When Chloe was two years old, she would cry whenever someone sang Happy Birthday. The few times we attended a church for various events, she would cry whenever group hymns were sung. From birth, she had a comfort habit of scratching the back of her neck, but by the time she was two, she would scratch so much that the neck of her shirt would be bloodied and she would have scratch shaped scabs. At three, Chloe would start to inadvertently say things, they way any child typically does, but when we laughed like most parents do, it would cause a severe meltdown that would leave us confused and scrambling to explain that we weren’t laughing at her or being mean, what she said was funny.
My girl is a social butterfly. She would regularly stay on the porch and yell “Hi” to every person, vehicle, animal, and bug that crossed her path. She would put on music and perform “ballet” in the living room. She loved making friends and there was a point in time that I worried she would NEVER learn that people have boundaries and need personal space as she was ALWAYS hugging people or trying to hold their hands.
She’s almost 7 and all of these things are still true to this day. She loves to talk, and when she starts talking, she doesn’t stop until she’s finished. She loves to play, and yell, and according to her she’s friends with “every single kid in kindergarten, oh, and some in first grade too”. She’s proud of that. She’s in girl scouts and cheerleading and will be starting gymnastics. She’s taken dance, gone to play groups, and will deem any girl her age her “VERY BEST FRIEND” within two seconds of meeting.
But she will also cry when someone gives her unwanted attention. Whether it’s asking her a question, or laughing at something that was unintentionally funny. Happy Birthday is okay for her if she’s in the back of the crowd, but if she’s in the front where she thinks attention could be on her, she will still melt down. We haven’t attended a church in years, as we’ve become more privately spiritual, so I can’t confirm is the same is still true for hymns. She doesn’t scratch every single day, but when she does, she still draws blood. Always in the same spot on the back of her neck.
Up until her third term in Kindergarten, the verbal tests they did to show progress were extremely poor. This girl, who at home would proudly count in both English and Spanish, point out any letter and number up through 100, sound out basic words before she was four, and absolutely loved to learn like a sponge was, in all technicalities, not ready to pass kindergarten.
Her issue was her teacher, who was a patient Godsend with her. It took almost 6 months for her to warm up to her kindergarten teacher, and when she did it was astounding. The third test that came home had her at normal range for almost everything except word memorization. I knew she knew the information that was being tested, her teacher knew that she knew the information tested, but she didn’t want the attention and therefore didn’t answer the questions.
This is a very basic explanation of our journey with Chloe up to this point. For weeks I’ve been tossing around the idea of homeschool, both due to her anxiety and to her asthma (that’s another story for another time, but it causes many school absences). I would like to avoid homeschool, as much as I love it, because I don’t want to take her from her friends or out of her school sponsored events. But I also don’t want my child to go through this issue year after year while she tries to adjust to new people.
Prior to this year, we thought she was an introvert. I read all the books and the blogs about raising an introvert, I changed my parenting techniques and always forewarned teachers, coaches, and leaders. I thought the scratching had to do with eczema, as one doctor suggested due to her textured skin, and applied all of the eczema creams and treatments like clockwork, but nothing changed.
I have anxiety. OCD, SAD, GAD, and slight agoraphobia, if you want the “official” diagnosis from 2 doctors and a mental health specialist. SAD is Social Anxiety Disorder for short, and you’d think, with this diagnosis, I’d be able to pick up on her issues easily. But she’s 6, and most of these quirks have been around since before she could speak, kids can’t develop anxiety that young can they?
The answer is yes, they can. It was Chloe’s teacher who first mentioned anxiety at our parent teacher conference. She realized that when Chloe was called on in class, or they were doing group activities that required she speak, she would instantly start scratching at her neck. And when we discussed the first report card and tests, she even said that she knew Chloe knew the information, because she had overheard her in various conversations with classmates. But when asked directly, she didn’t want to give an answer. We considered the possibility of ADD, but everyone from doctors to teachers agreed that children that young are impossibly hard to diagnose because children that young aren’t meant to have long attention spans.
So off to the doctor we went, with explanations and examples, and after talks and questions her doctor agreed and referred us to therapy.
The downside is, the one therapist in our area covered by her primary insurance has a 1 year wait list because they’re also the best child therapist in the area. So we’re still waiting on actual therapy, but in the mean time, I’ve changed my parenting approach again.
I no longer read things about parenting an introvert, because my child is not an introvert. She’s anxious, she panics, she’s afraid. She doesn’t want to be left alone, she wants to feel comfortable. She doesn’t want to play independently, she wants to play and do and experience things she knows with people she knows. She doesn’t mind trying new things, but she needs to try them on her own at her own pace. Changing how I speak, from my normal tone to whispers, from my level to hers, isn’t going to change her anxiety, although it’s still a good parenting approach.
No, now I approach things as if I would want them approached with me. When she panics, I give her what comforts her. When she isn’t ready for something, we set it aside until she asks to try again. Rather than sing happy birthday in any other variation but happy birthday, we don’t make a big spectacle of cake and presents, rather letting her blow out the candles and open her presents at her pace. School is still tricky, because there are time constraints, but even her teacher has learned how to help her go at her own pace and still get things finished on time.
Our journey with anxiety is fairly new, because we’ve only had an official anxiety diagnosis for a short time, but I’ve already seen great changes and hope to see many more as she works with her therapist and learns how to manage what makes her anxious.
I share our story today because I’m sure there are other parents like us out there. Parents who keep trying to parent an “introvert” with no success, parents who think “my child is way too extroverted to be an introvert”, parents who can’t discover the source of an itch or a pinch or an irritation that seems to “bother” your child.
I’m a firm believer in many issues being over diagnosed, but if you do feel that something just isn’t right, don’t be afraid to speak to the doctor. Don’t think that just because they’re young that it isn’t possible. It may be uncommon, but not impossible.
*Disclaimer – I am not a medical professional. This post is not meant to provide medical advice and should not take the place of a medical professional. If you have concerns that your child may be dealing with anxiety, please consult your physician.