She doesn’t like it when I leave; runs screaming after me like armed henchmen are dragging me out the door with murderous intentions. “Mommy!” she shrieks, oceans of hurt pouring down, “Bye! I’ll never stop loving you!” Her face is a storm of rage and abandonment, rendering her words more startling than sweet, and it nearly breaks me every time.
I love her so much. I say words to her so she’ll know that some things are more true when they are spoken. I tell her that if all the girls in the whole world were lined up, I would choose her, and that I was chosen too, to be her mother; what fortune. I tell her that when she was in my tummy I really hoped I would have a little girl, and then God gave me just what I wanted.
There is also the love I keep to myself-the stuff that has to be filtered appropriately before leaving my mouth. Like when her expression fills me with dread and wonder at the deep well of spirit just beneath the surface. Or when she is distant and I want to hold her so tight, but don’t, because she’s old enough to make these decisions about proximity. I don’t tell her that some invisible part of my body would blacken up small and die if anything happened to her; that I would live partly dead, and that is how I would want it.
I’ve made some changes to the way I relate to her. She’s doesn’t know what anxiety means, only feels it invading her peace without the language or tools to manage it. I want to give those things to her.
Here are some things that have worked for us.
Make no demands
I don’t tell her to stop it, or do it, or to stop being scared. She’s scared and irrational. That part of her brain that thinks logically is overshadowed by fear. Instead, I validate her fears by hearing them and acknowledging them, but not encouraging them. I can see that you are scared to sit down in the bathtub. It is really hard to do things when we are scared.
Stop the clock
Prepare for things to take longer when she is anxious. Patience is important. Usually I can tell when she is gearing up, and the best outcomes have been when I am able to provide a long runway leading up to a task or event. We take a break, we breathe together, we talk positively about what is about to happen. When she has already given into anxiety, we remove ourselves from chaos and sit quietly.
Transfer responsibility for problem solving
I try to guide her to discover solutions for herself. Talking usually helps when anger doesn’t. It can be so frustrating when she doesn’t do what I ask of her. I may know some answers, but I’ve been surprised so many times by her solutions to problems, that I’ve stopped assuming my way is the only way.
Provide tangible tools
When she has a hard time calming down, I point out that I can tell she is still anxious because she is breathing hard, crying, shaking, wiggling, or whatever. This has been helpful in showing her the cues that are obvious to me, but not to her. She sees that her body reacts certain ways when she is upset, so she can work on calming down by regulating her breathing and making her body still.
Another tool is prayer and meditation. She goes to this on her own now, often asking me to pray for her when she feels afraid. We talk to God, asking for peace, protection, and courage.
We also practice thinking true thoughts, or meditation, which is helpful in guiding the inner dialog that so often leads us to anxiety. I am safe in my home because mommy and daddy are here. Or, mommy leaves sometimes, but she always comes back.
Don’t (always) avoid problem areas
With all of these other tools in my box, I usually choose not to avoid things that may be problematic. That isn’t to say that I thrust her into every stressful situation just for a teaching moment, but we try to live without giving more power to fear.
Get eye level
I spend much more time with her alone and doing things she enjoys. She needed me to stop more often and let things drop. She needed me to play with her on the floor, and pretend to be the Queen all day long. During our really hard time, she simply needed me to spend extra time reassuring her and sowing love.
We are through the hard time for now. It wasn’t a phase and she hasn’t grown out of it, but she is learning to manage her emotions better. She is a passionate little being, full of fire, and love, and empathy. I believe these traits will serve her well, because one of life’s great surprises is finding out that what we thought of as weakness can be transformed into our greatest strength.