Until they were VERY different.
My son had an obsessive level of focus by 18 months old. He wasn’t playing with his toys, he was watching how they worked – the way the wheels turned and how those wheels contacted various surfaces. He would use his toys to do the same 3-4 repetitive movements….for 2 hours! I wanted to poke my eyes out while his quiet curiosity never wavered.
By 4yo my son was asking me 5-10x/day, “What are we doing next?” I used to joke about getting him a daytimer and calendar for his room even though he couldn’t read. It was funny until his preschool teachers noticed it too.
By age 8, it was obvious my instinct he was different was true.
His teachers recommended having his cognitive and emotional function assessed and the results were telling – almost gifted IQ, highly sensitive with advanced emotional intelligence, mild OCD, social and performance anxiety. Ugh. What did this mean for my otherwise happy and highly compliant little boy?
Our regular coping strategies of reasoning and redirecting weren’t working anymore.
Our son was getting stuck in ‘software loops’ and it felt like trying to reason with a drunk as we’d go around and around in circles with his brain clenched down like a bear trap on the same irrational thought.
By 10 years old our son was having 2-3 hour anxiety attacks every weekend with a growing need to be physical and vocal during those times. My husband would sit quietly on his bedroom floor while he paced around yelling in the same circular thought pattern.
What had I done wrong? Had I ruined this gorgeous little human?
My motherhood fairy tale was crashing down on me and all I could do was cry. I didn’t know how to help him in his greatest times of need, and I was certain it was all my fault. If I’d been a better mom this wouldn’t be happening.
His teachers were our angels, attending extra Professional Development and always remaining compassionate and patient with him during his remaining 4 years at the elementary school.
Then I started to see how he and I were the same.
My mind could be like a bear trap too. I would get stuck on emotions and struggled to let go no matter what I tried. I felt really calm in an uncluttered and clean space. I got easily stressed when my day was too full, or my schedule went awry. Was this anxiety??
The more I looked at myself and my lineage, I saw a clear pattern of anxiety. I learned about my own triggers and behaviours so I could better support my son. I read about the physiology and neurology of the brain for 2 years to understand how anxiety worked and most importantly, I forgave myself for not seeing what I thought was ‘normal’.
Anxiety is part of who we are. It doesn’t define or limit us.
Homework was overwhelming and created years of stress for our son. His OCD created a singular pace with no multi-tasking. In his later high school years, he found study habits to combat the evening panic attacks and got his work done with time to have a rich social life too. We negotiated the same courses with more spares to lower stress making his graduation year much more enjoyable.
We talk about mental health in our house like you would meal plans. We talk about how anxiety skews the truth and hijacks our brains some days. We talk about coping techniques like breathing, meditation, exercise, food, supplements, EFT, and prayer. We give each other space to be anxious and don’t judge each other when it shows up.
Our first-born son, now 19, graduated with honours last year and is now pursuing his passion for digital arts in photography and videography.
Maybe your teen isn’t being dramatic.
Part of my work is helping other families remove the stigma of mental health challenges and understand loving and effective ways to manage life when they show up. Since I’ve fully owned my anxiety and share openly, I often translate tough emotions for teens to their parents so they can better understand the experience and get the help they need.
You’re not alone in this.
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