rough and tough on the outside, resilient, and ever full of love to give, even when faced with harsh circumstances. His name is Ruckus, which, when defined, means, a disturbance or a commotion. Cause a joyful Ruckus wherever you go. May the healing begin…

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Making Kindness a Family Affair

By Brandy Browne

In light of Random Acts of Kindness Day on February 17, we wanted to ask our children’s writer Brandy Browne about how families can practice kindness together – here is her response along with a few book recommendations.

Teaching your children to be kind to others is definitely the moral thing to do, but raising kind children also has major physical and mental benefits for the entire family as well. The Parent Co. (2016) has reported that our brain chemistry actually changes when we do something kind for others.

Practicing kindness in some way activates the vagus nerve, which in turn releases those feel good hormones into our brains. Practicing kindness can actually relieve aches and pains, lower feelings of stress and depression, and increase your life expectancy. This makes the benefits of instilling kindness in your family even more immense. 

To read the article in it’s entirety, visit https://www.thelilyjoproject.com/2021/02/17/making-kindness-a-family-affair/

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Can one act of kindness change the world?

By Brandy Browne

Imagine a world where there was less hurt, less unkind behavior, more compassion for our fellow human beings. Beautiful, right? So, how do we get there? We get there by focusing on the future…instilling kindness and compassion in the children who will grow up to be the future. Greater Good Science Center of Berkeley University defines compassion as “the feeling that arises when we are confronted by another person’s suffering and feeling motivated to relieve that suffering” (retrieved from https://www.compassionateactionnetwork.org/science-of-compassion). Simply put, having compassion equates to feeling motivated to ease the suffering one sees in the world through acts of kindness. 

Being kind is something that is “taught” in schools and homes across the country, but what does one do when that abstract idea is somewhat confusing to children? What does it mean to be kind and show compassion? One way to increase the compassion in our children is through conversation. Use the following tips when discussing kindness and compassion with children. 

Tips for Talking with Kids about Kindness and Compassion

  1. Point out similarities…noticing what is similar among all of us increases feelings of compassion. For example, I may be a light skinned brunette with green eyes, but I bleed the same and have the same feelings as my brothers and sisters with dark skin and dark eyes. While our outward appearance and our abilities make us unique, there are some qualities inherent to all human life. 
  2. Encourage cooperation and teamwork over constant competition. There is a time and a place for competition, but one should never value “winning” over destroying everything in his or her path with no other cares except to be “first.” I want to teach my children the value of working hard, but not at the expense of hurting their fellow human. 
  3. Teach your children that they have the power to do good for the world. Offer them opportunities for small concrete acts that will put good into the world often.
  4. Be a compassion role model. Children learn by what they see us DO, not by the words we speak. If you want to instill kindness and compassion in your children, let them catch you being kind and compassionate. 
  5. Point out how good it feels to be kind and compassionate. That feeling is contagious. As that feeling increases, your children will want to engage in more acts of compassion and kindness.

Also, there is a wealth of children’s books that illustrate what it means to be kind in a concrete way that is easy for children to understand. Check out these children’s titles with your littles.

  • A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams
  • Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say
  • Pig the Pug by Aaron Blabey
  • The Odd Egg by Emily Gravett
  • A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Phillip C. Stead

Final Thoughts

Irish activist Mary Davis once said, “You cannot heal the world today, but we can begin with a voice of compassion, a heart of love, and an act of kindness.” Making the world a more compassionate place to live in will not happen overnight, but by being intentional about instilling these virtues in our children and living them out every day in our families, workplaces, and communities, we can make a difference for tomorrow. 

Sources

Compassion Action Network. (2020). The science of compassion. Retrieved from https://www.compassionateactionnetwork.org/science-of-compassion

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Caring for a Child with Anxiety: Avoiding Caregiver Burnout

By Brandy Browne

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, one in eight children is diagnosed with an anxiety disorder (Boyle, 2016, p 520). Anxiety affects many aspects of children’s lives. It will appear in their thought processes, causing them to believe they are in constant danger or under a constant threat. Anxiety manifests itself in physical symptoms, such as a persistent headache or tummy ache. Finally, anxiety presents itself in children’s behaviors. They may rock, fidget, cry, shake, or shut down completely (Rapee et al., 2008, p 27-28). Having fears is a normal and healthy part of your child’s development. But when it comes to the point that those fears interfere with daily living, it is very easy for caregivers to become burned out.

