Childhood Anxiety: The Plan That Went Wrong

As I stare out of the window at the dusk slowly covering the world in a blanket of blackness, my heart feels heavy. Today was going to be the start of something; a new beginning to fix the mistakes of the past.

I had such high hopes for today – we were going to tackle your childhood anxiety together and take some positive first steps.

But I failed.

Tackling childhood anxiety: our plan of action

Just before Christmas, Jenny started displaying signs of childhood anxiety. She has started relentlessly licking her lips until they become red and cracked, and she flicks her head, unable to make eye contact.

I still haven’t identified a cause.

But today, I decided to spend some one-on-one time with her. The plan was a mummy-daughter date to the doughnut shop – a chance to spend quality time together.

I had already decided that we wouldn’t talk about the anxiety – I didn’t want this to feel like an interrogation – I just wanted her to be the centre of my attention for a change to boost her confidence.

But things didn’t go to plan.

Childhood anxiety - young girl being carried by her daddy

Plan B: shopping

When we arrived at the shopping centre, there was nowhere to sit in the doughnut shop, and we both decided that we weren’t actually that hungry. We decided to do some shopping instead.

It started off well and we enjoyed holding hands and sharing our finds with each other. Jenny found something she really liked and I said I’d buy it for her.

But then the afternoon started to unravel.

Jenny suddenly decided she didn’t want to buy that – she wanted to look in a different shop for something. Then she wanted to try somewhere else. She surged from one brightly-packed shelf to another, overwhelmed by the choice and the self-inflicted pressure to choose something.

She was getting more and more agitated about finding the “right” thing. She couldn’t make a decision.

I had just wanted to surprise her by buying something that she wanted and instead I made the anxiety worse. She was getting thoroughly worked up, and even when I tried to suggest we give up and head back to the doughnut shop, it didn’t help.

She looked so miserable.

Childhood anxiety - young child looking at sparkly shoes at the shops - too many decisions

I’ve wasted your time

I tried to put her feelings into words so that she could help to process them. I asked if she was sad that we hadn’t found something to buy? Or if she was worried about choosing the wrong thing? But she just kept shaking her head, unable to express the deep anguish in her heart.

Finally, she blurted out, “I’ve wasted your time!”

Those words nearly broke me.

In the middle of the crowded shopping centre, I got down on my knees to look her in the face.

You have not wasted my time. I have loved spending time with you. I didn’t come here to buy things. I came because I wanted to be with you. I wanted to have an afternoon, just the two of us, because you are so precious to me and I miss you.

I have loved wandering around the shops with you and talking about the things we’ve found. Today was never about finding something to buy – it was about enjoying each others’ company.

The words poured out of my mouth and the tears poured down my cheeks. The deep-seated feeling of inadequacy hidden beneath her simple statement is painfully familiar, and it cuts me up to think that she experiences this pain that I have battled with all my life.

I poured out my heart to her and said all the things that I have always wished someone would say to me.

For those few fleeting minutes, no-one else in the world mattered. It was just she and I

…And the relief that swept across her face was incredible. She transformed into a different child – like a heavy weight had been lifted and she was free to be a carefree kid again.

She beamed at me, slipped her hand in mine, and skipped off to the carpark.

Childhood anxiety - mother and daughter holding hands shadow

It’s not over

But I can’t celebrate this as a win – a breakthrough maybe, but not a win. The exhaustion of spilling out all that emotion has left me feeling crushed. I had intended today to be fun and instead I gave her an afternoon of torture.

But I’m learning.

Yes I understand her worries, but I’ve never been the parent in this scenario before. And childhood anxiety is difficult to work with because the emotions are often too huge for the child to understand and explain.

So shopping didn’t work. I think I need to find something that doesn’t require decisions.

The doughnut shop would probably have been a good choice because Jenny already has a favourite doughnut so we’d just order her regular.

Other possibilities could be going swimming or playing a boardgame. These are both things that Jenny enjoys doing and that would involve us spending time together in a fun environment.

I’d like to avoid passive activities like watching a film or reading a book as we wouldn’t really be engaging with each other through these. Similarly, a trip to a play gym or playground would just involve me watching her rather than sitting time together.

