Celebrate the Small Victories – Parenting the Anxious Child


Last night my three year old went to sleep with socks on. That’s not really an odd thing is it?  It’s January and we live in Saskatchewan.  The thing is she didn’t go to bed with socks on to keep her feet warm.  She went to bed with socks on because I urged her to wear them.  And, thankfully, she agreed.

Why?  My daughter has anxiety. I’ve written about it before on my blog and will continue to write about it.  Not just because it’s therapeutic for me (which it is) but also because I love my daughter.  Exactly how she is.  And she has anxiety.  It doesn’t define her.  But it’s there and I am not embarrassed or ashamed of it.  And I don’t want her to be either.

So back to the socks. My daughter’s anxiety is ever changing.  One month it’s about lip gloss.  The next it’s about shoes.  Right now it’s about string and finger/toe nails. She is a nail biter.  Sounds “normal” for someone with anxiety right?  Well sure.  But for her the nail biting is not a symptom of her anxiety.  She doesn’t do it because she’s stressed or anxious.  For her it’s the nails that are actually triggering her anxiety.  She’s going through a very “tactile” phase.  She will panic about loose strings on her clothing.  And jagged nails, or a hang nail are a BIG deal.  So, she bites them.  Now if you are a nail biter, or even if you’re not, you know that biting your nails does not result in nice smooth nails.  So around and around we go. I now carry nail clippers with me at all times (turns out they are also great for clipping those pesky lose strings).

It started with finger nails.  It has now spread to toe nails.  Once she is satisfied that her finger nails are free of “pointy things” she moves on to the toe nails.  At first she will just pick at them.  But if that doesn’t work she will use her teeth. Gross right? Yes.  Although in reality her feet are in her own socks and shoes the entire day so they are actually less germy than her hands. But still.

So last night I had a victory.  And really so did she.  I was putting her to bed and she went through her ritual of checking her finger nails.  I clipped what needed to be clipped (most of the time I just fake it to be honest). Then she moved on to the toes.  When I suggested that we put socks on her so she wouldn’t fuss with her toes I never really expected her to agree.  But she did.  And I could actually sense the relief in her voice when she said “yes mommy, we can put socks on.”

She knows that her obsession with her nails isn’t “right”.  She really does.  Some days she vows “I’m never going to bite my nails again.” But 30 seconds later she’s right back at it.  It’s not her fault.  I know that.  It doesn’t mean I don’t get frustrated about it.  I do. It’s time consuming.  It’s distracting.  It’s not fun.  The other night we were at the movies and I had to get up with her in the middle of the movie and take her out of the theatre so we had enough light for me to clip a nail that was consuming every last bit of her attention.

I know that eventually this will pass.  I also know that it will be replaced with something else.  It’s just how this goes. In the mean time I will celebrate the small victories with my daughter.  Like wearing socks to bed.

Comments (5)

  • My oldest is very sensitive to all the ‘little things’ or so we call them. Even as a baby, I remember cutting the tags off of clothing and having to find socks that did not have a ‘sew’ line on the toes. He is also a nail biter – BIG time! Including his toe nails :p Everyday is a challenge, but everyday also brings so much excitement and mystery to our household. I know it can be challenging…a lot of the time but, with these challenges comes so much enlightenment. Right now for us, our biggest challenge would be hair brushing and having spotless clothing. So we change a million times a day and we reward for the brushing…patience right? Hang in there!

    P.S Did you know most of these children are highly intelligent? Bonus in light of the small things 🙂

  • Oh boy I can relate. My five year old girl is a nail chewer, and much to my dismay and disgust, a nose picker now too. The nose picking just started recently. My doc said the two often go hand in hand, so that’s something you may be dealing with soon yourself. I don’t have any great advice to offer offer other than I don’t make a big deal of the nail chewing. I just tell her it is not good for her nails and when it’s gone on a long time I tell her to stop and she listens. But the nose picking bothers me and as soon as I see it I ask her to stop, and she does. But of course I am sure she does it when I’m not around ugh. My girl has always been anxious and prone to neurotic behavior.

  • My son, he’s 7, is autistic and our problem is completely opposite. It’s a struggle to cut his nails or hair. I actually have to hold him while I or someone close to him cuts his nails. Sometimes I too get frustrated but then I realize his is super smart and I love him the way he is. We have to take the bad to get the good and that’s what make each and every kid individuals.

    Amanda Abundiz
  • Love reading this and appreciate you sharing your lovely little girl’s individual characteristics. This is the beautiful thing about us humans, we are all so different — in our own ways and I think instead of looking at certain traits in our children that we think need work, we embrace and like what you said… celebrate the small victories. Great job, mom!

  • Molly is so lucky to have such a patient and understanding Mother and you are so lucky to have such an intelligent and caring daughter. You two were made for each other. Here’s to all of Molly victories, big and small.

    Besos, Sarah

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