My daughter has panic attacks. Some weeks, we will skate through effortlessly, with no tears, shaking, curling up into the fetal position. Other weeks, attack after attack, rock her little body, and I am drained to my core. So, as caregivers to these little people who battle anxiety, how do we avoid burnout so that we can continue to give them the support that they need?

To begin with, Rapee et al. (2008) recommend that we stop taking full ownership of our children’s anxiety by attempting to remove all barriers that might trigger anxious feelings in them. “Children can only learn that situations are not dangerous, and that they can cope, if they are forced to experience the situation” (Rapee et. al, 2008, p 116).

To read this article in it’s entirety, visit https://www.rtor.org/2021/02/12/caring-for-a-child-with-anxiety-avoiding-caregiver-burnout/?fbclid=IwAR0je-ZzEMhjL1YeGWG4MZgLjGeEUXOqS1pKoF2YZ4Yb8jtoNXBw6GFXyPA

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Taming the Worry Monster: Helping Your Child Manage His or Her Anxiety

By Brandy Browne

This summer, my oldest was diagnosed with panic attacks. While I have battled anxiety throughout my life, it is a whole new kind of hurt to see your child dissolving into a little ball of rapid breathing, tears, and hands over her ears. Sometimes, we do really well for a while. Then, something small will trigger her. One day a few weeks ago, it was the sound of an ambulance blasting by us. After she was calm, she confessed that she struggles with that sound because it reminds her of the day the ambulances came to our house. My father was unresponsive and staying with us at the time. Though the amazing EMTs that arrived were helping to save his life that day, she was worried they were hurting him, and her tender heart could not process that sometimes drastic measures must be taken to preserve life. Thus, the sound of an ambulance is a solid trigger for her. 

We’ve experimented with many strategies to manage anxiety. To be honest, it is different for every person, and no “one size fits all” method is guaranteed to work. However, these are some things that I have found have helped us. 

4 Anxiety Busting Strategies

  1. Be sure your child (or you) is getting enough rest. Being tired always seems to lead to an increase in anxiety in our home. As an adult, I can realize that I am not able to think rationally because I am exhausted. Children do not have that ability yet. Therefore, it is our responsibility as parents to help them regulate. 
  2. Tap into your child’s strengths and what he or she enjoys and finds relaxing. For my daughter, that is art and sensory experiences. She definitely unwinds by being artistic, or squeezing a squeeze ball. She loves kinesthetic sand and slime. Though she has sensory issues with clothing, she will put her hands into just about anything. I definitely make sure we have plenty of sensory items laying around for her to decompress with. 
  3. There is a fine line between enabling and supporting, but I am a fan of having a place to retreat to when situations just become too overwhelming. At my home, if the living room is too noisy and there is not a valid reason why it needs to be quiet (other than my nerves prefer it), I retreat to my bedroom or a warm bath to regulate. Perhaps, I go outside to exercise. My point is that I have the option to leave the situation that is unpleasant for me. Our children should also have this option. It is imperative that they have a safe, quiet place in your home to go calm themselves. If we as adults need to retreat to a quiet zone from time to time, our children should be afforded this opportunity as well. 
  4. Teach your child breathing techniques and progressive muscle relaxation exercises to utilize for times that it would inappropriate to leave the situation. Sometimes, we have to have an unpleasant conversation, or we have to do something we do not wish to do. In those instances, having coping skills is important. Positive self affirming talk, breathing exercises, being intentional about relaxing our jaw and shoulders are all examples of strategies your child can utilize. 

There is also a wealth of literature out there that help children learn more about anxiety, identifying their triggers, and brainstorming solutions for when they feel anxious. Here are some of my favorites!

  • A Little Spot of Anxiety by Diane Alber
  • Ruby Finds a Worry by Tom Percival
  • Worry Says What by Allison Edwards
  • Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes
  • Wilma Jean, the Worry Machine by Julia Cook
  • Anxious Ninja by Mary Nhin

Final Thoughts

Anxiety is a lifelong battle, and what works well at one point in life might prove ineffective in new situations. Flexibility and a willingness to experiment with what is working well for your child at that particular space in time is key in assisting them with learning to manage his or her anxiety and not let it hinder how successful he or she is. 

