If y’all remember, over a year ago this past March my daughter was diagnosed with Childhood Anxiety Disorder. It was a traumatic and downright scary time for us both, for my family, and for those close friends of mine with whom I was able to share EXACTLY what was happening in the Yellow Submarine. One of many things I will never forget from last year’s experience was our therapist telling me, “I promise you this will get better!”
Nope. I will never forget.
Very few people make promises they actually keep. Most of the time when someone says, “I promise…” my mind immediately hears the mumbling of Charlie Brown’s teacher, wa-wa, wa-wa, wa-waaaaaaaa.
But, I needed this promise so desperately, and she knew it. She knew it, and more than that, she knew I was the kind of parent who would do ANYTHING to help Maycee get better. With her promise came the knowledge of my conviction as well as the belief that my daughter, even at age 9, was completely capable of learning how to handle her anxiety.
At the end of last school year, when other kids were excited for summer and cheering as they left the campus, my daughter was nervous and fretting. She had just gotten back to attending class in May. She had just gotten to the point of being able to walk across the blacktop and stand in line with her friends before the bell rang in the morning. And, with the ending of school came the beginning of camp. Transition. The unknown. “Buttface” (this is the name we gave Maycee’s anxiety) material everywhere.
We had to practice going to the Boys and Girls Club the weekend before; not once, not twice, but multiple times. We had to discuss exactly what the plan was for the first day–driving there, walking to the front door, entering, meeting J., the head counselor, me kissing her on the cheek and then saying good-bye. Last year, this was what we had to do to survive the transition with minimal negative effects (i.e. tantrums and panic attacks). Last year I didn’t breathe until I was driving away from the Club campus knowing my sweet girl was going to be okay.
This year, as the school bell rang on the last day, Maycee came out of her classroom smiling brightly, arm-in-arm with her best friend. The hooting and hollering of happy kids surrounded us as we hugged her teacher and gathered her things. This year we enjoyed the weekend before transitioning to camp to its fullest with lots of horsey time and relaxing. We still discussed the transition, but the physical practice wasn’t necessary. And, when last Monday morning arrived, only a slight amount of trepidation settled in my stomach. Heading to the Club Maycee was also bit nervous, but mostly excited, for what adventures lie ahead. The unknown was alright.
We preceded week one of summer camp with a visit to our therapist–a check-in to see how everything was going. Even with the success of this past school year and transitions becoming easier, Buttface still hangs around in familiar places. The anxiety is always there to some extent. I wondered and asked, “Will it ever go away?”
Her answer: MAYBE. In her assessment of Maycee’s progress, she said we were now ready for the NEXT PHASE of therapy, which involves PREVENTING anxiety. We’ve spent the last year learning how to manage it and how to handle triggers, so now it’s time to work on prevention. Bingo!
Here’s what’s on the agenda:
1. Mindfulness Meditation for 10-15 minutes per day. Yes, kids can do it. Maycee has been using our bench swing in the backyard, concentrating on the movement of her legs to push the swing and back again. If her mind wanders, she comes back to her legs. Push, swing, push, swing… I’ve been spending time in quiet, listening to my breathing. Mindfulness Meditation helps keep us centered on what is happening right now. Being in the moment helps prevent anxiety, which often feeds off a bad case of the “what-ifs”.
2. Talking about what kind of kid Maycee wants to be before we go out (i.e. to the ranch). Does she want to be an obedient child who listens to Mom, is calm, cooperative and sets a good example (to name a few possibilities)? Talking about how Maycee wants to see herself and be seen helps avoid behavioral pitfalls that occur when we are doing things together. When behavior is under control, Buttface stays away.
3. Being grateful. Yes! Each night we now share one thing that made us grateful during the day. The idea is to stay away from material inferences and avoid generalizations. So, instead of saying, “I’m so grateful Mom bought me that horse halter I wanted!” or “I’m grateful for you, Mom.” she might say, “I’m grateful we spent time together shopping for horse halters.” The gratitude is about the togetherness not the purchase; it’s also specific. When we express gratitude, we tend to feel more peaceful as well as happier, which makes it pretty darn hard to be anxious.
We were told to do these tasks daily, and the “prevention muscle” would get stronger. With immediate action the promise made a year ago continues to be fulfilled. I’ve already noticed a difference in both Maycee and myself, but I’m not surprised by this.
Not in the least.
I wanted to give an update on this part of my life because I know there are others who have children struggling with Childhood Anxiety Disorder. I’ve linked my original post on the topic here. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy works, but it takes time and diligence from both parent and child. It’s not easy, however, nothing worth while ever is, right?
Thanks for reading, and may promises and progress be with you as summer vacation begins!