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Feeling Safe is the End Game

Being the mom of an anxious child is life changing. It changes the lens through which you read any parenting situation. It changes the tone of your voice; the ability to be spontaneous (ok, parenting in general orders a ceases and desist letter there); and it seriously changes your family dynamics.

Changing doesn’t mean worse. Well, it does sometimes. But it can also open your heart and enrich your brain as you struggle to learn new approaches to ordinary things.

Grocery shopping can become a battle — one where you’re surrounded by judging eyes who can only see the crazy. Like leaving a playdate. Instead of “Ok we’ve gotta go. grab your things and say goodbye;” you sink slowly to your knees to make eye contact and say, “we ‘re going to have to leave soon, so finish up what you’re doing. you have 5 minutes.” “Three-minute warning” “two minutes then we go.” And on and on until you have her by the hand and sail out the door in harmony. Or something resembling that.

An anxious child worries about everything—but you don’t necessarily know that. Or if you do know it, you may not really understand it. She doesn’t have the words to tell you and really she doesn’t know what she’s feeling. She is just trying to hold it together through the day. Those tantrums that make you want to cry or tear your hair out—or her—are simply an expression of all this emotion she can’t name. It helps me to remember that she is more scared than anything. Scared by her worries, her thoughts that things will be bad. But in the middle of the screaming and crying she is not worrying; she is scared. Scared by these emotions that take over her body and voice. So when you least want to hold her and when you are not feeling like being soft and caring, THAT is when you need to be. That is a huge challenge. But I find keeping my eye on the end game helps.

The more you yell, the more afraid she becomes and then she’s scared of your emotions and actions as well as her own. If you can just wrap your arms around her and hold on really tight, she will feel your heartbeat and your breath and will match it. She will calm down enough to listen, to follow you, to take control of her body again. She will feel safe and you can then celebrate her victory.

And that’s the end game. For now.

This post originally appeared on Parenting in Real Life. It has been reprinted with permission.

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