Is she having fun?
I cannot keep count of how many times I have had to answer this question over the years. My daughter’s anxiety means that sometimes when we try something new or are in a crowded situation she might not smile, even if she is having the time of her life. So even though she is sitting with a serious expression and hasn’t said a single word in the last ten minutes, she is indeed enjoying the experience of her first “real” mani-pedi with the girls. Later, in the safety of home, she will glow as she tells her dad and her brother all about it. The same goes for birthday parties. It took years for her to be okay with me dropping her off at a friend’s party and she may not say more than five words while she is there. But I promise you, she had fun.
You can do this.
I end up saying this to help us through situations. Oftentimes, I have to repeat it a few times before we try something new or do something big on our own. I think this has been the hardest aspect of parenting someone with anxiety. It is a fine line between giving her a push to succeed and pushing her over the edge. In that grey zone lies the uncomfortable. The situations and feelings that make my own anxiety rise up as I watch her struggle or feel overwhelmed.
These situations make me want to scoop her up and keep her safe, but it also these situations that help her gain confidence in herself. Recently, we did a bigger birthday celebration than we typically do. Most years we celebrate with family and a friend or two. This year we had a party. It involved handing out her own invitations and being the center of attention. Both of these sounded big and scary at first. In the end, I have pictures I will forever treasure of my sweet girl smiling and laughing with her friends.
You don’t have to worry about this.
This one is the hardest to get her to believe sometimes. At times, I can see in her eyes that she is lost in worry. During bedtime, she thinks about all the things that are coming the next day. She will sometimes worry herself out of the confidence to do something she was completely ready to do. As many times as I tell her that she doesn’t need to worry, I cannot control her thoughts. She misses out on some fun opportunities because of her anxiety. She has a hard time talking to other kids and adults at school.
We are finding ways to turn this into strengths. She wanted to be involved in the school musical this year and made an excellent backstage crew member because not talking and paying close attention to details were useful skills for the situation. These combined with her passion for reading led her to excel at her position as a junior librarian this year. I’m focusing on the positive and helping her to find ways to develop her strengths. As she gets older, this is helping her to find other people with common interests to make socializing a little easier.
You are not alone.
This one has also been hard. Anxiety and mental health isn’t something that comes up in passing on the playground. It isn’t something that kids talk about. She has struggled with social situations all her life. When she is at recess, she is unable to approach a friend and invite them to play. She has a hard time joining a group unless they explicitly invite her to play. Sometimes, she doesn’t seem friendly or approachable because of her facial expressions. When she is lost in her worry or feeling overwhelmed, her face shows it. The best thing that happened for her this year was having someone who looked out for her. Someone who easily makes friends with everyone but took it on herself to play with someone who looked in need of a friend.
It has also helped her to hear about other people who share her struggle with anxiety. To know people who have felt the same way but have been able to do big things with their lives. To read about other people working through their struggles. So, the movement towards more openness and acceptance about mental health issues is something that I feel will benefit all of the kids out there with an uninvited friend like Anxiety.