Natasha Daniels Talks About Anxiety and OCD in Kids
Many members of the Tilt community requested that I bring child anxiety and OCD therapist Natasha Daniels onto the show, so I’m excited to be sharing this episode with you. Natasha is mom to three kids with anxiety and OCD, the author of Anxiety Sucks: A Teen Survival Guide, How to Parent Your Anxious Toddler, Social Skills Activities for Kids and It’s Brave to Be Kind. She’s also the creator of ATParentingSurvival.com, the Youtube channel “Ask the Child Therapist” and the host of The AT Parenting Survival Podcast.
In this conversation, we look at anxiety and OCD in kids — how they’re similar, how they’re different, the common and not as recognized ways OCD shows up and why it’s sometimes misdiagnosed, what anxiety and OCD might look like in younger kids, and best practices for supporting kids with anxiety and /or OCD.
I love this episode because I was that parent who completely missed the fact that my own child was struggling with anxiety because I had a completely different idea of what it looked like. As you’ll hear Natasha explain, my experience wasn’t unusual. I hope that this episode is helpful in broadening our definitions of anxiety and OCD in kids, and maybe even connecting some dots for listeners.
About Natasha Daniels
Natasha Daniels is a child anxiety & OCD therapist, and mom to three kids with anxiety & OCD. She is the author of Anxiety Sucks: A Teen Survival Guide, How to Parent Your Anxious Toddler, Social Skills Activities for Kids and It’s Brave to Be Kind.
She is the creator of ATParentingSurvival.com, the Youtube channel, Ask the Child Therapist and the host of The AT Parenting Survival Podcast. She offers parents worldwide resources on how to help kids with anxiety or OCD through her online AT Parenting Survival school.
Her work has been featured in various places including Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, PsychCentral, The Child Mind Institute and The Mighty.
Things you’ll learn from this episode
- How Natasha defines OCD and some of the ways it shows up that we might not recognize
- Why there are many OCD misdiagnoses and how it sometimes gets missed completely
- Whether OCD is a spectrum and how common is it in kids
- The early indicators of OCD for younger kids that parents can look out for
- Steps parents can take if they’re noticing OCD symptoms in their children
- How OCD and anxiety are related and how they differ from each other
- The ways in which medication can support children with OCD
- How anxiety can show up in a child and ways parents can best navigate the journey of raising an anxious kid
Resources mentioned for parenting anxiety and OCD in kids
- Breaking Free of Childhood Anxiety and OCD: A Scientifically Proven Program for Parents by Dr. Eli Lebowitz
- Filmmaker Chris Baier Helps Families Get Unstuck from OCD (Tilt Parenting Podcast)
- UNSTUCK: An OCD Kids Movie (Available with Spanish, French, Russian, Greek, Portuguese subtitles and an audio description)
Special message from our sponsor
Progress Parade specializes in one-on-one online tutoring for differently wired kids through executive functioning coaching, Orton-Gillingham and Wilson instruction, specialized math tutoring, and educational therapy. Visit progressparade.com/tilt to learn how TiLT subscribers can claim a free tutoring or educational therapy session! Based on your child’s unique needs, Progress Parade will hand-pick a specialist to turn learning challenges into superpowers in the classroom.
Visit progressparade.com/tilt to learn more about receiving a free session. Join the Progress Parade!
Debbie Reber 00:00
Progress Parade provides one on one online tutoring for differently wired kids through executive functioning coaching, specialized reading and math, tutoring and educational therapy. Tilt listeners can claim a free session at progressparade.com/tilt. Come join the Progress Parade!
Natasha Daniels 00:19
A lot of times intuitively, as a parent, we think if I can just not have my child triggered, then they’re going to be okay if I can have my child with sensorimotor OCD, just go to the bathroom, whenever she feels like it or guarantee or that there’s a bathroom, it will go away. Or if I can tell my child you’re not a bad kid, you didn’t see the afterward don’t worry about it, that it will just go away and, and sadly, the more we intuitively just reassure our kids, or we accommodate them by giving them access to whatever they need to do for their compulsion. The OCD grows.
