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I shared a blog post in the middle of quarantine about dealing with Marlowe’s intense anxiety. A lot of you wrote that you could relate, and that your kids were suffering as well. I was so sorry to hear of so many kids suffering so much, and it completely reinforced my feeling about sharing our own struggle at home in order to make others feel less alone. I was so grateful to those of you who shared in the comments of that blog post to add your voice to the mix on this. I also really appreciated the recommendations for tools to help her!
Unfortunately, from when I wrote that post, Lowie’s anxiety got much worse before it got better. On the worst days, I was desperate for answers or ways to alleviate it for her. It truly felt like it would never end. I watched my daughter transform in to a version of her that felt like just a shell enclosing a soul that was constantly in fear. It was hard for her to even make eye contact, and the pain was palpable. It was heartbreaking to witness as her Mom.
It even triggered a fresh experience of anxiety for me, since so much of it rubbed up against my own anxieties and fears of “passing on” my own challenges with anxiety to my kids. I ended up having to do some really deep work on myself whilst in the middle of trying to create more relief for her. I’m happy to say that now, today, Marlowe is doing SO much better. She still has anxious moments and little triggers, but overall her days are bright again and we have many more good days than bad. I was also able to spend some time working through my own issues that this triggered, with a therapist.
There are certain really specific things that helped with getting Marlowe to a better place, so I wanted to share them here today. I have so many friends whose children are experiencing challenges with anxiety right now, and they’re all at different places with it.
I want to say to you what I share with them, which is that it is completely normal when you’re in the middle of a particularly “bad day” to feel as though this will be the new parenting normal with your child for the rest of life. It’s normal to feel helpless and hopeless. This is what depression and anxiety does for all of us, or can do: it robs us of the trust in evolution and change. It makes us believe that helplessness lasts forever.
It. does. not. Have faith in that.
While I know now that this is an evolving road with Marlowe (and she has been through so much this year that it is understandably so), I have so much renewed faith that I can handle it and that SHE can as well. I’m so insanely proud of my daughter for being such a warrior and hanging in the discomfort of anxiety every day. For working hard to put some frameworks for herself in place, and to keep doing the work. There are some adults who can’t even stick with this, and I am in awe of all the little kids with anxiety who rise to the occasion every single day. She inspires me so much!
The Ways That I’m Helping Marlowe Cope With Her Anxiety:
I Focused On Her, Big Time
When Marlowe’s anxiety reached its apex, I reached out to her school, my work, and some close friends, and told them all that I was dropping pretty much everything to devote my time and energy to her.
We stopped school work, except for a few things she genuinely enjoyed, and took everything back to basics. We read, we played together, we spent time in the yard, and we talked a lot. We had some really hard discussions about divorce, our new family structure, illness, death, her feelings about the addition of another baby to the mix…anything and everything she could think of that was bothering her.
It was incredibly hard as a Mom to listen, learn, and feel a lot of the hard feelings that come from your child voicing their pain. I had to make a conscious effort not to use facts to de-legitimize any of it, or to try to assuage her concerns. I just heard her out, I told her I was listening and I could tell how big her feelings were, and I let her teach me about herself and her fears.
I cried a lot, because it was so hard not to, and I told her it was ok for me to be sad hearing her pain. That me being sad doesn’t make any of her feelings wrong or inappropriate. My job is to protect her, not the other way around.
It felt good to show her that she can tell me anything, even things that are hard for me to hear, and that I will still be here for her a hundred percent. I hope that we can continue that thread in our relationship in to her adulthood.
We Read Books
A therapist I consulted told me that it would really help for her to “learn” about anxiety and her feelings from third party sources, not her parents. Obviously, long term I’d like to get her in to see a therapist herself– but with COVID going on our options were limited and I didn’t want her to “meet” somebody for the first time via Zoom. They recommended some books, and my favorites were:
The Invisible String
by Patrice Karst
The Invisible String is the perfect tool for coping with all kinds of separation anxiety, loss, and grief.
What To Do When You Worry Too Much
by Dawn Huebner, Ph.D
A kids guide to overcoming anxiety.
