My eight year old has been suffering from terrible anxiety all summer. Snakes are about the only thing she's NOT afraid of. It started in May during the last week of school. The change was so dramatic, you'd think something terrible must have happened, but it was just a series of small events that seemed to trigger it. She had a big dance recital, her friend moved away, she got strep throat, had a run-in with a tree root (I'll let you use your imagination on that one), and was really sad for 2nd grade to end. She's never been big on change and has always been slow to warm up to new experiences, but suddenly her fears began interfering with our daily lives.
This summer has been rough. She hasn't wanted to leave the house, and she's had separation anxiety worse than she ever had as a toddler. While she has always refused sleepovers, now she won't even go on a play date. Her stomach has been hurting since May 20th. 11 very long weeks. We've been to 4 doctors, had a stomach x-ray, and a blood test to check her blood count and to rule out Celiac and Chron's Disease. Physically, she's fine. Now she's seeing a therapist.
I wonder if my parenting is to blame, if I warn her about dangers too often. I'm sure my helicopter parenting is not only a partial cause, but also a reaction to her anxiety. We feed off of each other. When she was younger, I always had to be prepared with a change of shoes, band aids, water, food, and a contingency plan. Her little brother is a more happy-go-lucky, adventurous kid and he doesn't listen to me when I warn him about dangers anyway. He could be bleeding from the knees and not even notice. My goal has always been just to keep him alive. He doesn't require extra shoes.
Then there's heredity, which is definitely not going to do her any favors. Our family tree is riddled with alcoholism and bi-polar disorders with a sprinkle of OCD on top. While my husband and I are both prone to anxiety, we've learned to manage it. I mostly avoid the things that make me nervous, which doesn't exactly make me the most fun person on the universe and isn't probably the healthiest coping technique. It's really sad to see your child avoiding things like amusement parks and Braves games. Besides, you can't avoid elementary school just because it gives you stomach aches. I had school anxiety in the first grade and according to my mom I cried every day for over a month. Of course, we had just moved for the umpteenth time and my teacher, Mrs. Looney, paddled kids who didn't do their homework.
I now realize that my daughter was wired differently from the start. Oh, I'd heard stories about babies who slept through the night at 5 weeks, but I convinced myself they were just urban legends. When she was a month old, her Dad sneezed and it startled her so badly that she cried for 20 minutes. From then on, he ran out of the room if he had to sneeze, cough, or breathe loudly. When she was little, if a truck hit a pothole in front of our house or the phone rang while she was sleeping, it would startle her awake. The child never napped for more than 20 minutes. She hated riding in cars. She didn't sleep through the night until she was 7 years old. She's terrified of loud toilets, and FORGET IT if they flush on their own.
But she's funny, spunky, graceful, intelligent, talented, and extremely empathetic. School started this week and she was nervous about it for weeks. She cried the night before, but marched right in there like a soldier going to war. She spent the day befriending the new girl in class. Being sensitive is a mixed bag. Parenthood is too.