Debbie Reber 00:51
Welcome to Tilt Parenting, a podcast featuring interviews and conversations aimed at inspiring, informing and supporting parents raising differently wired kids. I’m your host Debbie Reber. Many members of the Tilt community requested that I bring child anxiety and OCD therapist Natasha Daniels onto the show so I’m excited to be sharing this episode with you. Natasha is mom to three kids with anxiety and OCD the author of Anxiety Sucks: A Teen Survival Guide, How to Parent Your Anxious Toddler, Social Skills: Activities for Kids, and It’s Brave to Be Kind. She’s also the creator of AT Parenting Survival, the YouTube channel Ask the Therapist, and the host of the AT Parenting Survival podcast. Natasha has been featured in the Huffington Post, Scary Mama, Psych Central, The Child Mind Institute, and The Mighty. So in this conversation, we look at OCD and anxiety, how they’re similar how they’re different. The common and not so recognized ways it was CD shows up and why it’s sometimes misdiagnosed. What OCD and anxiety might look like in younger kids and best practices for supporting kids with anxiety or OCD. I really love this episode because I was that parent who completely missed the fact that my own child was struggling with anxiety because I had a totally different idea of what it actually looked like. As you’re hearing Natasha explain, my experience was not unusual. So I hope that this episode is helpful in broadening our definitions of anxiety and OCD and maybe even connect some dots for listeners. Before I get to our conversation, a reminder that one of my most favorite annual events for parents of differently wired kids. The Bright & Quirky Summit is happening this week, and it’s not too late to sign up for this free event. The lineup includes Mona Delahooke, Barry Prizant, Michele Borba, Ned Hollowell, Nicole Tetreault, Susan Baum, David Finch, Amanda Morin, just so many of my favorite experts in the differently wired parenting space. I also recorded a special conversation with Dan Peters of The Summit Center that I’m really excited to share. To sign up and dive in right away. Just go to tiltparenting.com/quirky That’s tiltparenting.com/quirky. Alright, here is my conversation with Natasha.
Debbie Reber 03:25
Hey, Natasha, welcome to the podcast.
Natasha Daniels 03:27
Yeah. Thanks for having me on. I appreciate it.
Debbie Reber 03:30
Yes, you are a requested guest by the way, you were already on my list of people that I needed to have on the show. And then I got a couple emails even in the past couple months, maybe because anxiety is I imagine skyrocketing right now. But people really wanted to hear from you. So I’m excited to be having you on the show.
Natasha Daniels 03:47
Wow. That’s nice to hear.
Debbie Reber 03:48
Yeah, you’ve got fans out there. So can you tell me a little bit about just your work in the world? I’ve already read your bio, but talk more just about your sweet spot and your why for doing the work that you do?
Natasha Daniels 04:01
Sure. So I am an anxiety and OCD child therapist. And I did have a private practice which we recently closed and provide online resources for parents who are raising kids with anxiety or OCD of all ages. I do have three kids with anxiety and OCD. So I kind of eat live and breathe it. And I grew up with anxiety myself. But ironically, I went into this before I had my first child. So it happened kind of backwards. So a lot of people think I got into this because of my kids but actually it was just the universe laughing at me. So my why is like my dad was severely mentally ill and so I went into my graduate program thinking I was going to help adults. And they kept putting me accidentally in key programs. And then I fell in love with kids. So that was kind of the beginning.
Natasha Daniels 04:50
So I have to ask you a question then. Before I started Tilt I used to write books for teens self help empowerment books for teens. And so I kind of assumed that I’d really know what I was doing by the time I got to parenting a teenager. I’m just wondering, you started this before you had kids? Did you feel really prepared to handle whatever came up? And has that borne out?
Natasha Daniels 05:16
No. Is that the short answer, which I think it’s probably for all of us. Like, it’s, it’s one thing to know what to do. And it’s another thing to like, be living it. And being a parent and having those parental emotions. And sometimes I actually, I think it makes it even harder, because like, intellectually, I know what to do, but then to carry it out. Because the parent role is really tricky.
Debbie Reber 05:39
Yeah, I remember the first time I shared one of my teen books with my teenager and they were like, that’s really nice, Mom, thanks. You know, there was no like, yeah, this really resonates. I’m like, I’ve gotten letters from teens before, but didn’t did not connect with my own in the same way.
Natasha Daniels 05:59
I had the same conversation with my 18 year old recently, when she was having an anxiety attack. And I was telling her how to get through. And she’s like, Yeah, that doesn’t work for me. Well, it works for a lot of other people. But you know, there are kids. And so that’s the difference. Yeah, exactly.
Debbie Reber 06:15
So you have this dual focus, and it’s probably even more than that. But I know you mentioned OCD, and anxiety. And if you’re okay with that, I’d love to spend a little time talking about each of those. I have done only one episode on OCD in the past. And it was with Chris Baier, who had done a documentary about OCD. And his work is great. His film was great. And I love how empowering it was for kids to kind of speak to their experience and see their experience reflected on the screen. But as a way to get into that conversation. Could you kind of beyond what the acronym stands for, you know, obsessive compulsive disorder? Could you tell us really what OCD is like and how you describe it to people?
Natasha Daniels 07:01
You know, I think the saddest part is that most people don’t understand what OCD is. And I’m sure Chris did a really good job in his episode explaining it. But it’s really, in a nutshell, having an intrusive thought, feeling or image that gets stuck in your head, and then the need to do something or avoid something to get brief relief. And the more you do that thing, the more those intrusive thoughts or feelings grow. So it’s a vicious loop. And I think the reason why people don’t understand OCD is because that framework can have many, many different looks and different themes that are vastly different. And so OCD can wear many, many hats. And most of us think it only wears one hat, where it’s like a germ hat or a neurotic cat. And that’s just not the case.
