how can I help my anxious daughter?

(44 Posts)
foreva Thu 10-Jan-13 13:42:05

Hi, DD is 9, adopted at 7 months. I would like to help her with her anxiety problems but I am at a bit of a loss about how to and where to start - I have looked at books to help kids in general deal with anxiety and then I have been rereading 'Twenty things adopted children wish their parents knew' which seems to focus more on therapeutic help such as helping them to grieve their loss and helping them to realise they have special needs arising from adoption.

DD doesn't have any diagnosis or anything. She manages well academically and has friends but I have always been aware of how anxious she gets underneath. Lately she has started verbalising to me how anxious she gets. Most of her anxiety is social. She doesn't cope well with groups or new people. Her teacher has told me she is very quiet in school and that there is a danger that children like her will get ignored by teachers. If she is a group situation she withdraws/closes down and the same with new people. We both work but have had to stagger our hours so that we can pick her up from school as she becomes highly distressed if we even casually mention her going to an after school club for a day or two a week.

She seems fearful of being wrong or shamed. She is very well behaved, too well behaved for a 9 year old. She apologises often even when she has done nothing wrong and someone is correcting her so they can help her. Last night I became irritable with her because she kept saying 'sorry' and she became very upset. She then apologised for saying sorry too much sad Bad mother sad.

She always thinks of others before herself e.g. if I ask her what she wants to do she will ask me what I want to do and will then worry that if she gets to choose then I will be unhappy.

Over the years she has had a myriad of fears, the current one being shop security alarms going off when we are leaving. This happened a few times over xmas and now she has developed a fear of shops as she is afraid the alarm will go off (even when we haven't bought anything!) and everyone will look at us.

In between all the above she is a happy girl with lots of interest but I am worried for her future as she lets her fears stop her doing things. I am particularly worried about the change to secondary school - bigger classes with strangers and strict teachers will make the transition very difficult for her.(Recently she changed her swim school and it took me 25 minutes to persuade her to get out of the car and into the building.)

A friend has recently said that she might be picking up her behaviour from me. I do worry about her but I am not socially phobic and I don't have excessive fears/phobias so I'm not sure if she is right.

Would a book on anxiety in kids be the way forward or should I be looking for a more adoption related book? Any similar experiences or advice would be very welcome

Stickwithit Thu 10-Jan-13 13:56:55

I have no specific exerience of adoption so I hope you don't mind me responding but I would think that it might be very difficult to establish whether your DD's anxiety relates to her being adopted or not. It could be down to her natural personality, her adoption, something else- or a combination of many things.

You sound like a lovely mum and I do hope you can find a way to help your DD.

In your shoes I think I might be considering some kind of therapy as it does sound like her anxiousness is beginning to affect her everyday life. I guess this becomes tricky though as she might feel she has somehow 'let you down' by being over-anxious and needing some help.

I do not want to upset you but wanted to let you know that my mum is a naturally anxious person, and at times of stress her anxiousness becomes a real problem. As a child this did affect me, making me anxious, and making me feel worried about causing my mum extra worry. I have had some therapy and am now much more aware of how to handle my worries and fears. I'm not suggesting that this is the case in your situation, but it might be possible that your have got into a vicious cycle whereby she is picking up on the fact that you are worried about her which could further fuel her anxiety.

Stickwithit Thu 10-Jan-13 13:59:38

Me again grin, there was a good thread on MN a while ago about being a natural introvert. It might be helpful to read this to see if your DD sounds like she is nsturally shy or whether it is something more that that.

foreva Thu 10-Jan-13 14:17:23

Hi Stickwithit I'm very interested to know how your mum's stress manifested itself or was it just a feeling you got from her. I'm not aware of verbalising my worry over DD.

Moomoomie Thu 10-Jan-13 14:20:16

She sounds similar to our eldest dd whom we adopted when she was two and a half. She is now almost 14.
She is very keen to be helpful and anxious about many situations, she has come out of her shell a lot since she started high school.
We have learnt to be very patient with her and to constantly reassure her about everything. I'm not sure if it is due to her adoption or just her nature but all I can suggest is lots of reassurance and patience.

