For Everyone Who Worries About The Kids In Their Lives Who Worry

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Back to School

Wow! We made it! Put a brand new kindergartner and first grader on the bus this morning with no tears, lots of kisses and excitement, and just a little bit of nausea (mine of course). After this wonderful morning, I proceeded to miss both kids terribly and wait the hours until their arrival home. Lindsey came home first, smiling and skipping off of the bus. She LOVED school. Wanted to go right back again. Success!!!! Then I spent more time waiting and missing the other kid terribly until he arrived home. After what seemed like forever, Brandon ran off the bus, all smiles and happy about his day. Loved his teacher, his classroom, and lunch in school. Another success!!! Could it really be that the days of crying, anxiety, and not wanting to go to school were really behind us????? Ummmm....No. I forgot that the first day of school is generally easy. It is in anticipation of the second day that the trouble around here begins!

We had a wonderful time swimming and playing with friends after school. The day was going great. Then it was time to go home and get ready for dinner and bed. And that is when the tears and fears began. My little worrier kindly asked me if he could go back to kindergarten. He did not like going to school until 3:00 and was scared of not knowing all of this first grade stuff. When I explained that he would be bored going back to kindergarten because it would be too easy, he said, "Fine. Then I'll just stay home with you all day." Ah. If it were only that easy.

So, what is a mom to do? The night continued to get progressively worse as the tears started. "I don't want to go to first grade." "It is too long." "Can't I take a week off." "I'm not going to school tomorrow." "I'm scared mommy." "I miss you."

Now, I've learned a thing or two over the past 4 years he has been in school. I did not tell him he had nothing to be afraid of. Instead we talked about how it is scary, and tiring, and hard in the beginning. Just like starting most new things are. But that it will get better, we just have to take it one day at a time.

Unfortunately, no one wants to hear that it will get better. Especially children. They want you to make it better right now! So we talked about what he could do to make going to first grade less scary. After we got passed "not going," he thought planning something special for the end of each day might be nice. That would give him something to look forward to and make the day go by faster. He also liked knowing that he still had time for some play and fun activity at the end of the school day.

OK. Problem solved. Time for bed. Ummm...NO! Tears start all over again along with the saddest look of "Mommy, please make this all better for me." We talk about all of the things he already knows how to do in school - ride the bus, read, go to art, gym, and music, add, make friends.... All of those things he doesn't have to be afraid of because he is already a pro at them. We talk about how his teacher is his "school mommy" and how he can always ask her for help or a hug when he needs one. He suggests that I call his teacher and tell her that he is scared so she can help him. I think that is a wonderful suggestion, so I do. He is happy to hear that his teacher adores him already and says that he is doing great. And also that she has lots of hugs waiting for him tomorrow (yes, can you say AWESOME teacher!). That makes him smile and calms him down enough to try and fall asleep.

But his face still says "Make this better mommy!" And I want to. I want to take away his fear and make it all better right now too! But I am learning that he has to go through it. Lots of other new first graders are going through it too. Same as new middle schoolers, high schoolers, college students, and new teachers. If I don't let him go through it, he won't get through it and come out stronger, more confident and capable of handling his fears the next time. I have to aid him in finding a way to comfort himself and find the determination to work through his fears, and even just his exhaustion with a new full day schedule. But I can't do it for him. I want him to tell me how he feels and talk about ways to make things better. But ultimately, he has to experience it and find his own way. And I guess, I have to find my own way to deal with not being able to absorb his pain and take all unpleasant experiences away from him.

Sounds like I have this all figured out, right? Ummm...No. I neglected to mention one more strategy that helped my little worrier fall asleep tonight. If you're looking for me tomorrow, I'll be at the toy store buying a brand new 'pillow pet' for my first grader who promises to get on the bus tomorrow. Bribery. Yes - I admit it. Bribery. I'm a mom. I'll do whatever it takes!