Debbie Reber 07:45
Can you give us an example of a way it might look that we might not expect because yeah, you’re right, we think about those repetitive patterns or being worried about germs, which I again, I’m thinking and COVID it might have been really tricky for people with OCD. But what are some other ways that it shows up that we may not recognize,
Natasha Daniels 08:03
will pick some less known ones like moral OCD, or scrupulosity OCD, you can have an intrusive thought that I’m a bad person, or I’m going to so the the core fear could be like, I’m going to go to hell, or if they’re not religious, it could be, nobody’s gonna love me, I’m going to wind up alone. And the compulsion might be, and these are just really general, it can show up differently for other, you know, for each person, but the compulsion might be, I need to avoid, you know, bad people or bad people, or contaminated or I need to avoid cuss words, and then even the beginning of cuss words. So maybe I don’t want to say the S word. But then I want to say like, shitake like, I don’t know if that’s a mushroom. But you know, like, so I want to say any word that even sounds like a bad word. Or maybe I want to hold my hands and fists, just in case I want to give you the middle finger. So people can often miss that because that is not a known OCD theme, or symmetry OCD, where I need to balance out my left from my right. And so I picked up my cup with my left. But now my right hand needs to touch it. Which people you know, wouldn’t even notice unless they’re really observant, and they understand symmetry OCD. Or I’ll give you one last one just so that people can realize how vastly different these can be is sensorimotor OCD, where I’m hyper focused on a physiological aspect of my body, whether it’s blinking or breathing, or having to go to the bathroom. And so that can show up compulsively where maybe I need to pee like 50 times an hour, or can’t get off the toilet or maybe I have to blink multiple times. So I have to check my breathing and take a deep breath every few minutes. And so those are all OCD but you know, you can seem vastly different looking.
Debbie Reber 09:46
Yeah, and all new information to me. I’m wondering, are there missed diagnoses along the way because, you know, I imagine sensory processing disorder, or you know, other types of labels might be Something that a parent or therapist might go to first, if they’re seeing some of these symptoms, is that the case? Or what is that path? Like to actually determine that this is what’s going on?
Natasha Daniels 10:13
It is really sad because there are a lot of misdiagnoses. And also there’s a lot of comorbid diagnoses. So you have, you know, ADHD, autism, you know, sensory processing disorder, you know, all of those are comorbid conditions, but also they can, they can be misdiagnosed. And so I try to be careful, because sometimes it’s not one or the other. It’s both. But if I have a child who has intrusive thoughts non stop, and you gave me an ADHD like checklist, I’m gonna probably check every box because I am not attending, I’m not engaged. I can’t take multiple step directions. But the reason is different because of sensory processing disorder. And just right OCD, which are two different disorders, but they sometimes like to hang out together, but also they’re very different. And so just right, OCD is, I need to get things just right. And so my part needs to be just right, or my socks need to feel just right. Or I need to feel, you know, tightness on my left and tightness on my right, which is more like a symmetry OCD. And sometimes it’s both issues. But often, it’s just OCD. And you have a clinician who’s not experienced in spotting OCD, and we’re more likely to understand ADHD or, you know, autism or SPD. And so they’ll get it wrong.
Debbie Reber 11:29
So is it a spectrum, then? Because I think about, and you probably hear this all the time, and it’s so common in media, like I’m a little OCD, or, you know, this is just my OCD. And those are people who aren’t clinically diagnosed with OCD. So I imagine that that makes it more complicated for people to know if this is like, this is really what’s going on? And is it a spectrum? Can it look more severe in some people than others?
Natasha Daniels 11:55
Yes, definitely a spectrum, like every disorder, I think, is you can have a mild version, and you can have, you know, an acute case, the problem with OCD is it can grow pretty quickly. And it can be incredibly debilitating, more debilitating than any other mental health disorder, probably besides schizophrenia. And so, I always say a little bit of OCD is like a little bit of termites, it’s, you know, if my child had a little bit of anxiety, which they all do, and not a little bit, I wouldn’t get as ramped up and concerned as I would, if I saw a little bit of OCD, you know, where I’d want them to really develop those skills, even if it was mild, because it can, it can change over time. And people who say I have a little bit I have, I’m a little OCD. If someone talks like that they typically don’t have OCD. What they mean is, they’re a little bit neurotic, or they’re a little bit like a clean freak, whatever the stereotype is, but most people who truly struggle and suffer from OCD don’t talk about it in those ways, or at least if they’re educated.
Debbie Reber 12:58
Is there an age when this tends to show up in people in kids? And I’m also wondering, just tell, not talking about data or statistics, but how common is it in kids?