Stickwithit Thu 10-Jan-13 14:34:31

Unfortunatley I do find it quite difficult to put my finger on exactly how my mum's stress was obvious as a child. I will try to explain a but, I apologise if it doesn't make sense.

I guess her words and actions showed me that she was always worried about things going wrong- in a pessimistic way. So maybe, my mum always seemed more worried about things that my friend's mums didn't seem to bat an eyelid over. She would chatter about the things that might go wrong in a situation, focus on stuff she had heard of read about things that can happen to people (e.g. ATM she is worried about research that hard knocks can cause cancer).

At a park she would constantly tell me to be careful, going to a party she would constantly remind me about behaving myself (I was a very well behaved child).

When mum was upset she easily fell apart and that made me feel unsafe, so I avoided doing anything to cause her worry or upset.

It is almost easier to explain what my mum wasn't somehow- she wasn't strong, or resilient, optimistic or reassuring. She is lovely in her own way but her anxiety did affect me deeply (not that I understood this as a child), it left me without that core strength of believing that I could cope with whatever life threw at me.

Apologies if that sounds like a rant, I find it hard to explain.

You said you are not aware of verbalising your worry over DD, but it could be that perhaps it is a more your general worry about other things that is teaching her to be an anxious person. If you have a feeling that your own anxiety could be contributing to your DD's problem, it might be worth seeing a counsellor / therapist (mine transformed my life).

It is really important that I say though, that it is impossible for me to be objective about your situation, and very easy for me to see it through the window of my own experience. It may very well be the case that your DD's anxiety has nothing to do with you at all...

foreva Thu 10-Jan-13 14:42:56

Moomoomie, I have learned to be so much more patient than I used to be. I am trying to be even more patient but sometimes with the constant reassurance I just lose it sad

foreva Thu 10-Jan-13 14:46:11

Ahh, I see what you mean Stickwithit. I would say that is definitely not me. I don't worry in that pessimistic way, if I do worry it's about DD.

BertieBotts Thu 10-Jan-13 14:51:54

She sounds very like my sister (who is not adopted) I think it's great that you've noticed and want to take some proactive steps rather than just hoping she will grow out of it. DSis is now 21 and still like this sad

This is unrelated as well, but a friend of mine struggles with anxiety and she had CBT last year. One of the things she said that she did in the sessions was that her counsellor just went through situations which worried her, asking her "Okay, and then what would happen?" In my friend's case it was that she was worried about feeling or being sick in public. This technique, simple as it sounds, helped her rationalise what would happen - she would find a toilet, be sick in the toilet, and it wouldn't be nice but then it would be over and nothing bad would happen. It helped her feel a lot calmer. I wonder if you could do something like this with the alarm situation?

How is she with taking physical risks? I'd usually suggest some kind of drama/music workshop for shy children but it sounds like this would be the very worst thing for her. Something my DP does is rock climbing (on indoor walls) - the teaching groups for this are very small, usually one on one because of the safety aspect, and they definitely make harnesses small enough for 9 year olds. You could go in with her too unlike something like swimming classes. DP and his friends all agree it's very confidence building to be able to think "I climbed that!" and that confidence should come through into other things. Also, because you get a bit of an adrenaline rush from doing something which is scary (even though you're safe with harnesses etc) it might help her come to terms with that feeling and understand that it's not a bad feeling to have.

bamboostalks Thu 10-Jan-13 14:59:14

There is a book called The Great Big Bag of Worries which is very good at speaking about fears. Your dd must be frightened and fear is the most difficult emotion to control. She needs to learn to be less fearful. Have you thought about something like indoor rock climbimg which is very good at harnessing adrenelin and getting that part of the brain in gear. It will make her realise that she can deal with stressful situations. It is great that you are trying to tackle this now as anxiety and living with constant fear is life sapping and will become much more difficult to manage as she grows up.

bamboostalks Thu 10-Jan-13 15:00:42

x post there!

foreva Thu 10-Jan-13 15:07:34

BertieBotts. I have explained the mechanism of how the alarms are set off but she is still scared even when we haven't bought anything! Also if she feels the slightest pressure to do something she gets more anxious. Glad it's working for your friend though.

