Mommy said, “Let me tell you all the reasons you don’t have to worry.”
The following story, written by Renee Jain, was originally published on GoZen.
I wanted to sleep with a bat under my pillow. It was plastic; nonetheless, it was a weapon. I was 5 years old, and I firmly believed that each night when I went to sleep, a robber would break into the house. I needed something to defend myself (and maybe my family), and my brother's yellow Wiffle ball bat seemed ideal. Unfortunately, my parents never complied with my request.
They didn't understand why I was so worried. After all, there was no logical evidence to support my anxiety: our neighborhood was safe, we had never experienced a break-in, and we had a security alarm to alert us of any danger. But who said anxiety was logical? It's generally not. Actually, let's back up. Who said what I was experiencing was "anxiety"?
Anxiety is a word that I use now, based on personal and professional hindsight. Back then, as far as my parents and I were concerned, I was simply prone to a bit of extra worry. None of us understood that my fearful thoughts were actually provoking a real nervous system response.
So how did my loving parents deal with my countless "what if" questions? "What if we get robbed?" "What if we forget to turn the alarm on?" "What if we leave the door unlocked?" "What if the robber finds my room?" How did they handle it when I knocked on their door at two o'clock in the morning, asking to go downstairs to check the lock once more for good measure?
My parents' first line of defense was always reassurance. The next strategy involved invoking my logic. When all else failed, which it often did, they (understandably) became frustrated and sometimes expressed it.
Please know that my parents are amazing. They always supported me, but they didn't really understand what I was going through at the time. It took me a couple of decades to figure it out and to find ways to help alleviate my worries.
To help other families going through something similar, I want to point out five phrases that were said to me out of great love yet were unable to help me when I was in the throes of anxiety. Knowing what I know now, I'll also tell you what I wish I could've expressed to my parents. Finally, I'll present some alternative ways to help a child experiencing anxiety. Here's that list: