A Day in the Life: Parenting an Anxious Child in a Pandemic

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It’s the end of a long day in the midst of the first pandemic of my life. 

I should know better by this point. I can feel the rage building inside me. I want to scream and lash out – and yet I know that would be the absolute worst thing I could do. 

We’re 5 minutes into virtual taekwondo. My kid who LOVES in person classes is alternately lying on the floor, running out of the video window and in meltdown mode. He cannot participate. He’s stuck – fixated – on the project he was working on before class. 

I know he’s tired. 

I know I didn’t give him enough transition time. I was trying to manage my own work day and meetings and can’t keep track of the time of all.the.virtual.meetings. 

It’s not my son that I want to rage at. It’s the expectations, and the system, and the complete and utter helplessness I feel as a parent. 

What I say to my anxious child: 

I see this is hard for you. 

I believe in you.

I believe you can do hard things. 

And yet, what I feel is the grief welling up inside of me. 

Why can’t I have a normal kid? A kid that can participate in a group activity without a meltdown. 

Will my life ever be any different? 

Will his life ever be any different? 

Why is this so hard? 

It’s entirely too easy to go down the rabbit trail of ‘what if?s’. The hardest part about this one is what I know he is capable of. 

I have a girlfriend whose son also has special needs. We talk a lot about the differences between our boys – particularly when it comes to navigating schools. Her goal is for the school to figure out how to manage her son’s behaviors and disabilities to give him the best possible life. I’m desperate for a school to help us overcome my son’s behaviors and difficulties – to see what he’s capable of in spite of his worst anxious child moments. 

The irony is that schools and special education and IEPs are developed to manage, they’re not developed to overcome. They don’t know what to do with my son, whose anxiety often manifests as anxiety-related behavior challenges. 

I need to let myself grieve the now – and keep myself from imagining a future that’s entirely unknown. 

I text another mom, whose son has yet another set of difficulties. Her son’s challenges are different yet again – he’s got ADHD, like my other son. While I know she doesn’t understand this specific situation, she understands the anguish and the trauma – for both of the young one and I. 

“I’m sorry,” she says. 

“I hear you,” she says. 

“Take a breath, and have some wine,” she says. 

And I breathe a little easier. The situation hasn’t changed, but I know that I’m seen. I’m heard. I know I’m not in this alone. I know that we will get through this, even if I really don’t see how right this moment.  

By the end of class, the anxious child is listening intently to the safety lesson on stranger danger: Not all strangers are dangerous. Your assignment is to get with your parents and make sure you have a family safe word. If an adult comes to you and says, “Your mom or dad told me…:” and doesn’t know the safe word, yell as loud as you can, “Not my mom! Not my dad!” 

When it’s time to stand and bow out, he stands, bows proudly and happily says goodbye to his friends. 

We made it to the end. Did it look like I expected? Not in the slightest. Did it look like I hoped? Not a bit. Did we make it to the end, still logged in and at least watching the class. We did. 

With that, I take another deep breath. We did it. For today, that’s enough. 

Naturally, the next class two days later, he decides that he’ll participate relatively happy almost the entire class. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at the unpredictability of it all.  

A week later, he decides he’s done. We haven’t participated in the months since. 

I think finally okay with that. It’s been a long up and down struggle, both for me and the kiddo. 

I don’t have answers to the questions above. I still grieve the life I though we’d have. But I’m learning to lean in to love my child for who he is and to adjust my own expectations of what life looks like.

I’m learning to better discern between being the parent my anxious child needs and being the parent other people think my child needs. This is so hard!

A few resources that have been instrumental in my ongoing mindset shift to be the parent my child needs and to give myself grace in the process.

parenting an anxious child in a pandemic | boy on zoom in a taekwondo uniform

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