Natasha Daniels 13:10
I think that the statistics are off. And that’s why I don’t like statistics, because I really feel like it’s so misdiagnosed, that it’s only because historically they’ll say, you know, it’s more like tween and teen, you know, or you know, 12 and older. But in my practice, which really specialized in younger kids, or at least that’s what people gravitated towards me. You know, like, I just got a lot of young kids, I would see it very early on. I could see it in toddlers and preschoolers and parents, as they get more educated, they’ll spot it more, more productively. So a lot of people in my online community have toddlers and preschoolers because they know what to look for. And so those kids were getting, I think, missed in the data pool to begin with. And sometimes if you know, it’s something else, and it evolves. But I think it can start at any age, and it can start randomly at 15. You know, and that also surprises parents because they think they’re looking for the trauma, or they’re looking for the trigger or what instigated this because they were perfectly fine before. And there can be sudden onset, whether it’s due to an infection like pandas pans, or just because genetically OCD can just kind of show up one day, and that can be really scary for everybody.
Debbie Reber 14:24
So you talked about people knowing how to spot it, I imagine, you know, you said it’s kind of a sudden onset or with an older teen, it might be more noticeable a behavior change. But what are some of the signs that especially with maybe preschool age kids or younger kids, that might be clues that this is what’s going on?
Natasha Daniels 14:46
Some early indicators that you might have an issue, you know, that you kind of want to explore is that repetitive behavior. And again, it can check off other boxes too, and that’s why it gets tricky. But if I have a child who maybe isn’t on the spectrum, and they need me to kiss one side of their cheek and on the other side of the cheek at bedtime, and just straighten out their bed. And if I don’t do it in that way, in that exact way, there’s a meltdown and not a minor meltdown, but like a complete meltdown. Those are the things I’m looking for when they’re little, or they’re inspecting their food, and they can’t, and they don’t have maybe a sensory issue or picky eating, or they’re asking me a lot of questions that they need reassurance about. And sometimes you get some, maybe like more irrational thoughts, like, I can’t take thinking of examples from my practice, like, I can’t get into a bath, because I don’t want the wrinkles on my fingers. And so and then I have to check my fingers all day long to see if I still have those wrinkles. So that’s beyond anxiety, beyond sensory compulsively checking. I think that’s a good example, you know, looking at those kinds of maybe nonsensical, or loop behaviors where they’re getting stuck, or they have to go through a door, and they have to go back and have to do it again, they have to do it again. So those repetitive behaviors as well. Anything with anxiety, it tends to be more rational most of the time, but not always. But also like, it can be satiated. Briefly at least you know, Mom, is that dog gonna bite me? You know? No, honey, you’re okay. And then dogs are scary. But that’s it. But then you might have someone with beginning stages of OCD, and it’s Mom, is that dog gonna bite me? No, honey, it’s okay. And then maybe later on, Mom did that dog bite me? Can you check me for bike marks? Did that dog bite me? A bite mark? Is that bite marks? And now we’re moving into almost kind of like an irrational checking. And so it is hard to detect. But early on, regardless of what it is, it’s always good to be proactive and get them some skills.
Debbie Reber 16:45
Yeah. And as you’re, we’re giving that example. I’m thinking too, a lot of kids, especially kids who are more intense, autistic kids, can often perseverate on things and just ruminate around these thoughts. And you talked about the thought component of OCD. If a parent is noticing that maybe you have that example, you just gave about the dog and coming back to that and talking about it. And that parent says I want to explore this some more, you know, where are they starting to get information? And how is that determination made? If that’s quote unquote, just they’re being autistic, or if it’s something else going on?
Natasha Daniels 17:25
Well, when we add other disorders, especially like this, you know, autistic spectrum, it gets very complicated. And normally with the kids that have come to me in my practice, and I’m not a specialist in autism, but when they have those rigid behaviors, they have other things going on, too, that alert me as an inciting OCD therapist that this is out of my realm as well, you know, there, there’s other aspects of autism that are showing up that I would say you need to go and get an autism assessment first. And if you’re seeing other elements of autism, I always say start with an autistic specialist, get an assessment, go that avenue first. Because they are so embedded with each other. And a lot of times it can look like anxiety or OCD, when it’s just rigid behavior that will be addressed a bit differently. But the kids like the examples that I gave, you know, they’re sociable, and they didn’t have autistic traits and weren’t diagnosed with autism, sometimes they’ll rule it out. But at that point, it’s always good to go to an OCD therapist, and they’re hard to find. But you can go to an OCD therapist and rule out OCD much easier than you can go to a general child therapist and rule out OCD and all the other disorders. So it’s easier said than done. But to rule that out first, and then go to the next step versus the other way around, if that makes sense.
Debbie Reber 18:48
Debbie Reber 18:52
And now a quick break for a word from our sponsor. Progress Parade specializes in one on one online tutoring for differently wired kids through executive functioning coaching, Orton Gillingham and Wilson instruction, specialized math, tutoring, and educational therapy. Visit progress pray.com/tilt To learn how tilt listeners can claim a free tutoring or educational therapy session. Based on your child’s unique needs progress. Braid will handpick a specialist to turn learning challenges into superpowers in the classroom. Visit progressparade.com/tilt to learn more about receiving a free session. Join the progress parade. And now back to the show.
