4 Reasons Anxious Kids Have Trouble Getting Started

Kids Have Trouble Getting Started

No Magic Tricks Here

Like so many challenges our kids face, I cannot wave a magic wand and change my daughter's underlying neurology. I hate that my kid struggles with Anxiety and has trouble getting started. I wish I could just make it go away! That's not likely to happen. But I CAN help her learn to manage it better. And she is the best person to guide me to do just that.

In fact, if we pay attention, our kids will tell us exactly how to help them! Trust me, mine is not the only kid who has trouble getting started!

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Why Getting Started Is SO Hard

A Brief Response Can Go A Long Way

In completing a questionnaire for her HS guidance counselor, my daughter's brief response to the question, “What kinds of things in school are difficult for you?” gave me a huge amount of information to help her learn to manage her anxiety. She gave me her permission to share her response with you:

“It is really hard for me to start something. For instance, this questionnaire was really hard to get going on. Starting something has so many steps to it. It sets up whatever project you are working on. Starting something holds the majority of anxiety. Starting a test, research project, etc. The beginning sets up the course of the project. The fact that I like doing things right, makes starting really scary.”

Right on target! My daughter identified several key areas that are stumbling blocks for her. So what's my job in the face of that? To help her come up with strategies to address each of them (one at a time!), and figure out what role I can play, if any.

There are short term and long term strategies for managing anxiety, perfectionism, and many of the other challenges our kids face. Hopefully, if I play my cards right, I'll be part of the short-term solutions, and she'll be in charge of the long term.

Let's look at the challenges she identified:

The Challenge: "It is really hard for me to start something."

How I Can help:

  • It will help my daughter a lot if I understand that this is actually difficult for her. My compassion and understanding is important so that she does not end up feeling judged or scolded for something that's really hard for her, even if it seems like it should be easy.
  • This helps me set a reasonable expectation for the level of help she needs to get started. I can help her come up with structures that she can use to get herself going, and get her permission to remind her, when appropriate, to “get on task.” This way, I'm her ally, not her task-master! When I say to her, “Have you gotten started?” or “Do you need some help getting going?” she doesn't feel scolded, she feels understood.

The Challenge: "Starting something has so many steps to it."

How I Can Help:

  • When I help her identify the many steps in a process or project, and break it down into chunks, it doesn't seem as overwhelming. This may be as simple as talking it out with her, or actually writing it down so that she can see it visually. When her homework feels overwhelming and she needs to see it “mapped” out, I help her plan it out step by step (including time estimations). Sometimes she needs that level of involvement from me, and sometimes she just needs to “think it out loud.” With the college questionnaire, she actually needed me to be her “scribe” for the more challenging questions, though most of it she did on her own (it was LONG!).

The Challenge: "It sets up whatever project you are working on."

How I Can Help:

  • I can help her “get her head around a project.” Her concern, here, is only partially about the structure of the project, which is supported by the sequencing and planning addressed in the last challenge. It's also about her desire for excellence – she wants to do it well. If she takes the time to set get ready, she'll do better – but that's hard for her to do, so she's worried she might not do it very well. So if I can help her avoid “fearing forward” (“What if I don't do it right?”) and stay practical, she can stay grounded enough to create a plan. Often this is handled by talking to her about what she's trying to accomplish, or what's important about it to her.

The Challenge: "I like doing things right."

How I Can Help:

  • It's my job to teach my child with “perfectionist” tendencies that sometimes “good enough” is just that. Everything doesn't need to be perfect. Some kids need to be encouraged to seek excellence, others need to understand that there is a difference between excellence and perfection. Sometimes – like with a college counselor's questionnaire – done beats perfect. She needs to hear that from me – a lot!

Straight From The Source

As you can see, my daughter's simple answer on a LONG college questionnaire gave me a lot of food for thought. In fact, it gave me guidance straight from the “horse's mouth” to know how to help and support her most effectively.

So that's the underlying message here: If kids have trouble getting started, they can tell us exactly how to help them. We just have to remember to find compassion for the fact that it really is hard for them to do things that we think should be simple. It stinks that they struggle with some of the challenges they face, and the more we understand them, the better we can help.

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