The Anxiety Monster



Tonight, my 8 year old had a full blown anxiety attack.

Tears streamed down his face. He tried to express to me, through stuttering sobs, that he was scared of failing. My heart broke for him, as we share this struggle. It is not something I would ever want my child to have to deal with.

The subject was a book he’d checked out from the library. He had chosen one with a five point value, a full point higher than he usually checked out. This was a series he was familiar with, having checked out others from the public library. It’s a popular series that is set up like a comic.

At some point he’d realized that this book was considerably thicker than others that he’d read and tested on at school. He felt that there was no way he would be able to retain the information in order to be able to pass his test.

This book was too big. This was a mistake. He was going to fail. He would not get his points for the week. He would not be allowed to participate in the Fun Friday events with all his friends.

I asked him to take a few deep breaths with me in an effort to calm down. This is something we’ve done regularly since he was a toddler. Honestly, I’m not sure if it started more for him or for me. It works either way.

Then we set to breaking down the issue into smaller, more concise statements. By the time we were done, it had been decided that he would take a break and we’d have dinner. Afterwards, he was welcome to read the book again if he felt up to it.

I reminded him that he had 3 days to read it and test. That he could choose not to test at all, but that if he tested then he at least had a chance to earn something toward his points for the week. However, this was an opportunity to think about if he was really ready to move up a point level or if this book was unusually large because of the amount of pictures.

(I’m going to follow up with his teacher on this).

So the plan went off without a hitch. I do not know if he is going to attempt to test on this book. I’m going to leave the decision up to him. This is not a life or death situation. It will only affect his eligibility to wear a t-shirt & jeans on Friday instead of a uniform, and participate in a few extra activities.

He was terrified of the thought of failing. He was overwhelmed by the idea that this was out of his control because there was no way he could change the outcome. I know how all of these things feel. I am intimately familiar with them.

I had my annual review at work this last Friday. I had known it was going to happen in the next week or so. My boss called me to his office. As I walked back, the thoughts started swirling around in my brain like black smoke, clouding my ability to see what was really happening.

You’re making way too many mistakes. You should know better; you’ve been here long enough. Your coworkers aren’t as social with you as they are with each other. There’s no telling what your peer reviews said. They always fire people on Friday.

As it turns out, I’m a pretty good judge of where I excel and where I can improve. We set some goals and outlined a plan. It was a very positive conversation. But by the end, I’d hit my limit and began to get teary. I hate crying in front of people. I hate feeling vulnerable. But in situations like that, it’s my release. It’s my most basic coping mechanism.

Tonight, I was able to help my son. Those are the moments where I feel the most like I’m actually getting this parenting thing right.


Anxiety Monster by Toby Allen.


3 thoughts on “The Anxiety Monster

  1. Pingback: Miles To Go – Take These Chances

  2. Wow! You are so on track with your parenting of your son and being able to respond positively and sensitively to his stress. How wonderful that you have been able to turn this into a teachable moment for him so that he will learn the coping mechanisms for life at an early age. Loved this piece!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so very much! I really appreciate your comments – parenting is such a (second) guessing game sometimes. It’s always been my goal to teach kiddo that our feelings aren’t good or bad – they simply exist, and that we have to learn to recognize them in order to not let them overwhelm us. I’m trying to pass along how to “use your tools” (hello, therapy!) in the hopes that he’ll have an easier time than I did.

      Liked by 1 person

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