Little Girl, Big Anxiety

I had been all prepared to do a post today about a great article I read today about why many moms today are choosing to stay home, but sometimes life happens and it’s fare more poignant than dissecting what someone else has written about. (For the record, it was a great piece and something I’ve definitely thought about).

But back to today’s  post.

When I began blogging in 2008, I shared one of my earliest memories of true anxiety: nearly missing the bus when I was 7 years old and the trauma that ensued. To this day, I’m an anxious traveler and have to mentally calm myself before every trip — big or small.

Fortunately (or not, for him ;)) I married someone who is as easy-going as I am high-strung, so we (sometimes) balance each other out and keep each other in check with respect to travel. He’s learned to get to the airport a little earlier than he’d like to allay my fears, for example, and I’ve learned to be OK with not getting to the airport for a domestic flight three hours early “just in case.”

Among my biggest fears as a parent has been passing along my anxious ways to my children. I try not to think about it too much — so as not to somehow transpose it to them– but it crosses my mind a lot when I’m having an internal battle of some kind.

The scene: Ben, fast asleep. Luis, mowing the lawn. As I was helping Maya brush her teeth, Ben started wailing uncontrollably. He’s a pretty solid sleeper (doesn’t make a peep between 730 PM and 630/7 AM) so I knew something was up and, sure enough, he was having major gas pains (poor baby).

Maya came bounding in chirping about her day and I knew he’d go from half-asleep to wide-awake instantly upon hearing her voice. Sure enough, he perked up. So to avoid a baby tantrum, I asked her to please wait in her room for me — to read a story and I’d be there in just a minute.

A few minutes later, I heard the lawn mower turn off, but could see Luis was still outside putting fertilizer on the grass. I rocked Ben a little and put him in his crib, drowsy but not asleep. He stirred a bit and rolled over onto his side but — fortunately–stayed asleep. I was in the kitchen getting Maya her usual bed-time sippy cup of water when I heard soft crying coming from her room.

“Honey what’s the matter?”

Her voice was all choked up and it was hard to decipher what she was saying through her tears but finally she calmed down. “I’m all alone. When Mommy and Daddy aren’t home, I am alone!”

I swear, my heart just thumped. I hated seeing that look in her eyes: fear. Irrational fear, as she most certainly wasn’t alone … but fear, nonetheless.

She knew Luis was mowing the lawn (he’d told her before he went outside because she’d wanted to join) and she knew I’d been tucking Benny in. But the very fact that she felt alone … or even thought for a second we’d leave her … crushed me.

I didn’t know what to say to make her feel better except the truth: that she’s never, ever been left alone and never would be left alone; that someone is ALWAYS home with her — even if we’re in a different room.

After I calmed her down and gave her lots of hugs, she opened up a bit more about her day and said she had had “a tough day” and how she had missed me and how one of her teachers had given her a hug and she felt better. And then she told me, “I visited Benny three times today, too! Before snooze. After snack. And after I played on the playground.”

So my guess is maybe she was just feeling a little thrown-off from our 24/7 togetherness on vacation (missing me/missing Benny–so glad she can visit him in his class whenever she wants), or jealous of my second tuck-in for Ben, coupled with normal 3-year old anxieties as her world opens up. Who knows. I very well could be over-analyzing the whole thing.

But it was a teachable moment because one thing I will never do as her mom is dismiss her fears. I don’t need to cater to her every fear … but ignoring them and expecting them to go away on their own isn’t really effective, either. Rather, validating her concerns and facing her fears head on and addressing them is a much more effective way of managing anxiety: real or imagined.

How about you? Any tips for helping allay kids’ fears?






5 thoughts on “Little Girl, Big Anxiety

  1. Oh wow, how heartbreaking. Nate has little glimpses here and there where I see he’s making sure he knows what to expect. This morning he asked, “Who is coming to get me today?” (after camp) – so I know he was thinking about the end of his day and how it would go. There was one time I was late to get him from Pre-K and he was crying when I got there and said for days I forgot to come get him, no matter how many times I explained there was traffic. But I do what you did – *really* listen (not just “how I listen to a four year old” – but how I’d listen to an adult talk about their fears) and calmly reassure him that it’ll be okay (and I don’t get defensive about it not being my fault or something).

    I treat him like a child – not a baby, not an adult – but a child who is smart and sensitive and deserves honesty. And I know you do the same for your kids. 🙂

    PS – FWIW, I think it’s totally reasonable to get to the airport 3 hours early for a domestic flight. 🙂

    1. I’m so glad I’m not alone here, Candice! It’s so hard. 😦 Exactly … we need to listen; they are kids and need compassion.

      HA–thanks 🙂 Tell that to my husband who has never been on time for anything in his life — except our wedding day–that day he was on time 🙂 Smart as can be, but just not so good with time management 😉 And never for fun stuff–always because he’s doing/fixing/etc.

  2. I wanted to comment as a fellow anxiety sufferer. I come from an anxious family. My mom and her siblings are all pretty anxious. My grandma was anxious. My cousins, my sibling … anxious. Clearly, this is genetic but also a result of being parented by anxious people. Almost 2 years ago, unusual life circumstances tipped me beyond anxiety into panic disorder. I have been working hard to treat it and have come a long way. I am determined not to raise anxious children. I agree with your point completely. I do the same.

    1. Good luck to you, Susan! Anxiety/panic disorder are so hard 😦 I hope you find your way! I think it can be done … we just have to be careful not to overthink things. Which can be hard.

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