Anxiety & Fidgetbum
Updated: Jul 15, 2020
Anxiety in children
Hello, my name is Shelly and I’m a mummy to three very different children. Two of my children, Harrison and Poppy, suffer with anxiety due to neurological conditions known as autism and ADHD. Harrison and Poppy also have sensory processing difficulties , Harrison being a sensory seeker and Poppy an avoider. I’m going to share with you my experience with childhood anxiety and the many behaviours anxiety can manifest into.
Even though it is normal for a child to feel anxious or worried, for some children anxiety can affect their behaviour and their thoughts everyday. This level of anxiety can interfere with the child’s school, home and social life. Even though both Harrison and Poppy have anxiety it presents quite differently in each of them .
Harrison is 9 and was diagnosed in April 2020 with autism and ADHD after a six year battle for help. Prior to the diagnosis it had been noted on Harrison’s medical records that he was suffering with anxiety. Anxiety for Harrison is an emotion in which he feels nervous, afraid and really worried all at the same time. As a child, as you can imagine, it is very difficult to understand and explain the feeling of being anxious.
Harrison would express his anxiety in different ways, often these behaviours would change with age. When Harrison was very small he would always be adamant on taking a toy with him when we went out. The toys Harrison would pick were toys related to his current obsession, these toys at the time provided Harrison with great comfort. Harrison would also line his toys up in a particular way and not actually play with them, this is also a sign of anxiety.
As Harrison grew and his language skills developed Harrison started to describe to us the physical symptoms he was feeling. These physical symptoms included having a quick heart beat, having too many thoughts, needing to go to the toilet (a lot), having a headache, wanting to run away (which he has done) and feeling sick with a crippling tummy ache. Anxiety also caused Harrison to have other behaviours you wouldn’t automatically connect with anxiety. These behaviours included being very restless, unable to concentrate, to have impulsive reactions alongside hyperactivity. On top of all of the above when Harrison felt anxious, worried or scared he also felt a sense of anger. This anger turns into physical aggression and is often followed by a meltdown. Harrison when in these moments is being driven by his brain which is in high alert. It is heart breaking to watch, exhausting and emotionally draining for everyone. Children do not need to have a medical condition to suffer with anxiety. Every child is different and will present differently but here are a few common signs that a child maybe suffering with anxiety. The child maybe reluctant to try new things, they maybe unable to cope with everyday challenges, they may find it hard to concentrate, they may have trouble sleeping and eating properly, they may have anger outbursts, they may have unwanted and intrusive thoughts that make them worry excessively that bad things may happen and seek constant reassurance plus they may avoid everyday to activities such as going to school.
Talking of school, a lot of these symptoms for Harrison would appear in the morning before having to go into school. For the first four years of dropping Harrison to school I would have to leave him with an adult kicking and screaming for me to come back. On several occasions I haven’t managed to get him in the car due to his level of aggression and even if I did make it to school staff members would have to help me get Harrison into the building. I’ve lost count how many times I drove away in tears. We have now learnt that Harrison had a fear of me dying which triggered this behaviour.
There really isn’t a black and white guide on how to help you child who has anxiety. It is even more difficult when you don’t have the support of those around you and of course they know your child best as they see them for an hour here and there. I accessed every course available and read many books to try and grasp a better understanding on what Harrison was feeling. All I wanted was for my child to feel happy again and to be excited about life. We currently stick to a regular routine, when possible, so Harrison is aware of what is going to happen without any diversions which can heighten his anxiety. We play a lot of distraction games when out and about such as eye spy to help Harrison focus on something else. We have really worked on Harrison understanding these variety of feelings and have encouraged him to ask for help when he begins to feel overwhelmed. A worry monster is fantastic for younger children, have a google ! It is important to try and keep calm yourself (easier said then done sometimes) , I constantly provide Harrison with reassurance and I make him aware I understand how he feels. Harrison suffers with low self esteem and needs constant praise in order to keep him motivated and his anxiety at a low level.
Harrison’s anxiety at night was just as troubling and he would have problems falling asleep. The first week back, going into year 2 Harrison was having a particularly hard time with his anxiety one night. Harrison had a very bad tummy ache and was feeling extremely sick. Within an hour Harrison was screaming and shouting in pain. I dialled 111 and after a few questions I was told to take him straight to the hospital with a suspected rumbling appendix. Once at the hospital we were seen very quickly by an experienced doctor. This doctor didn’t know any background history on Harrison but after the examination and speaking with Harrison she told us that Harrison had in fact experienced a bad anxiety attack. I have no words to describe how I felt knowing that what I had witnessed Harrison go through was due to anxiety, it crushed me. We do how ever now call this his hospital tummy ache so we can define anxiety from having a bug. Harrison can also wet the bed when he feels particularly stressed as when he does fall asleep he sleeps deeply. Anxiety will also heighten Harrisons sensory processing difficulties and being a seeker Harrison will seek pressure on his legs and feet. I’ve lost count of the number of nights I’ve laid with him putting my legs on top of his to give his legs some pressure and to help satisfy his seeking needs. Harrison would also push his feet into me and paw me like a cat trying to get comfortable, neither of us would get much sleep but I wanted to provide Harrison with the comfort he was seeking. We did have a weighted blanket for Harrison but as recommended you cant sleep with them
Harrison was put onto melatonin tablets to help him sleep. Melatonin is a hormone produced in the brain, mainly at night. It helps to prepare the body for sleep. Melatonin tablets are used as a sleep aid and the tablets add to your natural supply of the hormone helping you to get to sleep and improving the quality of your sleep.
This isn’t a long term solution and I was keen to find an alternative solution. Harrison’s bed time routine is the same each night, any deviation can lead to a meltdown. A tantrum and a meltdown are two completely different things, a child is in control of a tantrum where the child having a meltdown isn’t in control. Harrison’s meltdowns can last upto two hours and he is very physical not only to us but to himself. I cant explain the pain of watching your child bang his head against the wall or bite himself. Harrison has told me I’m the worst mum ever, that he hates me and that he wishes that he was dead during these episodes, hearing this is never easy but I have to remind myself he doesn’t mean it.
I’m always on the search for new ideas that could help Harrison and one day on Instagram I came across Fidgetbum. Fidgtbum has been designed to help keep your child snug and cosy in bed by helping to prevent the blankets and duvets from falling off. It was noted that the Fidgetbum didn’t restrict movement but provided the child with a gentle pressure. My immediate thought was could this provide Hasrrison with the sensory feedback he seeks at night? The Fidgetbum arrived (nearly two years ago now) and gave us the gift of sleep. Harrison will snuggle down into the Figetbum as part of his sensory diet and more importantly it is only very rarely we have to give Harrison medication now to help aid his sleep.
Anxiety is not restricted by age and a child’s worries shouldn’t be discredited. I would like to leave you with a quote from the book The boy, the mole, the fox and the horse written by Charlie Mackesy.
“You fell - but I’ve got you”.
“Everyone is a bit scared,” said the horse.
“But we are less scared together.”