May your heart be at ease,
Angela सन्तोष

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Mamma Bear

I'm not exactly sure when it happened, but at some point over the last couple of years my kids became people. Little people with their own ideas, opinions and attitudes. People who can talk, read, write, take a shower, make friends, work electronics, play, eat, and do a whole bunch of other things independently now. Granted they are only 5 and 6 years old, but wasn't it just a few years ago that they couldn't eat, change, or even walk by themselves? Now they can actually think for themselves! Well, that is when I actually let them think for themselves.

Lately I have been feeling one of the biggest transitions in taking care of my children since they were born. I can't believe it, but the letting go is already beginning. I thought that wasn't supposed to happen until you drop them off at their college dorm room? But no. They are becoming more and more independent every day. And less and less dependent on mommy for their every need. Each day, the line between what they need me to do for them and what they can do for themselves gets a little less clear to me and I find myself struggling at times to figure it out.

When they were babies and then toddlers, my role as protector was very clear. I was the armor between my babies and the rest of the world. No one was going to harm them with me around. If I didn't like how someone was treating my little ones, then I would swoop them up and pull them right out of the situation. I got to say whom they did and did not play with. It was simply my job to decide what my children ate, what clothes they wore, what toys they received, and who their "friends" where.

But it doesn't completely work that way anymore. All the sudden my children are choosing their friends and the games they want to play. Sure. I am ok with that. I can stand back and watch my kids play with their friends on their own. Until of course, I witness my child being teased or treated unfairly. Then I want to step in like a mother bear and take care of the situation pronto! And here is where I am struggling with that fuzzy line between what my kids should be doing for themselves and what I should be doing for them.

Part of me can listen to another child not want to play with my son or daughter, take his or her toy away, boss him or her, or say something mean. Part of me can listen and wait to hear how my child will handle the situation. Wait and see if she or he has the skills and the strength to take care of it on his or her own. And then discuss it later when we are alone to praise how it was handled or to figure out a better way for the next time.

But then there is the other part of me. The part that wants to get right in there and take care of the situation immediately. Solve the disagreement or end the mean behavior right away. And....I'll admit it... make that child who is hurting mine STOP!!! But unless my child is in physical danger, is that the best decision?

My first year of teaching, I was on playground duty during recess one day. (I taught in lower Manhattan, so by "playground" I mean alley-way.) A few minutes in, I noticed a man walking rather fast and furious towards the children. He traveled through the maze of kids to find the one boy he was looking for. When he found him, he picked him up by his shirt collar and began to yell into his face "If you ever bother my son again, I will find you and hurt you." I couldn't believe it. How could a grown man treat a child this way? As a single, childless, 21 year old, I was horrified. Then I became a mom. And now? I'm not as horrified.

Now don't worry. I'm not going to attack any children at a playground anytime soon, but I definitly understand his anger and his need to protect his child against any enemy - even another young child.

To try and figure all of this out, I have been conducting some experiments over the last few weeks with my own favorite "lab rats". I have been waiting longer and longer before I intervene in thier disagreements with each other or with their friends. I have been letting my free thinking children try and figure it out for themselves before 'super mom' comes to the rescue. Allowing them to stand up for themselves and explain their needs and wishes clearly and effectively. And for the most part, I have been happy with the results. They are learning to solve their own problems. Standing up for themselves and finding solutions to disagreements and behaviors that they don't like. And we have been talking about these events later after friends are gone, and it is amazing what they learn from experiences they handle all by themselves.

Thankfully, I am also finding that they still need mom too! Some problems are just to big for their growing brains to handle yet. And one of the best things I can teach them is to begin to determine for themselves which problems they can handle on their own and which ones need the help of their parents or others whom they can trust to love and support them.

If we want to worry less about our children, and have them worry less, then we need to give them the skills and the strength to solve their own problems and make their own decisions. If they are confident in their abilities to handle situations on their own, then they will have less worries throughout their lives.

But children will also have less worries if they have the support and love of trusted adults. Parents who will always be there watching and waiting to lend a hand or a hug when needed. And a mamma who would be willing to face the biggest and meanest bully in the playground just for them!

