My 10-year-old daughter is going through the inevitable transformation to awareness that eventually, all kids undergo: the realization that the world extends much further beyond the comfort of home and that it can sometimes be a scary place. I really feel for her -- with awareness comes with challenges, which now is resulting in anxiety
When I was a kid, I could never sleep over a friend's house because I got homesick; I'd call my mom at 2 a.m., and every time, she'd come and get me. What a great mom!
However, as I now am experiencing the other side of the coin, though I have great sensitivity for her fears, I have to really fight the inclination to always go get her. It's not that I want her to sit and suffer; it's just that I want her to know that even though it's overwhelming and scary, I want her to develop the strength and knowledge to know she can get through anything.
One of the things that I want both my daughters to know is that I'm always there for them... no matter what. My mom was always there for me -- even physically, at 2 a.m.! -- and as I get older, I realize that though it was very comforting to know she'd always come and get me, all it truly taught me was how to call her to go home.
It wasn't until recently, in my 30s, that I began to cultivate my own tools to get through challenging moments. I realize that not only do I have to let my daughter know that I'll be there for her, but that more importantly, she is going to be OK on her own. It's a fine line to walk, to let your kids know that you will drop everything to comfort them and make them feel secure, but as a mindful parent, I ask myself, "How is this helping them to learn to breathe through life's challenges?"
So, I do both. I remind my daughter that I am always there for her, but sometimes that means that I am there as a reminder for her to rely on her own strength. The reality is, as much as I want to always say I'll be there, I won't always be able to. And I want her to know that she'll get through whatever is arising -- even if it is hard. And she'll grow from that experience, making her stronger for the next.
For the past two summers, my daughter has gone to sleep-away camp. I was in awe that at 8 years old, she went away for 12 days; that was something I could have never done. I was so envious of her carefree abandon in which she said goodbye to me and ran off; I patted myself on the back for a parenting job well-done that I raised her to be confident, secure and capable to feel ready to be independent. But now, at 10 years old, when she's going through age-appropriate awareness of life outside her bubble, she has gained more anxiety, insecurity and fear from being away from home, and is saying she doesn't want to go to camp this summer.
I am sad that this loss of innocence has robbed her from the carefree abandon she once had, but I am confident she can get it back and not have to miss out on wonderful and exciting life experiences.
So, I am working on giving her tools to cope with feeling anxious, insecure or scared, rather than give in to the belief that she has to avoid anxiety-provoking situations. The first one is to think positive thoughts. It is simple brain science, really: the more you focus on negative thoughts, the stronger those thoughts become, which will most likely only make you feel worse. Or you can choose to shift your mind's attention to something positive, which when focusing on, will begin to make you feel better.
The second, and probably most important thing I am trying to engrain in my daughter, is to remember to breathe. Focusing on breathing in and breathing out not only gives your mind a task, rather than spiraling into the abyss, but it will calm your whole body down. It is hard to stay upset when you are slowing down your heart rate, re-oxygenating your brain and body and getting out of the over-thinking mind. Breathing is a natural antidote to anxiety or fear that can be used anytime, anywhere.
Lastly, I tell her to believe in herself. Our minds are incredibly powerful and I am trying to impress to my daughter that her power to believe in herself is the single most influential indicator of her accomplishments, success and sense of pride.
Today, she left for 4th grade camp for two nights. She'll hike and pan for gold. She was nervous to go, and I saw the glimmer of anxiety cover her face as she tried to hide her anxiety in front of her classmates. As I hugged her tight, I whispered in her ear: "Think positive thoughts, breathe and believe in yourself. You're going to be just fine and have a great time. I love you and will miss you!"
As I saw her pull away in the car and she waved goodbye and yelled that she loved me, I could see in her face that she was already putting those reminders, her tools, into practice. And I then had to think positive thoughts, breathe and believe in my daughter, that she was in fact going to be Ok, and even if it were hard, she'd survive and grow from having a new experience.