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Sensory Overload: Parent Edition

By Brandy Browne

My older two were arguing…their words whizzed around my ears. My youngest was pulling at my leg, needing a drink and growing increasingly irritated because I could not focus on her for being distracted by the other two. The TV was playing in the background. I’m pretty sure I heard the microwave ding. Noises were beginning to blend together, and my temperature was rising. My ears were burning. I was ready to explode. 

Simply put, after a long day of being touched, pulled on, and needing to put my game face on hour after hour, I was on sensory overload. I know that we often talk about children growing overstimulated in certain environments, but needing sensory regulation is not something that goes away as we get older. 

Felicia Schneiderhan (2020), reporter for Parents.com, describes this sensory processing phenomenon in her article, 5 Ways to Cure Stimulation Overload as a Parent. She reports, “High sensitivity (which researchers also call sensory processing sensitivity) is an innate temperamental trait affecting about 20 percent of the population. An HSP’s nervous system is extra sensitive to physical and emotional subtleties in her environment; she can become easily overstimulated by bright lights, smells, and sounds as well as too much activity or interaction. But the truth is that all parents of young kids feel overwhelmed at times, especially in our increasingly fast-paced world” (retrieved from https://www.parents.com/parenting/better-parenting/ways-to-cure-stimulation-overload-as-a-parent/).

Fear not, though. It is possible to take steps to curb that mid afternoon (or maybe mornings are your overwhelming time) totally overwhelmed feeling. Try these strategies to regain that calm, centered feeling…

5 Strategies to Cure Overstimulation as a Parent

  1. Give yourself permission to take a break. As a parent, I have learned that giving myself permission to shut my bedroom door and take five minutes to breathe and center is a powerful action to take. I ensure that my children are safe, and then I give myself the opportunity to regain control. I am always much calmer and ready to handle challenges again after a few minutes. 
  2. Accept your temperament, rather than trying to fight it. Refuse to feel guilty for needing an occasional break, whether that be a date night, running an errand without children in tow, or even five minutes alone in the bathroom. There is this stigma in place today that promotes the thinking that mothers (or fathers) must be ungrateful if they need a break from their children. This is simply not true. We had four miscarriages before the birth of our three children, and my sweet little family was deeply prayed for. For so long, I felt guilty for asking for help, or needing a break from the pressures of parenting young children. I am a much better parent when I acknowledge my need for peace and quiet to recharge. I take a run, soak in a long bath, etc. Then, the little things that just go with raising young children are not nearly as overwhelming to this full time working two jobs mom of three. 
  3. Make downtime a priority. If I do not go for a run several times a week, I am miserable. When our schedules are go go go, with no time to sit and just be, we all begin to get cranky. You must make time to recharge and center yourselves. Perhaps that is worship. Perhaps you meditate or do yoga. However you choose to be centered, make it a priority for you. 
  4. Practice mindfulness. Many equate mindfulness with meditating, but mindfulness is simply choosing to be fully present in the moment. Take some deep breaths, and as you center, choose to refocus on the task at hand. 

More Reading

  • I Choose Calm: Inspirational Mantras and Practical Mindfulness Exercises for Parents by Angela Wolf
  • Breathe, Mama, Breathe: 5 Minute Mindfulness for Busy Moms by Shonda Moralis
  • Peaceful Parenting and Mindfulness for Parents and Kids: How to Use Mindful and Empowering Methods for a Joyful Family, Loving Home, and Outstanding Relationships by Grace Stockholm

Final Thoughts

In the beginning, you may wrestle with guilt and feelings like you are being selfish for taking time for yourself. However, I guarantee that you will be a much better parent if your own cup is refilled from time to time. The key is to balance the time you take for yourself with the time you are giving to others. If you are feeling worn out, irritable, unable to cope with small changes in routine, etc., you are selling yourself short, and it is time to be intentional about taking a bit of time for yourself. 

Sources

Schneiderhan, F. (2020). 5 Ways to Cure Stimulation Overload as a Parent. Retrieved from https://www.parents.com/parenting/better-parenting/ways-to-cure-stimulation-overload-as-a-parent/

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