How to Parent an Anxious Six-year-old


Running across the bridge, I was smugly satisfied with the start of 2021. I was feeling particularly satisfied with myself after a rough start to the morning. As I ran, I marveled at how I had this parenting thing down. I even went so far as to start crafting my next post ironically, on parenting an anxious child. I, the newfound guru of parenting an anxious 6-year-old, would impart my wisdom. I had surprised myself at what a natural spiritual teacher I had been for my son that morning.

My son woke up distraught that he had to go to school. It was the second day at a new school and the second day of real school since last March. I had missed the first-day drop-off taking my mom to her immunotherapy treatment, but by all accounts, things had gone well.

The next morning I was knocked off balance when the tears and the fear oozed out of my son as he said he could not go back.

But, I rallied.

We talked about intentions, we said a mantra, we lit an intention candle and blew it out, we howled like werewolves and whispered we can do this. We said with conviction, “we can be brave”, and we howled louder as we proclaimed, “today’s going to be a great day.” I dropped my son off after one last howl in the car drop-off line. Then I congratulated myself on my patience, creativity, and empathy in handling the new school transition. I thought I had nailed it…

Just as I was sitting down to write, the phone rang. On the other end was the guidance counselor with news that perhaps I shouldn’t embark on a career path as a kindergarten whisperer just yet.

There had been an incident, actually two. Could I come to the school?

In the school office, I stared at my son who wore clothes I didn’t recognize and a soggy mask. Tears leaked out of his eyes as he tried to blink them back.

I knew those eyes. I knew that struggle. At sixteen, I spent lunch hidden in the bathroom blinking back tears rather than face the lunchroom alone. Having moved mid-year to a new school and a new state, I knew the heartbreak of loneliness and the shame of shyness.

I wondered how to help my son find courage. It had taken me weeks to find it at 16. I stood suspended in the not knowing. I had no howls to offer or mantras to say. He was choking back tears and I was paralyzed. Afraid to act. Afraid to not act. So afraid I would do the wrong thing. The kindness of his counselor prompted me to simply take him home and try again.

We left hand in hand and didn’t say much. While he soaked in the tub my mind whirled.

Should I have made him stay? Should I make him go back? Will he be permanently damaged? Will I? Does he need a smaller school? Does he need more discipline?

I spun out. For what seemed like ages.

Then I simply, asked him what he needed. He said he was scared and he didn’t know anyone. I said I know and we snuggled on the couch.

And I did know.

I remember crying broken-hearted in the girl’s bathroom as it seemed like my whole world was unraveling.

I told him I knew. We left it at that. He played with his guys and seemed unscathed as I kept scanning him for signs of permanent emotional damage.

The weeks that followed were a struggle. Every night he cried. Every night I privately cried. Every morning he cried. Every morning we lit the candle and he whispered in the back of the car, “I will be brave,” into his mask while tears seeped out the sides.

Every day I ran the bridge and prayed for courage for us both. What I did not realize is we did not need just courage. What we needed was something far more powerful. We needed kindness.

Kindness came in the guise of his guidance counselor. She began meeting us and walking him into class. That seemed to help.

I asked him why?

And what he said struck me.

It helped because he knew someone kind was looking for him. It helped him to know that someone kind had their eyes on him.

Isn’t that what we all want? To know that someone kind sees us. To know that someone kind is willing to walk beside us. That even if they can’t carry our burden just their presence and their kindness makes the load lighter.

We can bear anything if we know we are seen through kind eyes.

My mother’s cancer recurrence has been hard. I have been able to do little other than show up and walk with her as she bravely faces treatment, scans, setbacks, and moments of joy and gratitude. I bear witness and do little else. Hopefully, it lightens the load.

Raising a sensitive child is hard. No one gives you a playbook. Somedays all you know to do is just show up and try to look at the child in front of you.

Not the child the books describe or make comparisons with your other children, but look at the being in front of you who is different and unique and try and show up for that child.

After days of fretting and steeping in my anxiety. It occurred to me that I was looking at our situation all wrong.

The universe was not making my son tougher. It was making him kinder. It was giving him a first-hand account of kindness in action. He was learning that we can do hard things. That we must do hard things but we don’t have to do them alone.

Every morning his counselor showed up to walk alongside him. Knowing she was there was a gift for us both.

He learned a lesson in kindness in his first weeks of kindergarten because he was shown kindness on those walks to class. If he learns nothing else this year, that will be enough.

While we all have to face our own Goliath, slaying the giant doesn’t seem quite so challenging when we know the world is not entirely made up of Philistines.

One kind soul in our camp gives us the strength to soldier on.

What a gift the universe gives humankind that we can impact change through kindness.

I realized that the angst I felt on how to parent a unique child could not be soothed by a book. I could not find answers on how to cure anxiety from a youtube tutorial and my foray as a spiritual guide had backfired.

I had ended up howling like a crazy person and setting the house ablaze with candles to no avail. At the end of the day, I still had a weepy six-year-old.

Eventually, I stopped trying to fix things and trusted that the walk my anxious son was on was his walk.

That the lessons that he learned along this particular rough patch would serve a greater purpose.

Though I wanted to take away all his pain I realized I could not. To do so would be robbing him of courage and kindness.

So, How do you raise an anxious child? With kindness.

How do you raise yourself? With kindness.

How do we raise the world’s vibration? With kindness.

Oh, and with humility. More often than not we will not get it quite right.

When our best attempts and howls of bravery end in tears, it helps to remember that bravery is found not in the howling and the shouting, but in the courage to keep going and the knowledge that there are kind eyes upon us.