Childhood Anxiety at Christmas
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year”, well that is according to a very well-known Christmas song by Andy Williams.
In our house and I suspect a great many houses where there are children who have Autism and/or struggle with anxiety, Christmas can be one giant nightmare!
Growing up I absolutely loved Christmas, the idea of Santa, writing off my letter, the anticipation, the visitors, the weeks off school, I loved it all!
I wanted the same for my own children. I never imagined for a second that Christmas in my own home would be a minefield of panic attacks, anxiety and meltdowns. It has taken me until this year 2018 to finally realize what had been going on with my third child every Christmas.
I was fully aware of the meltdowns, the anxiety attacks, the crying and hiding out in his bedroom. It just didn’t click with me until the New Year of 2018 as to the reasons behind it all.
If you didn’t know already, I have 4 children, my two middle children have Autism among other diagnosis.
My third child Jack suffers a great deal with anxiety and panic attacks. If you ever meet him, look down at hislittle hands and you will see he has physically bitten away skin on his hands, and has created welts on his fingers where he continually bites in the same areas when his worries get too big.
Over the last number of years Christmas has played out the same here in our house. Christmas Eve, Jack will not sleep a wink, he will continuously get out of his bed all night long, check the front door is locked and ensures the living room door is closed. (What I didn’t realise until this year is that he was checking that Santa couldn’t get in the front door and couldn’t get out of the living room if he did come down the chimney.) He was terrified!
By Christmas morning he may have nodded off for an hour or so. He will get up with Hailey and Conor, go to the living room super happy. He will open his presents, and as he continues to open presents; I see the panic starting, the confusion and the anxiety rising. He will start biting his little hands and start walking in and out of the living room. (Looking back now I do think this is the stage where he becomes overwhelmed with excitement with each present he opens, he just can’t process it all together).
Eventually the vocal stimming will start, I can’t put into words what it sounds like but it reminds me of a whinging noise but it sounds as though it is coming from his tummy, it is a very unusual guttural sound. He will start to sweat, and his eyes are darting all over the place. His face will have become very red.
At this point I know I must get as many toys and gifts from Santa away from him. I start to tidy away all his presents and decide on which one to leave out for him to look at when he is ready.
He starts crying his eyes out; he goes to his bedroom and lies under his bed covers crying his little heart out. He will keep repeating “Happy Christmas” or “lovely Christmas Mammy”. All the while crying. It is utterly heart breaking as a mother to watch this unfold and be powerless in that moment to help him.
Usually by now Hailey will have tided up her toys so there are not too many hanging around in front of Jack and Conor will be playing in his room with his toys.
When it is close to Christmas Dinner Time, Jack will come out of his room looking exhausted and very on edge. After dinner he will have started to relax a little with his Ipad and will have his desert. I try not to mention Santa or his presents to him.
I usually encourage him to come sit with me on the couch; and we can “relax” as he calls it. I will read stories with him and if he seems interested sometimes he will look at his new present from Santa while the rest are hidden away.
If I am lucky he will look at one of his presents on Christmas Day and will start to calm by night time, but mostly it will take a few days more before he will start to look at his presents and start to relax a little into our new routine while off school.
After another disastrous Christmas Day last year I decided in January 2018 I would make a big effort this year to help Jack as much as I could this year so he might enjoy Christmas for the first time, hopefully without anxiety or self-harming.
Later this week I will be uploading a new Blog which will have advice from Parents of children who struggle with anxiety. It will include information on what has worked for them, I will also be including changes I will be making this year in advance of Christmas to help Jack.
If you have been following the blog you will know that this year I have been proactively creating Social Stories and Countdown Printables in the hope they will help Jack and children around the world, who struggle with anxiety at Christmas time.
I will link the various printables that are FREE to down below.
If you have any suggestions or recommendations I would be so grateful to hear them as I just want to have a Christmas for Jack where he isn’t self-harming, hiding out in his room.
Thank you as always for your help and for reading my posts.