It’s official. Schools in DC are set to start virtually and be online until at least November, although I think it will be more than that. I had anticipated and even hoped for this reality because this pandemic looks no closer to being over like Voldemort’s obsession with a baby Harry Potter… like he beat you… get over it! But even though I was somewhat prepared for this decision, I am still nervous about the children learning at home. First off, I still must work and be somewhat productive. Since I have been granted the blessing of being able to work from home, I want to show that I can still do that while managing mom duties. Second, and this is the big one, the task of educating my own children is a daunting one. Not because they are not smart, which they totally are, but having to manage behaviors and anxieties that are easily produced when work becomes more challenging than they can bare. And they only refer to my middle child. The one with anxiety. The one who cannot just catch a simple cold but must always come down with some mysterious disease that comes and goes about once a year. The say the second child tends to be the troublemaker. I wouldn’t go as far as that but it’s not completely far from the truth. Layla is my strong-willed child… the only who is determined to get her way no matter what. But unfortunately, she has inherited my anxiety as well, which coupled with stubbornness can be really difficult to learn to manage.
We first noticed that Layla might have been struggling with anxiety when she was diagnosed with ADHD. There were concerns with her impulsivity and her tendency to act before thinking things through. But there was still the issue at hand when it came to her handling schoolwork. We’d get reports from her teacher that Layla struggled with certain assignments, ones she’d deem too difficult or “impossible” with a quick resort to tantrums and falling out on the floor. Her behaviors would cause her to miss assignments or not be able ton finish assignments in a timely manner. They’d also cause her to fall behind so whenever she’d finally get started on an assignment, she’d miss too much time and have to put it away to start on another task, something she isn’t a fan of. And so that would cause her to get frustrated and lash out. I also saw it at home with chores, especially with putting clothes away. If there were too many for her in her mind, she’d swear it to be impossible with the same behaviors following suit. It was a struggle for sure and I had no way of really knowing how to respond.
Layla’s anxiety really hit a high point at the beginning of her third-grade year. The work was more intense than in second grade and the expectations were higher. And with that came the phone calls and text messages. Just about every day, I’d receive some sort of communication from her teacher that Layla was not completing her work and was not responding appropriately to what was being asked of her. Compound that with the fact that her father was away at training and I had just started a new job a few months prior, her sense of being overwhelming was well overwhelming for me. And with these changes came the need to reassess her 504 plan and see what was working and what needed to be added to help Layla perform to the level at which we all knew she could be. The trick was figuring out what trigger these anxiety attacks and how to prevent them in the first place. Not an easy feat.
Then came the pandemic and distance learning took over and became the new normal. Layla no longer could hang out with her friends. She no longer was in a classroom with her peers. Her daily comings and goings were turned, flipped turned upside down in the blink of an eye and suddenly I was in charge of her daily grind. Again, not an easy feat. The pandemic has caused a new level of anxiety in Layla and has manifested as the fear of the unknown. She has showed a frustration of not being able to do the things she wants to do, which has been punctuated by the postponement of a Disney trip that would’ve put us in the Magic Kingdom on her birthday. She has discovered a new level of boredom and the need to be twice as bossy to her siblings as before. This desire to control has been the result of her feeling a loss of her routine, of what was normal for her. In many ways, her anxiety looked a lot like mine and we both had to find a way to create space for expressing our frustrations while also respecting boundaries and setting our own. No easy feat.
But despite some of the challenges that have accompanied this diagnosis, we have tried several strategies to help Layla with managing her anxiety and even learning to the embrace the ways it helps prepare her dealing with undesirable events.
- Getting out and into nature. Layla responds well to nature. Although it can be a pain to tear her away from her screen and plop her into the woods somewhere, it has an extremely calming effect once she’s there. She also enjoys walks so when I sense she is getting overwhelmed; we go ahead and do that.
- Staying active. Sports has been the only thing thus far wherein she’s been able to attempt and fail only to get back up and try again, without getting frustrated. When she was learning to ride a two-wheeler, she fell a bunch of times but in no instance during that time did I see her get mad and throw her bike down. She showed the same resilience when playing sports. This past year was her first time playing basketball, a sport she didn’t know much about besides what I had taught her and what she had seen on television. By the end of the year, she had earned the award for most improved. There might have been one time in the beginning of the season where she got frustrated that she wasn’t hitting her shots. All it took was for a teammate to tell her that she had to keep trying to help her push through.
- Yoga and meditation. We first tried yoga with Layla before her sister was born, way back when she was first exhibiting troubling behaviors in preschool. She really enjoyed all the stories that the teacher had put to different yoga poses and we did it every night for a period of time. She still does yoga and meditation from time to time and this has morphed into finding time in her day to do the things that bring her joy, such as drawing, playing video games, working on STEM projects, and reading. We encourage her to take a set break during each day to really explore the activities that bring fulfillment and peace to her life, especially during these crazy and unpredictable times.
- Staying connected. We have seen the significance of staying connected with social distancing practices in place. Layla was taken out of her school environment five months ago which is where she received the majority of her socialization. And she misses her friends dearly. Giving Layla the opportunity to stay connected to her friends through virtual play dates and allowing her to talk to her family more often through virtual communication has really helped her feel better at a time when she has experienced a lot of losses.
- Counseling. Layla has been in counseling since she was about 3 or so. It gives her a space to vent and discuss frustrations that she might have experienced during the week. Her counselors have also been very good at giving her different ideas for how to respond to tricky situations more appropriately. The most difficult thing about counseling for kids of course is to ensure communication with the therapist and to make sure that you can help your child with putting those plans into practice. Layla and I have had any conversations about doing the work to see the results. This is still a work in progress. The most important thing about finding a good child therapist is to make sure their policies include the ability to talk to parents about certain things discussed during therapy. Not all therapists have this policy and we learned the hard way with t first one in our current area whom we tried. It’s difficult to help your child follow through on plans if you cannot be made aware of them.
Layla still has good days and bad days. I’ve learned to help Layla with doing laundry a little bit at a time instead of waiting to do it when it’s completely full. We are learning to schedule a realistic to do list complete with rewards for completing tasks to the expectation. We’ve learned to meditate and to recognize when we need to meditate. We’ve learned to celebrate the things that make us happy and that give us encouragement. We’ve learned to embrace ourselves, quirks and all. And as Layla grows into a young woman, my hope is that she will learn that although there may be challenges posed to stand in her way, she does not have to let those challenges define her. She can remain in control by yielding the control.