I totally agree about the great feeling you get when you do something scary and the confidence it creates too. Unfortunately, she is also very afraid of physical risks - tried to get her up a climbing wall a couple of years ago and she wouldn't go near it. She is much more afraid if others are watching, like she is afraid of embarrassing herself in public, that she will look stupid

MrsMcEnroe Thu 10-Jan-13 15:08:26

Hi OP,
Your DD sounds just like me at her age, and I was adopted as a baby too although I agree with others that she may just be naturally sensitive / more prone to worrying ... Don't discount the adoption as a factor though.

Her fear of making you unhappy, by doing/choosing something you might not like, particularly resonated with me. It's very common in adopters apparently. Guilt and gratitude (I've begun exploring this recently, encouraged by other MNetters). We are often made to feel grateful for being adopted, and we feel guilty if we don't ....or if we do something to upset our parents ....vicious circle! (I'm not suggesting that you make your daughter feel this way - you may already be well aware of this, and consciously not do it - but I know it's something that other people can invoke by ceaselessly chosen words such as "ooh aren't you lucky to have such a lovely mummy" etc).

I think you do sound like a lovely mum smile who is obviously well aware that there are many issues of grief and loss that can arise from adoption (I wish my parents had acknowledged this, rather than burying their heads in the sand, although this was 40 years ago and they may well have been completely unaware / not advised that such things could occur). As long as you are acknowledge your DD's feelings, I think you and she will ultimately be fine, I think.

I have this book about sensitive children at home - I have only read a couple of chapters so far but it seems pretty good and I think it was recommended to me by another MNetter smile - www.amazon.co.uk/Highly-Sensitive-Child-Children-Overwhelms/dp/0007163932/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1357829673&sr=1-1 - might be useful for you?

Your DD may be terrified of being rejected, hence the constant need for reassurance. Or she might be playing you! - my DS, who is 8, is highly sensitive and he also completely melts down at the mention of after-school clubs etc. He genuinely doesn't like them but he definitely likes the feeling of power/control it gives him, so we are both working on it!

When DS' fears re school got too much for him I took him to see a fabulous lady called Andrea Lindsay who does hypnotherapy/NLP for kids - she got him to do positive reinforcement-type techniques and relaxation, and now he is able to talk about his worries and, crucially, to control them. Feel free to PM me for her details if you like (I don't have them to hand at the moment). She's based in Bournemouth.

I think the main thing is to listen to your DD's fears and never say "don't be so silly" or minimise her feelings in any way. Let her express her fears, acknowledge them, and then explain why/how those fears are unwarranted and how they can be managed .... I wish my mum had done this, rather than just glossing over everything and pretending it would go away. Could have saved my a fortune in therapy in my thirties!!

Happy to chat more if you like, and good luck x

foreva Thu 10-Jan-13 15:20:20

Yes MrsMcEnroe I have been rereading the Twenty things adopted kids wish their parents knew and I really do see DD in there, not in the acting out behaviour but in the guilt, shame, and fear of rejection. On Xmas day after she opened her presents she said to me 'I'm so lucky I've got a family' which makes her sound like a sweet girl in writing but left me feeling quite uncomfortable.

How would you have liked your parents to open the subject of grief/loss in adoption?

btw, I've got the Highly sensitive child book, will have to reread that one as well.

foreva Thu 10-Jan-13 15:21:50

The big bag of worries is one of the books I have looked at buying Bamboo

foreva Thu 10-Jan-13 15:24:55

Am going out now but would love to hear from other adoptive parents/adoptees

MrsMcEnroe Thu 10-Jan-13 19:01:22

Hi foreva

How would I have liked my parents to open the subject of grief/loss in adoption?
That's a very hard question to answer actually!! More so because my parents are dead now, so I don't have the opportunity to discuss it with them and to ask them how they were feeling about everything at the time it was going on. I'll brain dump here, if I may, in the hope that some of it may answer your question ...