Debbie Reber 19:39
So let’s talk about the relationship between OCD and anxiety because they’re often coupled together. You do that in your work. We’ve had Eli Lebowitz on the show to talk about his book which is about OCD and anxiety. So how are they related and how are they not the same thing?
Natasha Daniels 20:00
Yeah, we relate them because they are such comorbid conditions. And you know, OCD used to be an anxiety disorder. Now it’s not, it’s kind of been removed from the DSM in that way. But they are similar in that there’s an intrusive thought or feeling or discomfort, you know. And so a lot of times with anxiety, it’s fear based. And OCD goes beyond that, where it can be, I’m afraid of discomfort, I’m afraid of having this feeling forever. And then how it’s treated is also different in the sense that we don’t talk to OCD. So I feel like the predominant difference is that we don’t process with OCD, I can’t rationalize my child’s OCD out of them. And with anxiety, I can rationalize with them to the point where they feel better. And so that’s the number one difference. They are completely different disorders, they’re different parts of the brain, you know, they are vastly different. I think they do get lumped together too much. And I think part of the reason why a lot of us do anxiety and OCD work is not only because they kind of like to hang out together, but also because so many people who have anxiety, actually are dealing with a lot of OCD, too, and they don’t realize it. And Eli Leibowitz’s book, which is amazing. You know, he’s talking about pulling back parental accommodations. And so for him, his work is relevant, regardless of whether it’s anxiety or OCD, because it’s just about pulling back that parental accommodations, which is the case with both of those disorders.
Debbie Reber 21:28
All right, that makes sense. So, before we kind of shift gears fully into talking about anxiety, because that is something that you know, whether listeners are dealing with OCD anxiety is most likely a part of their experience with their kids. Can you just talk a little bit about the ways that you would work with a child who has OCD, you said that that was a great distinction. You can’t rationalize with OCD. So what are the kind of steps or the key tools that a parent or therapist would use in helping a child with OCD?
Natasha Daniels 21:59
With OCD and anxiety, educating the child to me is like the number one thing. So educating the child on how anxiety OCD grows, the difference with OCD, one, we’ll just talk about OCD. And not that we won’t compare them, I’ll just be too complicated. But we want to expose our kids to their discomfort, like one small step at a time. So we talked about exposure with response prevention, ERP, which is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy. And we think a lot of times intuitively, as a parent, we think if I can just not have my child triggered, then they’re going to be okay, if I can have my child with sensorimotor OCD, just go to the bathroom, whenever she feels like it or guarantee or that there’s a bathroom, it will go away. Or if I can tell my child, you’re not a bad kid, you know, you didn’t say the F word, don’t worry about it, that it will just go away. And, sadly, the more we intuitively just reassure our kids, or we accommodate them by giving them access to whatever they need to do for their compulsion, the OCD grows. And so instead of kind of swooping in and fixing that, or teaching them that they need to swoop in and fix it, go wash your hands, go organize the pillows, go do whatever you need to do to feel better. We teach them not to do that. And to sit and discomfort. I’ll give you a quick example. Just to make it concrete. I use my kids a lot and they give me permission. So my son who has all my kids having Well, my team doesn’t have OCD, according to her and she doesn’t like not intensely, but my son gets images stuck in his head and he gets song stuck in his head. And for me, that happens to me too. But I just sing along with them. And it will be annoying to everybody else. But then it goes away after a few weeks. And then a new song is replaced. For him it’s torment because it’s an OCD thing. The song gets stuck in his head and plays over and over and he believes he can’t handle the discomfort. And so we’re in the airport, which is traveling and he’s like, getting angry and he’s 12 getting really irritated and kind of throwing his background and I you know, I heard a song and I kicked on my head and I’m it’s still there. And he’s kind of tearing up and you know, my approach is okay, for every minute, I would just want you to start singing it more in your head. So totally counterintuitive. Because we would think when we might just discount it and just be like, you know, we all get songs stuck in our head. Or we might just say try to think of something else. Well, that would be a mental compulsion for him to try to like, negate it or cancel it out. And so he started to sing it in his head and say sing it again, you know, and then we’re walking insecurity in the airport. I’m saying it again. And then, you know, about 30 minutes later, I go, how’s it going? Do you still have a song stuck in your head? And again, that’s another thing parents wouldn’t necessarily do because they would want to bring it up and start all over. But we don’t want to be walking on eggshells. So I said, How’s the song now? And he said, Oh, it’s fine. And he likes to move past it. So that’s an example of an exposure. totally counterintuitive.
Debbie Reber 24:39
And does that then help the next time that happens? Like do kids outgrow OCD or do they just understand how to cope with their OCD?
Natasha Daniels 24:50
It’s like asthma or diabetes like you learn how to manage it. And so it skills like he’s very well trained in exposures and so my kids will do that for themselves when they feel like it. And so once you teach your kids how to do these things, and you kind of develop the foundation of how to treat this for themselves, they will do that on their own, because OCD will come and go. And so they’re going to hit bumps as they get older. And then knowing to go back to doing those exposures and just the foundational aspect of it, it can be for any intrusive thought or feeling. And so once they know that skill, and they know it for anything that comes, hopefully, ideally.
