Letters From A Mum Abroad: Habitual Worries

Should you correct your child's habits even at the expense of adding to their anxiety?

Isabel has a healthy dose of anxiety to go along with her ADD. And what comes with that anxiety are a string of idiosyncrasies or habits. These habits are consistent, when one ends, a new one begins. Sometimes there’ll be two at a time, but there’s always something. 

I constantly worry about how others, especially kids at school, will react to her habits. I often have to fight the need to tell her to stop doing something. Not because it’s bad for her, but because I’m concerned about her getting picked on. But to point it out will only add more anxiety to something that began because of anxiety in the first place.
Obsessively washing hands, jutting her jaw out every 20 seconds , needing to close doors, turning lights off and on, blowing on her fingertips, compulsively clearing her throat, and her new one, spitting. 

She is overly aware of saliva gathering in her mouth and has to spit it out into the sink or tissues. It’s a textual thing. There are times when she’s talking that the spit gathers at the corners of her mouth and looks, well, gross. This happened a couple of nights ago while I was tucking her in at bedtime. This time I couldn’t stay silent.

“I understand why you have your habits, but I also feel you need to be aware that when you are talking to someone and you have saliva coming out the sides of your mouth, it doesn’t look very nice.”

I felt bad as soon as the words left my mouth. And the look she gave me intensified my guilt complex. “You always say you understand but if you do why do you say not nice things about my habits?” she asked me. 

I said “I do understand your habits. But it’s also important for you to understand them too. Some habits may not affect the people around you and that’s fine, but there are times when your habits are very obvious and I feel it’s my job to let you know not everybody will understand or like them.”

“If a kid picks his nose, and his parents didn’t tell him that it was inappropriate to do in public and he did it in class, what do you think his classmates would say to him?” She answered instantly “that it’s gross and disgusting.” 

“So do you think his parents should explain to him, even if it’s something that he may not like hearing, that his habit is not socially polite before he gets picked on so he can decide if it’s something he should or shouldn’t do in public?”

She thought about it for a few seconds then hugged me and said “I’m glad you’re that type of parent, Mommy.” Sometimes it pays to pick on your kid.

Signing off,