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When my kid gets anxious, I do too

Jen Oliak

Yesterday at school, my son was accidentally hit in the face by the sharp side of a water container when a friend threw it toward him.

Blood was gushing out, but he didn’t cry. We went to urgent care and he remained calm. He was a bit nervous in the waiting room about the stitches hurting, though no more nervous than any kid would be. But he was worried he wouldn’t be able to get his backpack from school. When he was all stitched up, we rushed over before the 4 p.m. front office closing time to grab his backpack. When we got there at 3:50 p.m., the doors were locked.

This is when Jake panicked.

“Mom! The door is locked!”

“They must have left early, Jake. You’ll have to pick it up tomorrow morning. It’s ok.”

“No! I need you to call the school and tell them to open the door! I will get a missed homework stamp! Call them and tell them I need my backpack!”

“I can’t call them, Jake. They left for the day. You will not get a missed homework stamp, I promise.”

“I need to go through the back of the school and get my backpack! I need my work for my test on Friday! I have to get my backpack! Why did they leave early? Didn’t they know I was coming to get my backpack?!”

“Jake, calm down.”

“Isn’t there someone we can call who is still at school?!”

“No. There isn’t. Stop. Let it go.”

“But mom…”

“I said stop! You cannot get your backpack today! You’re driving me crazy with your questions and over again!”

I’m Mother of the Year.

If you as a parent have anxiety, it’s likely your child will cause you anxiety when they exhibit stress. I’m sharing this because anxiety comes in different forms and at random times. As parents, we need to be self reflective of our “poor parenting moments” to effectively raise our kids.

I am not good at handling my son when he exhibits negative behaviors I struggle with myself. And when his behavior triggers my anxiety, I fail big.

My therapist recommended “What to Do When You Worry Too Much” to read with kids to help them cope with anxiety. But I think half the battle is recognizing this. In talking to my therapist, I realized that instead of reacting, I could have identified the anxious feeling was happening and shown empathy. “I understand why you are upset because you really wanted your homework,” I might have said. I could have even had a counter conversation. “Why do you think you will get a missing homework stamp when you had to leave school injured and didn’t have a chance to get your backpack? Do you really think your teacher would punish you for getting hit in the face and the office closing early? Do you think if we explain what happened, she would understand?”

Once he’d calmed, we could have talked about how to handle moment of anxiety like that.

Of course, these are all easier to reflect on in hindsight. It all seems like common sense. But sometimes things are foggy in the moment. We can only do our best.

Jen Oliak writes at, where this post was originally published.

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