We Spoke To People Who Make Her Happy
It seems simple, but we upped communication big time with people who make Marlowe happy. Her teacher even made time for us to spend some extra time with her via Google Meet. It was important to remind her how many people love her, even if they are loving her from afar right now. I think it helped her feelings of isolation so much.
A Worry Jar
Marlowe’s anxiety got so ever-present that it really took over her days. Her worries would present multiple times within a ten minute period. A therapist suggested we make a Worry Jar, and it ended up helping so much!
Basically, the thought process is that constantly speaking to one’s anxiety actually gives the anxiety a lot of fuel and makes it stronger.
With a Worry Jar, I encouraged her to write down her worries as they came up (this was also a good way for her to practice her writing and sounding out words) and then put them in the jar to address later. Any time a worry (or a big feeling, like Fear, Sadness, or Anger) popped in to her head she would go on her own to the area where the Worry Jar was set up, and would write it down on a scrap of paper I set out. She would then place it in the jar and continue playing. If she wanted to voice it to me in that moment, I would tell her kindly that it wasn’t time to unpack the worry jar yet, and that we would go through the worries together later.
At the same time every day (right before dinner), Marlowe and I would sit down with her worry jar just the two of us, and go through all the worries she had put in there. We would address them all, and talk about them more. After we were done with all of them (and a lot of them were the same ones over and over) we would throw out the scraps of paper in the garbage and snuggle.
My friend Julia of Lemon Stripes Blog also surprised Marlowe with some beautiful Worry Dolls that helped her SO much. She hid them under her pillow every night to tell her worries to, and I know they gave her a ton of relief.
As the weather got nicer, it was so incredible for Marlowe to be able to spend more time outdoors. She needs physical activity so much to feel balanced (her dad is the same way!) and so I noticed a big shift when the weather permitted us to spend more time outside. She especially loved visiting our local beach once it opened and looking for crabs and fish. A little extra Vitamin D from the sun never hurts any of our mental health, to be honest!
Staying Consistent & Tuned In
Now that she’s in a better place, I make sure to ask her how she’s feeling and to create time for her to share with me every day, even if she’s having a “good day”. Especially if she’s having a good day! I want her to reinforce that some days are better than others and that’s ok. I also make sure to talk to her about her feelings when certain things come up that are triggers for her.
For example, on the day when she “graduated” from Kindergarten via Google Meet — I assumed that was probably a pretty complicated set of emotions to process. I noticed her anxiety flaring up that day, and I said to her at bedtime.
“Hey, I know that today was really exciting but also probably pretty bittersweet and sad too. So many feelings. Do you want to talk about it? I’d love to know the parts that make you excited for First Grade and the parts that make you worried or sad.”
We ended up talking for half an hour all about her mix of emotions. I also want her to know that it’s ok to feel big things and NOT want to talk about them. But it’s so important to me that she knows I’m here for every type of conversation– from here on out– and that I can be a rock for her through it all.
I would love to know any other tips you guys may have, and if any of you have experienced yours or your kids’ anxiety lessening now that we are all able to move around a bit more after Quarantine. Or, alternately, has the opening up made your anxiety worse? Please share in the comments below!
Eva- I would just like to say that you are an incredible mother and Marlowe is so lucky to have you in her corner!
Thank you for sharing! I think it’s so important to normalize that children struggle too. I know my 8 year old has had a hard time during Covid with anxiety, but like you it goes back to so many things I didn’t realize he needed to process. I think our children help us grow! One thing: my son did start seeing a therapist over Zoom. I thought for sure it wouldn’t work and they wouldn’t be able to connect, but I was so wrong! It’s been awesome. Just in case that helps you 🙂
Oh that’s good to know re: Zoom! Maybe I should try it!
As someone who suffers from anxiety, this made me cry – both for you and for Marlowe. Eva, you have been through so much recently, and you continue to show grace and positivity. You are an inspiration. I hope your support system is sending you all their love and holding you up now. Marlowe is going to enter life with so much more knowledge about feelings and self care than most!