My parents were very open about the fact that I was adopted, and they were lovely in their honesty about how much they had wanted a baby and how much they loved me from the moment they met me grin. Argh I'm welling up as I type this!! My mum was very good at being emotionally available to me so whenever I had questions I felt that I could ask her, and she was extremely frank in her answers. I honestly don't believe that she knew anything about the guilt/gratitude thing; I think in those days you were handed a baby and that was pretty much it. I know that she only had one day's notice that she was finally going to be a mum!!(after 8 years of trying for a baby and then registering for adoption, and my birth mother changing her mind for six weeks after I was born).

A a child I identified very strongly with my mum - I don't know if this was due to adoptee's gratitude or whether I was naturally empathetic. Or a combination of the two. I felt very strongly her sense of loss at not being able to have biological children, even though she never actually talked about it (it came more from what she didn't say, and from things my grandmother - her mum - used to tactlessly drunkenly accidentally let slip at family gatherings.

I also identified very strongly with my birth mother, whose name I knew (unusually for the time, when all adoptions were closed adoptions with no biological contact) as my mum told me the story of how I can to be adopted, and she always emphasised how much my birth mother loved me but was too young to be able to keep me with her.

What I've written so far suggests that actually there may have been *too much* honesty in my childhood! I'm not sure. I think there was too much honesty about the adults' feelings and nobody ever asked about my feelings. I remember crying on my 14th birthday and feeling a profound sense of loss for my birth mother. My mum just didn't know what to say or how to react. She was kind about it, but didn't offer any words of wisdom, and *my dad was was never involved - I never felt comfortable discussing my adoption with him* - I think I was afraid that he would get upset of angry although I had no evidence to suggest that this would happen.

OK, so having poured all that out, I can now answer your question! - I wish that my mum had asked me how I felt about being adopted, and that she (generally speaking, not just regarding adoption but everything) had acknowledged that all my feelings and emotions were valid, even if they were unreasonable/over-anxious/didn't correspond with how she was feeling, etc. Again, I know that part of that was down to the parenting style/fashion of the times, but I can't put it all down to that; my parents were very much of the "children will just fit into our lifestyle and we won't make any adjustments" school of parenting. I was often told "oh don't be so silly" when I expressed emotions that my mum didn't want/know how to deal with, which led (I think) to me being afraid of upsetting her. *I am not suggesting that this is what you have done, however!!!!*

So, I wish that the adoption conversations could have been two-way, instead of me asking all the questions and receiving all the answers; I wish that my mum had asked me questions, even at the risk of upsetting me, because it would have shown that she appreciated that my situation was not the norm. As it was, with no acknowledgement that I was entitled to feel differently from other children who were growing up in their birth families, I think I felt like a passenger, with no control over my own life.

Wow. That is the first time I have allowed myself to express any of that!!!

MrsMcEnroe Thu 10-Jan-13 19:09:10

Something along the lines of, "darling, if you ever feel sad about being adopted, or if you have any worries that you want to talk about, you can always come to me and I will always listen. I love you very very much and your feelings are very important to me."

That sort of thing would do for starters. I wouldn't have to be more specific than that; just open the channels of communication so that DD knows she can talk to you. Gradually introduce adoption-specific topics when you feel the time is right, and don't be afraid to just jump in there if an opportunity arises, even if you aren't in an ideal setting ... Sometimes it might be easier to talk about these things on the bus, or in the supermarket, rather than sitting down at the table at home for a specific chat - takes the pressure off a bit, I think.