Debbie Reber 25:29
And is there, I have no idea if this exists, is there medication that supports people with OCD and helps minimize their symptoms.
Natasha Daniels 25:38
They give SSRIs for OCD, just like they do for anxiety. It’s just that the international OCD Foundation, pediatric recommendations like their medications, dosages are much higher. And so they do have work like a sheet that I normally just refer people to that talk about the dosages because they are much higher. So if you give Zoloft for a child with anxiety, it would be a much much higher dose than what you would do for anxiety or Paxil. You know any of those SSRIs are like the first line approach typically.
Debbie Reber 26:09
Wow. Okay, this is just fascinating. So let’s pivot then to talk about anxiety. Which, you know, again, this is just something I’m hearing more now than ever. And of course, the general surgeon in the US just released this big report on the mental health of children and those lessons right now and what’s going on? Gosh, where do we even start with this? Can let’s just talk about anxiety in the way that it shows up? Because I think in kids, it’s not always what we would expect right may not manifest the way it would in an anxious adult.
Natasha Daniels 26:41
Yeah, and I think I think anxiety is higher, because obviously what’s going on, but also I think we’re home more and we’re noticing things more, they’re not in school more. I think there’s a lot of elements as far as why children’s mental health is on the radar, more than the obvious stuff, I think I think there’s other elements. But yeah, it can show up as difficult behavior, opposition, irritability, rigidity, a lot of times, like refusal, digging their heels in. And so I think we often think of the child who’s like, you know, in a fetal position, having a hard time breathing when we think of anxiety. And more often than not, I think it is, it can be an angry kid, I know, like, my, for my, I have one that does the whole typical stuff. So I can really tell when she’s anxious, but for my son, it’s, he’s going to act out and he might get hyperactive. A lot of times, I will think he has, like, when he was little, I thought, you know, he might have ADHD, because he’s like jumping on the pillows. And he’s acting out. And he’s kind of bouncing, literally bouncing off the walls. And it’s when he was anxious. So not every kid is going to look, you know, that classic, anxious style.
Debbie Reber 27:53
Yeah, this is something I wrote about in my book Differently Wired that when my child who does have ADHD, was maybe eight or nine, the therapist we were working with, pulled me aside one day and was like, started talking about the anxiety and I said, What Asher has anxiety, I had no clue it was not I have a, my older sister has anxiety that’s just been a part of her life. And so I have this picture in my mind of what it looks like. And for me, it was I did have an explosive kiddo, I had the intensity of all of those pieces. And when this therapist mentioned the word anxiety, it kind of all came together. And I’m like, Oh, my gosh, I’ve missed this for years, I had no idea that that was what was going on.
Natasha Daniels 28:39
Because it really doesn’t look like anxiety, I can totally get that because that’s how my son is too. It doesn’t, it doesn’t look like anxiety. And a lot of times, it’ll be labeled a lot of other things before anxiety. And it’s not warm, fuzzy, you know, it’s not, it doesn’t evoke a warm, fuzzy feeling to come in and swoop them up and you know, makes you kind of want to discipline it out of them, which actually increases the anxiety.
Debbie Reber 29:02
Yeah, I’m sure it does. I’ve gotten questions specifically around gifted kids and anxiety that a lot of the listeners of this show have gifted or twice exceptional kids. I imagine in your practice, you come across these kiddos, can you talk a little bit about those kids because they’re often they’ve got these more existential things going on, especially again, with what’s happening in the world is a trigger for so many kind of darker thoughts. Can you talk about that?
Natasha Daniels 29:29
I think there is a higher level of intuitive, intelligent empathic kids, you know, with anxiety and, and so I did see a disproportionate amount of kids that I just think were gifted or even if they weren’t labeled gifted, were just off the charts and had big, deep philosophical questions. And I feel like that if you’re not all anxious kids are like that. But I feel like there’s, you know, there is a profile that comes with a lot of anxious kids. And it’s the chicken or the egg thing. You know, which causes which, you know, I think, at the, you know, doesn’t really matter. It’s just what do you do with that, and I feel like if we can shape that as a superpower, and clearly identify that for their kid for our kids that can actually be helpful to let them know that, you know, they see out of the box, they’re out of the box thinkers, they have deep questions, and we just want to control or help them learn how to control those snowball thoughts. So that they, you know, can have those deep thoughts, and they can go in a positive direction. And so like, my, I’ll give you an example, like my 10 year old is, you know, one of those kids, and she likes to ponder, like the meaning of the world, and like, why are we here, and, but sometimes, if I’m walking at night with her, and she looks at the moon, it actually causes panic, and she’ll start to think like, we’re too small, we’re insignificant, and she’s 10, you know, so this is one of those, like, deep. And that’s not the time for me to go into it with her because I can tell she’s in an anxiety spiral, she’s not in like a true, I wonder if kind of mode. So sometimes, as parents, too, it’s reading, when our kids are in a true moment of pondering, and when they’re in an anxiety, tornado, and helping them see it, you know, my kids will say, you know, I have a superpower, you know, really empathetic, I can tell when that kid in the corner over there is having a hard time when nobody else notices, or I can think of interesting things and helping them I didn’t like own that as part of who they are, besides anxiety.