I’ll keep you posted…

The Mistakes I Made With My Daughter's Anxiety - it's horrible to see your child trying to cope with anxiety but anxiety in children is common. Here are our childhood anxiety coping skills

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  1. 1

    Oh LUCY! My heart hurts for you, lovely. My daughter used to lick her fingers and then rub her eyes which made her eyes sore and red. I had actually forgotten about this until I read your post. She did this for about 4 months and we later found out she was worried about the school play. It was a tough time but in the end she started dance and loved it. This helped her forget a little about her worries. My daughter is a sensitive soul and has needed gentle handling but she is a lovely almost adult and I’m so proud of her. Your daughter will get there. Especially with such a lovely mummy. Xx

    PS I’m sorry I don’t get to your Linky so much these days….I’m working full time and don’t get so much time to read so many blogs anymore. X

  2. 3
    daydreams of a mum

    Gosh it’s so tough , my eldest as 17 can get anxious at times and I try , like you ,to make a lunchtime a fortnight where we can go out to lunch together just him and I . I wasn’t as quick to pick up on as you though that my asking him ‘where shall we go?’ and his ‘not bothered’ response was actually more of him not wanting to make a decision than being nonchalant !!! I should have got there quicker too as when I’m in the grip of an anxious period I feel exactly the same. Hope things get easier for your daughter soon x

  3. 5
    Cheshire SEN Tutor

    Shopping sounded like such a good plan, sorry to hear it didnt work out how you imagined. But sounds like your little heart to heart made a big difference. Keep trying, she’ll get there. She’s very luck to have you. #blogcrush

  4. 6
    Liberty Henwick

    How heartbreaking for her to say that, I can understand why you were so upset but it seems you handled it very well. I hope you get to the underlying cause of her anxiety soon, we always worry so much about our children don’t we? It sounds as if you are dealing with it with patience, wisdom and love, she couldn’t ask for a better mum!

  5. 8

    I certainly don’t see you as having failed. I’m sure your words helped loads even if the shopping trip didn’t. You are trying, you are observant, you understand that your child has anxiety, you are doing great. We can’t always fix things but so long as we are aware and understanding then sometimes that’s the best we can do.

  6. 9

    A brave and honest post that brought tears to my eyes. I was anxious as a child and adult for that matter but of course then we did not talk about it or label it or seek support from outside agencies as we can now. I have a daughter who feels things deeply too which eventually led me to taking her out of school and home-educating. Please don’t beat yourself up when you don’t get it perfect – that is part of anxiety too! You are a loving mum who cares and your child will know that in her heart. You love each other and you will work through all this together. Do check out sites like Young Minds etc because you are never the only one going through such stuff. Oh and found your post via Blog Crush

  7. 10

    Oh Lucy, I’m so sorry things didn’t go to plan but it’s really positive that Jenny was able to say something to you that helped you know what to say to her. I’m sure together you will find a way to work through this difficult patch. Jenny is so lucky to have such a kind and understanding mummy xx#blogcrush

  8. 11
    Hayley@ Mission: Mindfulness

    Lucy – this is a heartfelt and emotional post and I feel for both you and your daughter. Our eldest has the cracked lips at the moment and the flick is familiar to me too…. you didn’t fail that afternoon – your words to her will never be forgotten and I’m sure are a breakthrough as you say. it may take lots of little steps and there may be some times when things don’t go to plan but I’m sure you’ll find ways to help her. Our son’s anxiety had been much better before the last week or so – it comes and goes. I think swimming is really good, we love getting outdoors (as I know you do too) – what about a scavenger hunt in the park (just the 2 of you doing it together) or something… unless you think that may be too much pressure. A trip to a farm? Animals are so calming…. Good luck xx #blogcrush xx

  9. 13

    I’m sorry things didn’t go as planned but I’m a big believer of everything happens for a reason as cheesy as it may sound. The events that took place at the shopping centre was a build up of you opening up to her, you said that your words instantly brightened up her up and that’s what matters the most. Parenting is a learning curve in itself we can’t know everything, you both learnt something and I see that as a win #BlogCrush


  10. 15

    As someone who suffers from anxiety, I can feel your pain in observing signs in your child. It’s good your reacting, it will take a lot of time but I’m sure your actions will be impactful.