I would really recommend Andrea Lindsay, she is fantastic - www.halohypnotherapy.com - you could have a telephone consultation just to get some ideas if you weren't able to get to see her in person. She is a qualified psychotherapist as well, and she has children of her own so she really knows how to relate to them. She was wonderful with my DS. He saw her this time last year, so he would have been aged 7, in year 3 at school.

foreva Thu 10-Jan-13 20:07:33

Thanks so much for that long brain dump Mrs McEnroe, it's a real eye opener!. I have to admit I gulped a bit whilst reading it - although I regularly mention adoption related stuff I can't remember asking DD how she's feeling about her adoption and DH, like your dad, is never involved either. I'm actually dying to ask her but afraid of..well I'm not really sure what I'm afraid of really. But I will ask her now using something like the words you say. I'll let you know how I get on.
If things are still difficult I will look into the therapist you mention to. Thanks x

MrsMcEnroe Thu 10-Jan-13 20:39:46

smile Just keep the channels of communication open, that's a good place to start.

I am off to read more of the Sensitive Child book tonight, following a long, tearful conversation with DS just now in which he insisted that everyone at school hates and him and nobody plays with him .....apparently he sat on his own for the whole playtime today ..... not sure whether he's telling the truth or over-dramatising! Bit tearful for him. Well, very tearful.

Kids do feel loss very keenly. He misses my mum, who died nearly 5 years ago but who was a huge presence in his life.

Urgh. Bit complex this parenting thing, isn't it...???!!!!! Magic wand needed! x

MrsMcEnroe Thu 10-Jan-13 20:43:05

Just a thought, feel free to ignore if I'm off the mark, this is based on what I think my mum was feeling ... Do you think you've been scared to ask your DD how she feels about the adoption in case she says something that will upset you? Especially something about wanting her birth mother?
You'd only be human if this were the case. But she won't want her birth mother in preference to you; she'll want to know about her. It's very different. (I met my birth mother when I was 18 and we've remained in contact but I do not, and never have, thought of her as my mother - just wanted to reassure you of that). x

KristinaM Thu 10-Jan-13 20:51:58

I agree that it may be partly her personality but I do feel its also adoption related. Like the person who said "so what's the worst that can happen? " .well the worst that can happen is that your parenst and your whole family abandon you!!!! And that's alreday happened to her. No wonder she wants to please you

I get such a feeling of sadness from reading your post and I'm nt sure why. I wonder if she's very unhappy under her usually cheerful exterior , that this is about sadness and loss which manifests as anxiety . Especially about things she can't control ( like shop alarms and people leaving her )

I also agree that you should get her some professional help, preferably from a therapist or counsellor with experince in adoption. You should do this now, before adolescence, which I'm afraid will make it worse.

foreva Thu 10-Jan-13 21:05:25

DD in bed now. Funnily enough the book we read before bed was about a mother and daughter so when we finished reading I mentioned that she could always talk to me if she had sad/bad feelings about birth mum/adoption, something on those lines anyway, and she looked contemplative. Hopefully she'll have a think and when the right moment arises she might be able to talk to me.
I don't think I'm scared of her saying she misses her bmother. I think I'm scared that if I mention bad feelings then I might cause her to have those bad feelings - very childish/superstitious of me to think that way.

Yes, parenting, it's not easy is it? Hope your DS feels better at school tomorrow x

KristinaM Thu 10-Jan-13 21:13:02

Its not childish -It's only natural that you don't want to " put ideas into her head". But it's good that you have told her that its ok to talk to you, that you can handle it and be a safe container for her feelings. Maybe she's worried that if she lets them out they will overwhelm her .

Just to warn you -the "right moment"for her might be totally the wrong one for you !!! kids often decide to talk when you are in the car negotiating the rush hour or other busy time when you can hardly think, let alone empathise!

If she does decide to talk, it's best if you can just listen without trying to fix her feelings or problems or explain things. We parents alway want to make it all better. But sadly what happened to her can't be fixed. She just needs to work it through a bit.

Please do think about getting some help for her

foreva Thu 10-Jan-13 21:17:05

Kristina, my gut feeling is that it's adoption related too but I think I may have let other people convince me that a) she's ok, just shy, will grow out of it and/or b) I'm worrying too much about her.

How would I get a therapist experienced in adoption?(I live in the midlands btw)

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