by Risa Green
A few months ago I wrote about how my six year-old son suffers from anxiety , and I figured that it’s about time for an update. Since I first realized that his nightly “what if?” questions were not just a sneaky trick designed to get me to stay in his room longer, and that his total meltdowns at the mere mention of going somewhere new were not actually masterminded to get us to stay home so that he could have more Lego time, my relationship with him has changed completely. I feel like I really and truly understand my son, and he is so obviously relieved to be understood.
For the past few months, he’s been going to a “playgroup” where he and some other kids with anxiety talk about their feelings and how to manage them, and while he’s still plenty anxious, he’s getting better and better at dealing with it. We’ve learned that it helps him to rate his nervousness on a scale of one to five, and we’ve learned that when he doesn’t have all of the information he needs to feel comfortable about going somewhere new, it helps to play a game where we try to guess what it’s going to be like. We’ve also learned that when he starts feeling nervous about a situation, it helps to look on the bright side and think about how it might be fun, instead of focusing on how it might be scary or bad. That old Monty Python song, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, has now become the official theme song of our family.
He still gets nervous for school every single day. We have the daily schedule tacked up on his wall next to his bed, and every night he asks me to read it to him about five times, and then in the morning when he wakes up he asks me to read it to him again. It’s not that he doesn’t remember. It’s just that hearing it over and over again seems to relax him. He’s been playing flag football this fall, too, and he still gets nervous before every practice, and before every game. The difference now, though, is that he’s gotten really good at deconstructing his feelings, so when he acts irrationally, he knows exactly what’s causing him to be that way.
For example, he once threw a fit before a game and screamed at me that he hates football, and that he only pretends to like it because he wants to make me happy. Now, I know that’s not true. His friends are on the team, and once he gets past his initial anxiety, he always has a blast. He wanted to skip the game that day and I wouldn’t let him, and we fought it about it for nearly an hour. A little while later, though, after he’d calmed down, he admitted that he does like football, he just gets nervous about it, and so he said those things because he was feeling scared to go. And just the other night, at bedtime, he asked me if he could play a video game in bed before he went to sleep. Before, I would have scoffed at this request, thinking that he’d be up all night if I allowed something like that. But he explained that focusing on the video game helps his mind to stop thinking about the nervousness, and that makes it easier for him to fall asleep. And I get that, the need for mindlessless. It’s the same reason I like to fall asleep while watching tv. So I told him sure, go ahead. When I went back in fifteen minutes later to check on him, he was out cold.
As his mom, it breaks my heart that things have to be so hard for him. He’s such a sweet, sensitive little guy, and I wish that there was something I could say or do to make it all easy. I wish that I could wave a magic wand and make his little mind stop worrying so much. But I’ve come to accept the fact that I can’t. All I can do is try my best to understand him, and so far, that seems to be working.