I’m glad to hear that Marlowe is doing better and it sounds like you’re doing everything possible to help her learn how to deal with this moving forward. As someone who also had anxiety and lots of worries as a child (especially after my dad died when I was 6), I have to say that the fact that you are so willing to hear her out even when it hurts to hear what she’s saying, is extraordinary. I have an amazing mom who did her best, but even as a kid, I knew she was struggling too and I never wanted to add to her burden with my own worries. I know now that she would have wanted to help me, but it is hard to navigate those feelings, especially as a kid. I hope that these conversations continue to help Marlowe understand how important it is share her feelings and ask for help when she needs it. Thank you for sharing this update and for continuing to be such a great role model for your kids. ❤
Thank you for sharing, and for your kind words! xo
I would suggest giving Marlowe her own room so she has her own space and definitely getting her into a therapist also give each kid a tv in there room so they can watch something fun.i believe that iPad’s and tablets add to anxiety because of having to hold them and focus.i hope it gets better
Thank you so much for being candid about this. My 10 year old son has horrible anxiety just like me and I feel very guilty for passing it on. But having tools to work through it make us both feel better.
Hang in there! xo
My 6 yo is struggling with anxiety too.
We have the book, “What’s going on Inside my Head” which is good. She is also too anxious to sleep alone right now, so, when it was at its worse, I made the decision to not force sleeping alone, and let her go back to sleeping with me.
Her Dad has leukaemia, so we are shielding and have not left home since March. We are lucky we have a garden though, and being outside helps a lot.
AS her Dad gets slowly worse, we don’t see much chance of leaving shielding for the forseeable future, but her teacher has been awesome making phone calls and video calls, and dropping off new school work (we have an airlock type porch)
I reassure her that, actually, since we don’t go anywhere, we are very safe, but that it is OK to feel anxious about what is happening, and that she should ask any questions or tell me if she is worrying about something. But also, by staying in, she is a superhero. She is keeping her Dad well, she is keeping her self well, and she is part of the way we can all make coronavirus go away. It’s hard though because children in shielding can feel forgotten. She is having a birthday next week. Last year, when she couldn’t have a party because her Dad’s immune system was so poor it was too risky, I told her this year would be better. It is not. That hurts her, and me.
Thank you for sharing your journey.
Wow, I am so overwhelmed by how strong YOU are. I’m sorry your family is going through such a hard time, that must be a challenge for each one of you. PLease take care of yourself also, and I hope your daughter has a wonderful birthday! xo
My parents got divorced when I was younger, and ever since they got divorced I somehow started feeling responsible for their emotions. it didn’t happen intentionally… and neither one of them would have wanted me to feel this way… yet, I saw them both go through the sadness of the divorce and knew that they were struggling even though they didn’t parade their struggles around…. and somehow as the first born… I started trying to to “take responsibility” for their emotions and make them happy and wanted to do something to make their lives better. It started constant anxiety for me! All the time my mind was racing with worries and fears and I had the invisible burden of caring for two other people on my shoulders (that I never verbalized because I didn’t even understand). Instead, I verbalized a thousand other fears- some of which seemed insignificant and some that I didn’t even truly care about! I noticed when my parents had a good day or seemed truly happy, it made me feel like I could relax a bit… however I started having that “when is the other shoe going to drop” fear. So even when things were good, because of their divorce I was constantly worried about what bad was going to happen next! I worked through most of this as an adult! However, its something I share with my friends going through divorce who have kids.
I think its amazing how you are communicating with your daughter! Some of the phrases you are communicating with her are huge! You are an amazing mother!
also all that to say: seeing my parents happy and knowing they would take care of their own happiness in the long run, helped me a lot!! also seeing my parents take care of my siblings and know I didn’t have to take the burden on of taking care of them (its a subconscious response as the first born to feel like things are crumbling and think I needed to parent my siblings and be responsible for them). It’s like not only was I navigating my own feelings and having the weight of being responsible for myself at that young age, but I also had a few other people (my parents and siblings) I felt responsible for without even knowing hanging over my head every day. Feeling responsible for other people who you cannot control, makes you feel out of control and makes your worries worse! So knowing my parents were taking care of their happiness… and that they WERE happy and would continue to be happy… and that they would take care of my siblings did help!
