"For years I was embarrassed by my daughter's behaviour. But she is not a 'brat'."


I am ashamed to admit this, but for many years I was embarrassed by my daughter’s behaviour.

She behaved differently than other kids… acting out, showing defiance, crying, clinging, refusing to interact with others — the list goes on and on.

We would arrive at a friend’s house to watch a football game, and she would sit next to me on the couch and cry while other kids ran around and played. At school, teachers would have to pull her off of me while I attempted to head off to work. Parents were talking about us when we left the room. Teachers thought my husband and I were awful parents. I was embarrassed that people thought I was a bad mum and that my actions led to my daughter’s behaviour.

Finally, when we started treatment for my daughter’s severe anxiety, I realised that my daughter had a disorder. You can read all about our journey with anxiety here. Her behaviours and actions were not a result of our parenting or a result of her choices. Once I gained an understanding of what my daughter was dealing with, I started to get angry at people around me for being so naive, for making assumptions about my daughter and our family. Suddenly, I realised how unrealistic it was for other people to have a true sense of what was happening if I didn’t even realise what was happening until we got help.

A guide on how to talk to people with anxiety:

Video by MMC

This is the truth about parenting a child with anxiety. I hope it helps you understand our situation, and makes you realise how harmful supportive comments and assumptions can be.

Anxiety makes my daughter say and do things she wouldn’t normally do. She is the sweetest, kindest girl, but she lashes out and will go to great lengths to leave an anxious situation. When she starts to feel better, she’s told me she feels some guilt and embarrassment.

Anxiety is real. My daughter is not a brat. She does not run away and avoid situations to take it easy. She is genuinely scared to death.

Yes, there are times she can appear “typical” or anxiety-free. This does not mean she no longer has anxiety. It means that she is not triggered because she feels safe at that moment.

I cannot force my child to do anything during a panic attack. It’s hard for her to focus and follow directions during this time, and that’s OK.

There is nothing that can be done to make her “typical.” She will most likely always be a highly anxious child/person and will have always have to work extra hard to manage her demons.

It is not her fault nor our fault as parents that she has anxiety. It is part of who she is — and that’s OK.

She works harder than most people every day. Everything she does takes immense effort and many days she tells me she is exhausted from battling her anxiety.


She is smart, but can struggle to learn at school because she puts so much energy into fighting anxiety.

Trying to “fix” my daughter is unreasonable. You shouldn’t either. This is who she is and it comes with many strengths.

My daughter uses fidgets out of necessity. She is not a baby or childish. Her excess energy has to go somewhere.

I am not a helicopter mum by choice. I have to help manage school and home in order to help her get through each day. The world is not friendly to anxious people. I do what I can to allow her to be a kid as often as possible.

I know everyone experiences anxiety at times and trust me, if I could tell her to, “Get over it, you’re fine,” and it worked, I would have done that a long time ago.


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Please tell your children/teenagers to be patient with her. Even if she has declined other social invitations, do not stop inviting her. She may say yes one day.

Our future is uncertain. I think positively, but I know her path may not be the same as her peers — and that’s OK. She is going to do something amazing.

She may be labelled as “highly anxious” but that is not who she is.

I worry all of the time. I worry about her day at school, if she is attending class, will she ever have a close group of friends, how she will pass certain classes, will she find a passion or hobby, how will I pay for the next medical expense, what does her future look like, and so on.

Immense guilt is always hovering nearby. Did I say the wrong thing and make things worse? When I work, I am not giving her all that I can. When I don’t work, our family suffers financially. Why didn’t we get help earlier? Why didn’t I see that coming?

Adult friendships are difficult for me. Nobody understands my life. I get tired of canceling plans because I cannot leave the house. This is something I am working on every day.


Getting her help at school is not something I want to do, but I must. The accommodations for my daughter are necessary for her success.

We may bail on plans often. Activities and events sound great in the planning process, but do not always work out in the moment. I am truly sorry to cancel on you, but I have to pick my battles.

Due to the difficulties of our daily life, I really appreciate each bright moment that happens. We have learned to celebrate the small successes and achievements rather than waiting for big moments. I encourage everyone to find the small moments that make life amazing.

I love with a fierceness that I didn’t know existed. My husband’s love and support make my tasks as a mother possible. The strength my children provide is immeasurable. Without adversity, I do not know if I would recognise this.

Our battles have shown us the importance of being judgement free to others. I lift others up whenever possible, spread kindness and support, and refuse to judge since I have not walked in anyone else’s shoes.

I never expect anyone to understand our life, but I do expect compassion, respect and kindness. For families dealing with your own struggles, you are not alone. Together, we will make the world a kinder, gentler place.

This post was originally published on The Mighty and has been republished with full permission.

You can read more from Colleen Wildernhaus at her blog, Goodbye Anxiety Hello Joy