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Mom2Chickadee

Proud Parent
Jun 2, 2014
150
A bit of a back story (sorry, it's long). DD is an anxious child, always has been, until she's comfortable and then look out b/c she'll own the room. She started pre-competitive gymnastics at age 5 and it has both helped confidence and personified her anxiety at various points over the past 4 years (she just turned 9 earlier this month). The first two years of pre-comp brought some tears, "belly aches" and having to be pulled into the gym by her coaches (they were always amazing with her). Her third year was the worst, she moved from 9hrs to 16hrs, changed schools and for the first time we used a car pool to get her to gymnastics. Way too much change for a 7 year old and she was a mess every day she had to go to gym. We worked with her and her coach and got her over it....after about 3 months. Last year she stayed with the 16 hrs pre-comp group, with the same group of girls and the same coach, plus they competed level 4, so no new skills. It was her best year ever, not one anxious day and no tears or belly aches. In July she, along with two other girls from her pervious group, moved to the 19hr optional group and it started off great, but her anxiety is making a come back. She's now the youngest in group (age 9 to 13) and they're trying to see if they can get them all ready for level 6, possibly 7 for some, so it's all up-training, combined with slightly longer practices and it's just overall harder. Last week the tears started again and I've had to pick her up early because of a belly ache. I've spoken to her new coach, who was very understanding and explained to me and DD that there's no pressure. DD has the skills and is progressing very well but if she's not ready mentally for level 6 then no one will be angry if she repeats level 4(gym doesn't compete level 5). Since then she's had some great practices and some tough ones, she's hard on herself when things don't come easily and she shuts down and won't talk about it. I'm starting to look for a child psychologist to see if someone can help her with some coping strategies to deal with change and anxiety, especially before school starts again.

I guess, after that long rant I'm wondering two things: 1. does anyone have tips or strategies that may help DD copy with her anxiety and, 2. can an anxious child continue to advance in this sport when each step seems to be so much bigger than the previous one? Thanks for any ideas or thoughts you can share!!!!
 

John

Proud Parent
May 5, 2017
1,592
54
Agreed yes she can advance. My DD needed a parent on the floor for the first six months of her career. She cried a lot and when things don't come easily still drops tears now and then. Now the tears just flow while she tries over and over, no stopping of attempts. I guess the point is they are still young, mine is 10, so tears and frustration are expected. Every year the skills get more Difficult and the time it takes to master them also gets Longer. I explained to.minenthats just how gymnastics is. It's her coaches message just repeated and given gently by dad.
 

sce

Proud Parent
Mar 11, 2014
6,149
I wonder if seeking a therapist or medical help would be a good idea? This is a pretty extreme anxiety issue. She definitely needs to learn how to manage it as I imagine this will be something she faces her entire life.
 

3crazymonkeys

Proud Parent
May 11, 2016
25
My son has a lot of the same. He always hates change and develops fears over skills, even those he's previously had. He is going into his 4th year of team, competing level 6 this season. He is 8. He recently changed to a different practice group which meant leaving the boys/friends he's been with all these years. We've also gone through a lot of coaching changes. We've been having lots of belly aches, to the point of tears. Even more tears when he's extra tired. But he wants to stay with his new group (he's with all older boys). He's very hard on himself and getting more frustrated over the skills taking longer to master. He's working on bonuses so there's no rush but he doesn't look at it that way. The good part though is when he does conquer a fear he is so proud of himself. To me that's the best. He always gets better emotionally with time, and each year he seems to handle things better. But it's definitely rough when going through one of these phases! So no advice, but I can commiserate.
 
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NutterButter

Gold Membership
Proud Parent
Jan 24, 2013
882
Yes! Your DD can thrive and advance in the sport with anxiety. 5 years ago I was wondering the same about my DD who was then just starting out as Xcel Silver (and today it's looking like L9 next season!). My DD was 9 when she started seeing a child psychologist. At the time she was in rec gymnastics but was struggling at school. Actually, she did great in school, model student, excellent work ethic and grades, blah, blah, blah but was shutting down at home. She learned several coping techniques during therapy and she still uses variations of them today. She was so receptive to her sessions and after about 9 months her psychologist suggested that she could stop all together. The psychologist also worked with me and DH on how to support our DD. I'm happy to hear that you are seeking professional help because that's what I was going suggest.

