Dr. Tonya Crombie, the author of the best-selling book“Stop Worrying About Your Anxious Child” shares with us her expertise to help parents and kids navigate their anxiety when going through a divorce.
This blog was taken from an interview of Dr. Crombie on Divorce Happy Hour Live! You can find the original video interview here.
Dr. Crombie shared her personal experience as a mom of two teenagers and one dealing with anxiety. She told us the most common question she gets is: When did you know they were anxious? And the answer is: “I didn't know for a very, very long time.” Dr. Crombie explained that these are some signs to look out for are:
- Slow to warm babies.
- Not liking new situations or new people.
- Struggling with transitions. (i.e., leaving the house, the park, changing plans)
- Always needing a friend or extreme fear of doing new things alone.
The most important question you must ask yourself is: Is there something going on that's impacting your daily life or your child's daily life, are they not able to do the stuff that everyone else is able to do pretty easily. That’s how you can tell if anxiety is a problem.
It is easy to think this is just how my child works, this is who they are. As a parent, it’s hard to process and accept that there may be something that needs special attention, we all think our babies are perfect so it’s common to misinterpret anxiety with introversion.
According to Dr. Crombie, one of the best allies to help you understand if your child is going through a tough time with anxiety is teachers. Our teachers are sort of like the “first responders” for mental health issues. They are often the ones who see things first, and because they have such a broad population to compare, when a teacher notices something you should probably listen. However, teachers are not diagnosticians, they aren't medical doctors, they aren't mental health professionals in that sense. But if your child’s teacher says there's something going on and you need to talk to an expert to figure out what it is, that's probably something worth looking at because they have seen it all.
Another thing Dr. Crombie would like all people need to know is anxiety is almost always somewhere else outside of us. It's not what's happening right in this moment, most of it is about the future. We get all worked up and say, “oh, something's going to happen in the future, I need to feel bad right this minute.”
Think about this for a minute: your child is going to start a new school next month, what do they start thinking about? I won't have anyone to sit with at lunch, I won’t make friends, they’ll tease me, etc. The anticipation creates anxiety when the reality is you're not at school right this moment, you're not at lunch, you can't predict the future. So, it’s important to help your child come back to the present because right here, right now, everything's okay.
With respect to divorce, so many questions arise due to the uncertainty of the situation, especially for children. So, it is important to reassure them and remind them to stay in the moment, in the present. Don’t let them get carried away with questions like: What's divorce going to mean? What's going to happen? What is it going to be like? Try to anticipate to their questions. And give them real answers, do not respond vaguely as this can lead to a buildup in anxiety. Most children worry about their relationship with both parents and how the absence of one parent is going to affect them. Make sure to remind them that all those questions are in the future. It's not all happening right here, right now. As a parent, you can bring your kid back to the present where everything's OK.
We need to remember that an anxious brain is a brain that has stopped using all the prefrontal cortex where we do our thinking and strategizing and planning, and it has gone all the way back to this primitive part in the back of our brain; that is very simplistic, but it's very efficient. And it says you are in danger. That is when our fight, flight or freeze responses activate. Kids don’t know this is happening to them and sometimes as parents one of the greatest gifts we can give them, is just to help them figure out what's causing that weird feeling in their body, help them identify anxiety and help them through it.
Anytime our children struggle with anything, we are going to feel some anxiety so as parents we need to learn how to handle our own anxiety, so we can strategize and figure out the correct path to help our children through theirs.
When you are going through a divorce you need to focus so much on your self-care if you want to be successful on managing you children’s anxiety in the process. There are two huge benefits when you prioritize your self-care; one is that you’ll be able to think and process and strategize, you will successfully keep your kids in the moment and say the right things, avoiding speaking out of anger or fear or even your own anxiety. The second thing is that you will be able to be a positive role-model, and that is so much of how our kids learn from us adults, they are constantly watching everything that we do so, if they see you taking care of yourself and your feelings, if they see you being open and honest they will learn that's how you're supposed to act, that's what you're supposed to do when you feel this way.
Somethings you can do to manage your anxiety and model for your children is: First acknowledge you are anxious, say it out loud and explain what you are feeling that says to a child, this is normal. Then, do an activity that makes you happy like yoga or dancing or maybe take a walk. Be vocal about the intention of your activities say things like: “When I feel anxious, I like to move my body.” This way your kids will know to do the same things when they are feeling anxious. This is the first step to start managing their anxiety and not feel bad about it.
To finalize I want to share what I really firmly believe is that anxiety is just a symptom. It's something that we all go through. It's a normal thing. So naturally, some of us are going to have more struggles than others. It is just like having better eyesight than others. Some of us read better than others. But most importantly it's not necessarily because something is wrong with you. Often, if not always there's something great about you that also makes you prone to anxiety.
If you’re interested in learning more about Dr. Crombie, you can find her here: https://guidanceforthefuture.com/If you’re going through the divorce process and need guidance from an attorney, you can schedule a Client Vision Meeting here with NJ Divorce Solution to see if we can help