Thank you so much for sharing this with me! I actually can relate to a lot of what you went through myself, and it’s been a particular goal of mine to make sure my kids feel free from caring for me. Your comment really reinforced for me how important that is, so thank you. This comment will help so many people, I appreciate you! xo
I can relate on how your daughter felt about her anxiety. I’ve had that bunch of mixed worries and fears as a child, I still remember, though it helped me so much to know that my nuclear family supported me and loved me, specially my mom. Talking with her about my fears felt comforting, and reassuring to move on. I cherish the way you are handling with her, because it will definitely reinforce your bond as mother/daughter, even when she gets older.
I’m so happy to hear this, thanks for sharing!
Obsessed with your mother daughter dresses! Who makes them please?
I really admire your post and wanting to help parents help their children cope with anxiety. I do have mixed feelings about this post. I am certain your intentions are good and you mean well but I have to wonder if Marlowe consented to this post. You may have very well have asked Marlowe for her consent in that case shame on me for assuming. But if she was not consulted— this is an extremely personal aspect of her life and she might like to keep it private, especially when she is older. I am not implying that anxiety or mental illness is something we should be ashamed of (I am a therapist myself) but I do think we have the right to decide what we disclose. I am sorry if I assumed you didn’t consult Marlowe if you did. I love your blog!
I second all of this, Rina (and am also a therapist!). Such an important topic that I’m sure will help other mothers whose kids are anxious, but children can’t give consent about something like this in the way adults can.
I third this! Especially out of respect for Marlowe’s privacy and boundaries (which she probably isn’t even fully aware of yet)
I know I’m late here but as a child therapist I also echo these concerns about Marlowe not consenting to sensitive blog posts regarding her mental health. I’m already seeing preteen patients in my practice who have issues with their parents for putting so much of their childhood “out there” on social media without consent when they were younger. Especially with Marlowe already having more exposure in the public eye than your average kid, Eva is taking a real gamble that her daughter may resent and distrust her in a few years for sharing such private mental health information on social media without permission.
It appears Eva believes she’s held back enough details to preserve her daughter’s privacy, but this rationalization will never negate the fact Marlowe now has a permanent public record created by her mother that documents her mental health challenges. This child clearly never consented to share this with the world, and even if Marlowe did consent she’s far too young to grasp the concept of the internet being “forever” the same way an adult comprehends that knowledge. Of course, it should be noted that mental health struggles are nothing to be embarrassed about and it’s perfectly normal for people of all ages to experience psychological difficulties. However, it is not ok to publicly share someone’s mental health issues online for all to see without their consent, even if it is your child. As a matter of fact, ESPECIALLY if it is your child!
I hear you, though it is a pretty complex situation. I’ve done my best to actually keep the contents of her anxiety private (you’ll notice I’m very vague and don’t share much of her experience, more just solutions and triggers) I actually am happy with the way I’m preserved that part of this story. People don’t realize this, but for all I share, there is a LOT that I don’t. I am passionate about de-stigmatizing anxiety and I suppose there is another side to that– but it’s important to consider how it helps other people in the process. If no parents of kids ever shared what they were going through firsthand with challenging topics with kids, there would be no accounts out there at all of what families are going through for people to read. (and especially to read for FREE. Which blogs are.) It’s not just bloggers, but authors who write books about their family experiences as well. In any case, I realize that this is a grey area, but with all of the personal posts I write that involve others, I always try to walk the line between sharing and also keeping important parts private and taking my kids’ feelings in to consideration.
You’re an incredible mom, Eva. Marlowe is such a special little girl and so brave. Thanks for sharing.
My oldest also deals with anxiety any time there are changes in her life. I’m so glad your sweet Marlowe is doing better! Ruby Finds a Worry by Tom Percival helped our girl a lot. Even our 2 yr old loves it! Best wishes!
Amazing I will order that!
Marlowe is so fortunate that she has a mom who can speak directly to her worries and fears and help her cope ❤️
Hello Eva. I’m a big fan and love following you. I’m a psychotherapist and founder/clinical director at Boost! Child and Family Services in Westport (www.kidsboost.com).
To reference something you said, I’ve seen quite a few new children/clients struggling with anxiety during this time and I’m finding the teletherapy is in some ways less daunting for them. Many kids are loving the ability to talk to a therapist from the comforts of their own home. Wondering if your daughter may find this method of connection soothing and more accessible as an entry point to counseling..
Happy to talk to you further about this at anytime. Also I love the workbook you mention and use it often in my work (What to so when you worry too much)!
Thank you for talking openly about anxiety in kids. Helping our young ones develop strategies for coping at a young age will benefit them greatly throughout their lives.
Susan L. Krauss
honestly i just want to say please consider adopting me?? you are the kind of mother every human being should have. i have the utmost respect for you. also, please give the idea of adoption some thought. ???
Ha! I don’t think I can handle any more kids right now! 😉
First time reader and I’m so glad that this is the very first post I’ve read from your blog. As a social worker, I must commend you on how well you are doing as a parent to help Marlowe cope with her anxiety. As someone who gets anxious myself, knowing that I have the support of people who love me is worth its weight in gold. You’re doing a fabulous job. Hugs to you and your family; we will get through this!
Such great tips! My son’s anxiety flares up and suddenly none of his shoes or clothes fit as we are trying to get out the door to get somewhere by a certain time. It’s not always feasible to just give him extra time. Have you experienced this yet?
For another possible tip, we have taught our son he can take a Rescue Remedy pastille when he has anxiety. Having a physical thing to do to calm down helps, and the sensory experience of chewing something that has flavor is a little distraction. Also we had explained to him kind of how it works: more like a vitamin for the brain & amygdala, etc., which he learned about in 2nd grade. I think this is such a good thing (teaching kids about their anxiety in general), because my generation didn’t and I never thought I had any control over it. Your post reaching so many people makes me happy.
Hope Marlowe (and you – geez that would be so hard) is having more good days now!
Dear Eva, so sad to hear that Marlowe is having a hard time. When I was a kid, my Grandma gave me my own little bed for my own flowers and vegetables and herbs in her garden. I loved it soo much, and whenever I was there and plucked weeds, watered the plants and so on, I forgot the world around me. I think it is an enriching feeling to be responsible for living creatures. Besides you learn a lot about nature, plants, animals and our environment. I learned a lot about the circle of life itsself, transience, that there is no waste in Nature. I will be grateful to my Grandma forever, because she planted a seed then, which is still alive within me.
These days I “own” 😉 a garden of over 8000m2 and it makes me happy, healthy and thankful every day.
I wish you all the best, I send you radiant energy, trust the Universe! Ooo Karin
Eva, thank you so much for being so candid about Marlowe’s anxiety condition. Whilst my own children haven’t yet presented with diagnosed anxiety symptoms I am always hyper conscious of them having anxiety as I have struggled with generalised anxiety disorder for the past 7 years. As a parent I completely empathise with the feelings of guilt you have in relation to a potential genetic link your own kids have as a result of your own anxiety. Just out of curiosity how much of Marlowe’s anxiety do you think may be attributed to your marital breakdown and change of family circumstance? I’m curious to hear your thoughts on how this may have affected her anxiety or exasperated it xx Nina
Dealing with anxiety etc….
Someone should mention Gabor Mate’s books. He is revolutionary.
For adults: “When the Body Says No” (the mind-body connection)
For how to deal with kids: “Hold On to Your Kids”
He also has great youtube videos lecturing on these topics. You can glean a lot from those alone.
We are staring an at home biofeedback program for our daughter. The one we are using is called HeartMath. It was recommended by our neurologist. It helps them learn how to regulate their heart rate under stress. Our local Children’s hospital has a program you can enroll in, but we are doing it at home due to covid. They have lots of at home ones for even younger kids, where it uses a game to help them figure out how to calm down their heart rate during stressful parts of the game. It can be very helpful for anxiety and that is why we are going to be trying it. Our daughter has a chronic illness and anxiety is definitely an issue due to this.. We’ve done many things to bring it down, meditation (5 minute ones) and listening, and all have helped a lot. You are definitely on the right track. We have the worry book as well, and its super helpful. There are many tools out there and I thought it may be helpful to suggest biofeedback. Our doctor has seen a lot of benefit to her patients using it. Best wishes to you and your daughter