My only other piece of advice is to make sure the psychologist really understands and isn't biased against the hours and training involved in gymnastics. At this point with my DD (based on where she is with her training and age) I would have her see a sports psychologist to work on anxiety because they will 'get' the athlete mindset. At 9, I think it's more important that the psychologist 'gets' the child if you know what I mean. The reason why I suggest you feel out the psychologists thoughts on gym is because there was one session with my DD which I happen to be part of. DD had just been invited to start Xcel and was excited, but so, so nervous. You see, she didn't yet have her ROBHS which was a requirement to join Xcel but they invited her anyways. In DD's mind not having ROBHS meant she wasn't ready for Xcel and this was causing so much anguish for her (even though she was invited and therefore was 'ready'). In this session DD was talking about it all and was visibly anguished. We also talked about DD's hours going from 1/week to 6/week. I remember the therapist was surprised at that. Later in the conversation, her therapist told DD that she didn't have to join the team. But when she said that, she was looking at me and I got the feeling that she was letting me know that it was OK for DD to not join the team. Of course it would have been OK for DD to not join! But it wasn't what she wanted and she needed nudging to join. I'm not 100% sure her therapist got that and understood what gymnastics is. DD did start Xcel and was beaming from day 1 and realized she did belong even though she didn't have that ROBHS but it was a painful process for her getting to that point.

Along the journey I've learned that what DD suffers from the most is social anxiety. What others think of her is so important. She stresses so much over little things that non-anxious people wouldn't even consider. This means that any sort of routine change (start of school year, new coaches, new level, etc) is very, very draining for her. It takes several weeks for her to get into the swing of things when school starts. I will often let her take a mental day from gym just so she can rest. New coaches or new level is also draining. She still (at 15) is prone to thinking that a coach doesn't like her if she can't get a skill or has a bad day at the gym. I've learned that DD needs more downtime during transitions. I will often suggest a day off from training during these times. Rest can be very important to managing anxiety. DD also is a very cautious gymnast. Often the last in the group to get a skill. She's had several significant blocks too (no CW on beam in Xcel Silver, no flipping vault in L8). I think her fears in the gym and anxiety are related and it's just who she is.

The most important thing is that I have never, ever doubted the commitment of her coaches. I know DD would not do well in many other gyms and I'm so incredibly thankful that she is where she is. Knowing this and having this peace of mind has made it easier to deal with problems. The coaches can't always read DD nor do they always fully understand what she is thinking. This has at times led to frustration on both ends. The coaches are also different in their ability to be empathetic with a struggling athlete. I've had to work with DD on her ability to recognize that her coaches want her to be successful and I've also had to intervene a few times with the coach to give insight on approaches that do/don't work for DD. Every time I have ever had a concern and/or wanted to provide insight on what does/doesn't work for my DD, it was welcomed information. I credit her caring and committed coaches for DD's success in the sport. There are so many gyms I read about here that would be a disaster or mentally damaging environment for my DD. I'm thankful everyday for her coaches. This week DD did a ROBHS-Double Back with no spot (floor, into a resi). This is only 5 years after she got ROBHS. Absolutely kiddos with anxiety can be successful!
 

Lilou

Proud Parent
Apr 11, 2016
197
In addition to finding a good doctor to help her with anxiety in general, and within the gym, I would have her practice some yoga (helps to center their thoughts) and visualizations to help prepare for situations what she finds provoke anxiety in her. Having understanding coaches is key. Balancing the pressure and just being there to help her through moments and learn from them will be helpful too. But it would probably be most helpful to have a doctor able to help her categorize her anxiety and help with coping mechanisms. Good luck.
 
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Mom2Chickadee

Proud Parent
Jun 2, 2014
150
Thank you everyone for the tips and especially the stories of successful gymnasts with anxiety, it's very encouraging. We will continue to work with DD and coaches on strategies to help her and finding a good (for DD) psychologist. One day at a time :).
 
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MollyMae

Proud Parent
Jan 17, 2017
6
46
Gymmomx2, I would love to hear your suggestions too. My 10 year old is taking medication daily for her anxiety, and she breaks down often while getting ready for practice. She's training 20 hours a week, and just don't know how to help her.
 
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claudidoll

Proud Parent
Sep 10, 2012
345
Mom2chickadee anxiety is hard. Does you local health authority have a program for parenting anxious children? We just completed a 6 week session for our DD and it was incredibly helpful in helping my husband and I understand what was going on with our kiddo. And gave us so many tools to help her.
 
