When your nervous do you tap your foot, twirl your hair, or bite your nails? If you watch people in anxious situations you will probably notice all sorts of little habits that people have. You might not realize that these are self soothing activities. My youngest recently started a very annoying habit of doodling on herself. Drives me crazy and I told her to get paper and doodle there. She told me it wasn’t the same thing, and her doctor said she’s right.
Physical touch increases levels of dopamine and serotonin, two neurotransmitters that help regulate your mood as well as help your body relieve stress and anxiety. Dopamine is also known to regulate the pleasure center in your brain that is a good counter to feelings of anxiety.The 3 Biggest Advantages of Human Touch May Surprise You
So, like many of my blogs this is one more thing that I’ve learned being a special needs mom. This time it just happens to be raising a child with anxiety. Up until recently Brooklyn was one of the thousands of fingernail biters in the world. Her dad does it, and I’m guessing we all know people that do. Well, Brooklyn had her braces put back on, and that wasn’t an option anymore. Suddenly we would see little hearts and stars and other doodles on her arms and knee. I’m not going to lie and as a parent it upset me. Teenagers shouldn’t constantly be writing on themselves, and I constantly told her to stop. Sometimes my kids are smarter then me.
Brooklyn’s doctor explained that when people do these little things like writing on themselves or biting their nails it is the distraction of the physical touch. She explained that for people who have a psychological need for self soothing behaviors they will always find a way to sooth themselves. Often unintentionally. We found that the more I told Brooklyn to stop doodling, she would scratch her legs in her sleep. This scratching is what led us to talk to the doctor. The doctor explained that for Brooklyn the hearts and stars were an innocent way to provide herself with a self soothing outlet during stressful situations. Often she does this when she is anxious about something, or studying for school.
So by telling Brooklyn to stop I was actually causing her stress. I was denying her a very innocent coping tool. None of us want to cause our kids stress. To clarify I would also tell her not to bite her nails, but since her dad does it how could I possibly win that battle. I don’t think ever biting your nails, especially in our current germy world, is a good idea, but somehow it seems more socially acceptable then writing on yourself. I’m sharing because I think this is very important when we are raising kids. Having an awareness of why our kids are doing something can help us parent better. With young kids that suck their thumb, or bite their nails, maybe it isn’t as simple as training them not to do that. Maybe their personality creates a need for a self soothing coping action.
Instead of just telling our kids to stop or getting angry, we can help them find other coping activities. When Lexi needs a physical distraction you can give her a distraction tool, even as simple as a paper clip, and she can move her hands and activate her mind. that doesn’t work for Brooklyn. It isn’t about the mental stimulation for her, it is about the physical touch. When you recognize this as a parent, you can help your child find ways to cope in such situations. Each of us is made differently, and we can project what works for us on our kids. I think this is a lesson we all have to learn. As a wife I even nag Adam not to bite his nails, but if he stops doing that his knee will bounce. Until Brooklyn’s doctor explained how these actions have a psychological benefit, I always just saw them as annoying habits. Now I recognize them as more.
I wonder if we ever stop learning. My kids are 15 and 17 and as they get older they definitely educate me on so much. We can’t be close minded and think that we always know more. Brooklyn challenges me socially and psychologically to be more aware, more accepting, more knowledgeable. We need to be willing to learn from our kids.