  11. 16
    Fi Anderson

    You had me blubbering from the part you got down on your daughters level to explain why you were REALLY there. You’re an amazingly attentive mother, which sadly due to parents such busy schedules now days – not a lot get the opportunity to be. You truly embrace every opportunity and I can see that. #blogcrush

  12. 18

    Such a hard thing to deal with as a parent – seeing your child in anguish over something that should never be an issue. You’re doing a great job learning more about her and finding ways to help her through her anxiety by not focusing on it. Great post – even if it did get me a bit teary.

  13. 20

    Oh my goodness, I am in tears reading this. It’s heartbreaking when you try to do the right thing and it all unravels. But you did do the right thing, because it gave you some more insight and it also gave you a chance to say all the things you needed to say to your little girl, and that she needed to hear too.
    Sending lots of hugs to both of you.

  14. 21
    Alice | Letters to my Daughter

    Oh bless her little heart. It must be so hard to carry all that worry on your shoulders at such a young age. She’s lucky to have such a caring, committed and understanding mama. I know you will both find something that works and her worries will be a distant memory. <3 sending lots of love! #BlogCrush

  15. 26
    Mackenzie glanville

    oh honey you did not make a mistake, you are being an amazing mum. I understand where you are coming from, April is the same, decisions for her are so hard and it can be painful to watch. When she was around 6 she could not chose between two lollipop flavours in a store and she had a complete meltdown, it was heartbreaking to watch. She is now ten and has improved but still struggles with decisions, I usually walk away and tell her we can come back if she decides later. i know that won’t always be possible though, but it is tough as a mum when we just want so badly to protect them from anxiety and confusion. Sending a massive hug to you and your wonderful daughter xx Thank you also for linking up with us for #ablogginggoodtime

  16. 27
    Welsh Mum Writing

    I really feel for you with this. As an adult I’ve suffered from anxiety and to experience it as a child must be overwhelming. We have experienced some similar things with our two year old. I’ve noticed he gets anxious about mess and while I love that he tidies his toys away, it’s horrible to see him upset because he’s dropped some food on his clothes. I resorted to dropping mine on my jeans and going “hey go, wipe clean, all okay” and that seemed to help. I’ve not idea where he’s got from that so I’m trying to make sure I don’t add stress around meals. He has an issue with expressing his emotions and gets very stressed and agitated and we already have a plan with his nursery to help him express them more positively (he can head bang or throws himself repeatedly on his knees). It’s horrible because you want to help them but sometimes it can be difficult to know what to do. I love how you are trying to find good environments that work for her. We’re doing the same with ours and that’s going to mean dropping some classes and trying some new activities. The positive is that when he’s with me he’s really happy, so I just need to find ways to replicate that feeling. You’re doing great! #aBloggingGoodTime

  17. 28
    The Squirmy Popple

    Oh, I feel for her – and you too! I was an anxious kid who became an anxious adult, and it can be so hard. My mum never quite knew how to help me, and even now that I’m an adult, she still struggles to try to help me when I have anxiety. I don’t think you ever stop worrying about your child, but all you can do is be there for them and do your best to make them feel safe. #ablogginggoodtime

  18. 29

    This is something I’m hearing more and more of. One of my friends has a 17 yr old who also suffers. With 11month and 3yr old girls, it’s definitely something we will look out for. There seems to be so much more to be aware of these days. It’s a worry that’s for sure when I’m just getting used to being a stay at home Dad and keeping them alive from day to day!

  19. 30

    sounds to me that whilst it wasn’t the day you hoped that accumulation of stress and emotion that took you to your knees and made those words flow made for a really positive step in the right direction. Sometimes until those words and thoughts are squeezed out of us we aren’t even aware they needed to be said out loud. Parenting is so scary and challenging. sounds like you are doing a great job #blogcrush

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