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gymmom2681

Proud Parent
Feb 9, 2017
6
41
My DD is 10 and has anxiety as well. She gets it honest as I too have the same issue. We talk through a lot of the situations that arise. The best thing that has helped us so far is a book called, "What To Do When You Worry Too Much" the book really helped give me cues to help her when anxiety rears its awful head!
 

mls529

Proud Parent
Feb 12, 2016
241
45
My daughter also struggles with anxiety (clinically diagnosed). OP - my daughter was exactly at the point you mentioned, moving to level 6, training level 7 skills, when she broke down. It was a very painful period. After much soul searching, my daughter has moved to Xcel in a less intense gym. My daughter is like a new kid. Her anxiety still exists, but it has decreased by a massive amount. She handles situations so much better outside the gym now that her gym stress is lower. Magically, skills that caused her terrible fear are coming back to her at the new gym/program. Maybe this is not a popular response -- and I love that other kids have found ways to overcome and stay in the higher pressure programs-- but the answer for us was to find a way to decrease the gym stress. No doubt that my daughter misses some elements of her old JO team. But a change was the right answer for her overall. I wish you and your DD much luck!
 

mommeeluv

Proud Parent
Mar 25, 2017
15
I would suggest to read books with her or watch videos about being worried/overcoming fear in such it will help ALOT! It is good that you spoke with the coach about her issues. Remind your DD to express her feelings as well because if she don't know one will ever know how she feels. I would try this then if all fails have her speak with a psychologist. There's so many things you can try with her to relieve it. I think she will be fine! Just keep trying!
 
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gymmomx2

Proud Parent
Oct 16, 2013
765
By request, here are some of the things that we tried. Some worked and some didn't but may work for others :)

1. Acknowledge and validate - anxiety is real, there's nothing wrong with her. Even adults get anxious. Explain that there even though anxiety is real, she can learn strategies to manage it.

2. Explain the that anxiety is an overreaction of her brain seeing danger where there isn't any. We used the words "your brain is tricking you". Even if she knows there isn't real danger, her brain is making her body react as if the danger were real.

3. Teach her how to calm her body through breathing and meditation. It will take practice. We have some guided mindfulness / meditations that we do on a regular basis, especially when she's NOT anxious. It's much harder to meditate when you're under stress if you are not practiced at it.

4. You can try NLP techniques for older kids. This didn't work for DD, she didn't "get" the concept since she was too young.

5. This book might help:
https://dentonllc.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/what-to-do-when-you-worry-too-much-a-kids-guide-to-overcoming-anxiety.pdf

6. Gradual exposure - https://www.anxietybc.com/sites/default/files/FacingFears_Exposure.pdf. This only works if you have coaches who will work with you. For example, agree that she only needs to stay for x amount of time (or through the first event, whatever is appropriate).

7. Teach her to see the good in things. Every day we ask "what 3 good things happened today?". If she's older, she can write those down in a journal.

8. Plain old maturity. Some of these techniques didn't work when she was younger and worked later as she matured and was able to understand more.

One thing we've learned is that we may win the battle but we haven't won the war. We never get too comfortable and always expect that anxiety will re-occur, even when she goes months without anxious episodes. Never let your guard down and keep working on the coping strategies even in the absence of anxiety.
 

rmankini

Proud Parent
Nov 16, 2015
44
By request, here are some of the things that we tried. Some worked and some didn't but may work for others :)

1. Acknowledge and validate - anxiety is real, there's nothing wrong with her. Even adults get anxious. Explain that there even though anxiety is real, she can learn strategies to manage it.

2. Explain the that anxiety is an overreaction of her brain seeing danger where there isn't any. We used the words "your brain is tricking you". Even if she knows there isn't real danger, her brain is making her body react as if the danger were real.

3. Teach her how to calm her body through breathing and meditation. It will take practice. We have some guided mindfulness / meditations that we do on a regular basis, especially when she's NOT anxious. It's much harder to meditate when you're under stress if you are not practiced at it.

4. You can try NLP techniques for older kids. This didn't work for DD, she didn't "get" the concept since she was too young.

5. This book might help:
https://dentonllc.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/what-to-do-when-you-worry-too-much-a-kids-guide-to-overcoming-anxiety.pdf

6. Gradual exposure - https://www.anxietybc.com/sites/default/files/FacingFears_Exposure.pdf. This only works if you have coaches who will work with you. For example, agree that she only needs to stay for x amount of time (or through the first event, whatever is appropriate).

7. Teach her to see the good in things. Every day we ask "what 3 good things happened today?". If she's older, she can write those down in a journal.

8. Plain old maturity. Some of these techniques didn't work when she was younger and worked later as she matured and was able to understand more.

One thing we've learned is that we may win the battle but we haven't won the war. We never get too comfortable and always expect that anxiety will re-occur, even when she goes months without anxious episodes. Never let your guard down and keep working on the coping strategies even in the absence of anxiety.

Thank you!!!
 
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