May your heart be at ease,
Angela सन्तोष

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Into the Mind of a Perfectionist

My husband and I went to see Inception last night. No worries. I won't give away the ending. Not sure I could explain it anyway! But the movie's premise about dream and thought control got me to thinking. What if we were to look inside the mind of a worrier or a perfectionist? What would we see.

Well, since my mind is the only one I have ever had the opportunity to look into, I can tell you what I have seen brewing there throughout my life. As in the movie, the mind thinks it can create and control its own reality. We often use our thoughts to try and find ways to control a situation and its outcome. But as we know, often this does not happen. There are just too many external factors going on for us to ever have complete control over any situation.

OK, I write that last statement like it is something I have always known, when in reality I have only begun to grasp it. As a child dealing with perfectionism, I truly thought if I worked hard enough, worried long enough, or thought things through enough, that I could control my life and achieve the outcomes I desired. If I wanted good grades in school, I just had to work harder than expected and I would get them. And I mean "work harder than excepted." Because as a perfectionist, I was already getting excellent grades. But my mind was such that it felt it always needed to be a step ahead to keep those grades up. I often felt that I was one step away from everything crashing down on me. So in order to prevent that, I would do 110% to guarantee that nothing in my present situation would change. Need to do a 5 page paper to get an A? My mind would say to write 6. Need to exercise 3 days a week to stay fit? My mind would say to exercise 5 days. Eight glasses of water a day for health? Better drink 10. 10 books on the summer reading list? Need to read at least 15. And most of all, the trick was to do all of that while still trying to appear "cool" and "care-free" in front of my friends. In my experience with perfectionism, it wasn't about trying to be perfect - but rather trying to maintain what I assumed was the perfect way to be.

Now what about when I knew ahead of time that there was no way for me to control events to produce a positive outcome? Then I often chose not to participate, rather than deal with the fear of failing or making a 'fool' of myself. Competitive sports? No thanks. As a child I would have rather not participated than make a mistake and be looked at as not good enough. Sure, I would participate sometimes when friends would push, but I would hate every minute of it and go over every detail in my head of what I did wrong when the game was over.

Even though I had done well in elementary school, I was very nervous about going to high school. While I wasn't worried about failing, I was worried that I was not going to perform well enough. I was tracked in the honors class and surrounded by smart, popular kids. You would think I would have felt proud of myself, successful, and intelligent. But instead I felt a deep fear of not living up to expectations - my own expectations of who I thought I should be. So with every award, word of praise, or A+ I got, I became more anxious about having to maintain this image of myself. More fearful that at any minute the world would see that I was not this smart, responsible girl they thought they knew, but the inadequate one that my mind viewed me to be.

In writing this, I am hoping to give you a look into the possible thoughts of the perfectionists and worriers in your own lives. I often go back to this younger version of myself (thank God I have grown so much over the years!)and look to see how someone could have helped her. Like I said, it wasn't anyone else's expectations I was trying to live up to, just ones that I created for myself. It wasn't until I was an adult and had to go through some hard times in which I had absolutely no control over what was to happen, that I learned to give up control. To see that I never really had it anyway.

Maybe my younger self could have been shown how to laugh at herself and not take herself so seriously all the time. Maybe if her friends or teachers shared their own failures or imperfections more, she would have realized that being perfect is non - existent and not something to strive for. I wonder if the schools she went to focused on the beauty of individual differences and strengths rather than on grades and class ranks, she would have learned to be more of an individual and discover her own talents and interests earlier.

Or maybe she was just born this way and one of her paths in life was to discover how to accept and love herself for the person she is and to learn to trust in a power higher than her and to just let go. Yes, it was often a hard and long road to get to where I am now, and I still have further to go in my journey. But the path has brought me to the point in my life where I am now, and I am blessed and happy for that. And if my experiences can help my children and others learn how to overcome their anxieties, than every one of them has been a gift.

May your heart be at ease,
Angela सन्तोष