Debbie Reber 31:26
Also, I think there are kids who can kind of push through who can have anxiety, but it doesn’t stop their lives. And then there are people for whom anxiety is completely debilitating. And again, among my audience, of parents raising neurodivergent kids, it’s often comorbid, with other things going on. And so that dance that we are constantly playing is how much to push, how much to take the pressure off. And I imagine that dance is regardless of how your child is wired, but can you talk a little bit about how you help parents kind of intuitively navigate that dance?
Natasha Daniels 32:07
Yeah, it’s an important dance, because it’s sometimes counterintuitive of what we want to do with them. And it can kind of make or break their long term success. And so it’s understanding that helping our kids face their fears. One small step at a time, is kind of what Eli Lebowitz does in his work is letting them know, verbally and non verbally, that we believe in them, that we believe that they can handle the discomfort that will bring, and it’s also being able to read your child really well. So you know, paying attention to those verbal and nonverbal cues, and not protecting your child from a trigger before it even happens, because we want them to live in a bubble. And it’s, it’s, it’s uncomfortable parenting, I think, raising three of them, where sometimes I have to be like, you know, let’s go right instead of left, and then I’m like, nope, let’s go left. Because, you know, I know there’s bees to the right, but they’re going to have to learn how to cope with that. And also, knowing when you can tell your child is far gone. I think anyone who’s raising an anxious kid probably knows what those look like. Or you can just conjure that up in your head. And we don’t want to push them to that point. And so it’s this balancing act of always pushing them where they’re uncomfortable, but also not to the point where they lose it. And that’s hard. That’s a hard balance.
Debbie Reber 33:27
And it probably changes depending on the child’s mood that day, right? Part of it is like really being tuned in to understanding how our kids are expressing their emotions, or what they’re feeling, even if they’re not telling us but then yeah, it can change from day to day, the situation. Right?
Natasha Daniels 33:46
In general, Yeah. So it’s gonna be and in the moment thing.
Debbie Reber 33:50
I imagine that kind of the bigger tool is, as a parent anyway, is walking that path with our kids, and navigating that dance that you just described. And I imagine there’s also a therapeutic component to this because different from OCD, this is stuff that we can work on in our thinking, cognitive behavioral therapy, like, what are other ways that you work with families who are dealing with anxiety in their kids? Or do you work directly with kids as well?
Natasha Daniels 34:18
I don’t work in my practice anymore. My husband passed away in February. And so I closed my practice, and I just focus solely online. In the past, you know, I would work with parents and the kids kind of a team effort, depending on the family’s dynamic, what that would look like. And now online. I’m working primarily with the parents. I mean, I have a YouTube channel that’s supposed to be for kids and teens. But it is different from OCD in the sense that for both anxiety and OCD, we are getting them to do exposures, whatever that looks like. So it’s such small steps towards discomfort. And I say discomfort instead of fear because for OCD, it’s not always fears. Sometimes it’s just discomfort, but we’re getting them to make those small steps. But with anxiety like you said, there is that CBT element, that Coggan behavioral element of can I reframe my thoughts. And I love that, because that’s an extra tool that we don’t have with OCD. And so that I always talk about red dots and green thoughts just so there’s visual, you know, so a green thought a red thought might be, I have social anxiety, you know, the shirt looks stupid, and everyone’s gonna laugh at me. And a green thought would be, well, I really like this shirt. And if people laugh at me, then they’re not my friend. And I don’t care about them anyway. And so it’s, it’s kind of negating that red thought, and reframing it. And sometimes anxiety will make something catastrophic, when it’s not that big. And so reframing and teaching, you can teach very young kids how to reframe their thoughts. And that is powerful, because those thoughts fuel our physiological responses. They’re like, they’re creating that panic in your body. And so besides doing all the things that people talk about, with anxiety, like, take a deep breath, you know, and ground yourself, if the fuel line is still there, then you’re going to have to be doing that for a very long time, because you haven’t shut down the fuel line, which to me are the thoughts.
Debbie Reber 36:02
I love that metaphor. I, in my 20s, went as a client to the Albert Ellis Institute here in New York for Rational Emotive behavioral therapy. And that was the first time I learned like, oh, thoughts control the way that we feel like, and we can change those thoughts. And it was like, Oh, my gosh, this is a superpower. And it’s fascinating what that reframe can do. I’m wondering about the parents that you work with? How do you support them in kind of staying steady the course because having an anxious child can be really challenging, right? It can trigger our own fears about what’s going to happen, it can take a lot longer, I imagine, then we would hope for them to make progress. And so we find ourselves saying the same things over and over again. So how do you help parents help themselves as they navigate this?
Natasha Daniels 36:54
That’s a big part of what I do. Because I feel like that’s all we can control is what we do. And a lot of times, there’s a couple things that we do as parents one, we see the big picture instead of the small picture. And that will overwhelm us. So it is going back to our perception that if I, you know, I’m seeing my six year old who can’t go to school, and now I can see her not going to graduate school, you know, because she can’t get her shoes on, that’s going to create a lot of panic. So a lot of it is working with our own triggers, our own stuff, you know, because that comes into our parenting. And being in the now I talk a lot about just being in this moment, I’m in this today, I’m in tomorrow. Today, I’m teaching her how to sleep on her own, or today I’m teaching her how to, you know, whatever her fear is, you know, and having only one goal, because I think sometimes we’re looking at the end goal. And because we have to take such tiny, tiny steps to get there a lot of times that can be discouraging, and our kids can sense that and feel that when we feel discouraged. And the other part is taking care of ourselves. I think self compassion is a huge part of parenting and parents can get stuck on the why. I see this a lot. You know, why is my child like this? What did I do that created this and I think unhooking the why and just being like it is what it is, you know, anxiety and OCD are highly genetic. And there often is really no why at all. It’s just what I do with this. And so there’s so much parental work that can be done to help them have a more fulfilled life to enjoy those moments, and to feel, I think, self love as they’re going through it.
Debbie Reber 38:30
So you said this is the majority of the work that you do. Now I know that you have a membership community, can you tell listeners more about the work that is available to them as a resource?
Natasha Daniels 38:41
Yeah, I have a podcast AT Parenting Survival podcast. And that’s for parents and I have a YouTube channel that I make YouTube videos for kids and teens. I keep saying it’s for kids and teens, but adults tend to watch that channel too, but I’m speaking directly to the person with anxiety and OCD. And I have online courses for people who want supplements with their therapist, and I have a lot of therapists who are like to refer people to take my courses, or they just can’t get access to help and they want to learn their own tools. Because regardless of whether we want to do it or not, we’re with our kids 24/7. And so we’re going to have to have a therapeutic home environment that kind of fosters our kids’ growth.
Debbie Reber 39:21
And can you talk about your membership community as well and love to share that link with listeners as well?
Natasha Daniels 39:29
Yeah, people wanted to work more in depth with me in one on one coaching to start on options like training like so in the AT parenting community. We do weekly live classes. I have a member website that they log into, and they have like a huge library of videos and worksheets and we get together on Zoom once a month. And then they wanted a support group for their kids. And so we have a kid one and we have a teen one. We have a buddy program where we connect kids so it’s really grown and evolved. And so it’s just a beautiful loving community of Parents are raising kids with anxiety and OCD of all ages.
Debbie Reber 40:03
That’s so good. But a great resource to, I think, to help kids connect with each other because it can be really lonely to feel that way. And to feel like I’m the only one who’s going through this and that. So that’s a huge service. So, listeners, I will include links to all of these resources in the show notes page, so you can go check them out, you’ve done a lot of podcast episodes, great topics. And yeah, you have a lot of resources that I know our listeners will be into. So before we say goodbye, we’ve talked about so many different things. Is there anything that we didn’t cover? Or one last thought or nugget that you would like to share with my listeners?
Natasha Daniels 40:39
Oh, you know, I think knowledge is just the key. And I always say that to parents, I think the more we know, the better we do. And so just learning about how anxiety and OCD can show up and don’t get tunnel vision and say this is I only learned about this one thing because this is what my child has, I think with anxiety and OCD. You want to learn all the different ways that can show up so that you can pull those early weeds out.
Debbie Reber 40:59
Yeah, that’s great. Well, thank you. Thank you so much for just sharing all of this today and following my meandering brain as we discussed all these topics. I really appreciate it. Yeah, thanks for having me on. You’ve been listening to the Tilt Parenting Podcast. If you want to dig deeper into this episode, check out the show notes page. Every episode has a dedicated show notes page on my website where you can get links to all the resources we discussed, read a transcript and even easily go back and listen to key takeaways by using the chapters feature on the podcast player. To get to the show notes page. For this episode, just go to tiltparenting.com/podcast and select this show. If you love this podcast and want to help cover the costs of its production, please consider joining my Patreon campaign. For as little as $2 a month you can help cover the cost of the hosting platform for this show. My wonderful new editor and producer Andrea and more. It’s so easy to sign up. Just go to patreon.com/tiltparenting to learn more or click on the Patreon link on any show notes page. If you’re into social media, you can follow tilt parenting at tilt parenting on Instagram and Twitter. Visit the Tilt Parenting page on Facebook or join my Facebook community called Tilt Together. Lastly, please help this podcast stay visible and easily found by subscribing and leaving a rating or review on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. Thank you so much. And that’s all for this week. Stay safe, stay well and take good care and for more information visit www.tiltparenting.com
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