Today was the school nativity.
I remember being so proud of you last Christmas when you learnt all the words to your class song. You even nailed the later verses that most of the children just mumbled through.
As the lights shone on you, your face shone back, relishing every moment and so proud to show us what you had been working on.
Roll forward 12 months and I’m worried that you are developing anxiety…
Off to a good start
This morning, I queued up in the sleet and gale for 30 minutes so that I could get a seat near the front of the school hall.
I wanted to see you shine again.
I imagined seeing you in your costume. I knew your one line off-by-heart and my camera was poised to capture it on film. I smiled to myself as I thought of the actions you’d made up for yourself to go along with your words.
As I found my seat and searched for your beautiful face in the crowd of wise men, tea-towelled shepherds, and assorted stable-related animals, you waved excitedly! You motioned to me to take a photo of you, and pulled your favourite camera pose.
There was no sign of the anxiety that was to become so painfully obvious in just a few short moments…
The creeping anxiety
But as the lights dimmed, a change came over you. It was subtle at first and you launched into the first song with vigour. But I clocked it.
You stopped making eye-contact with the crowd, stepping back so that you were less noticeable. Then you started touching your face and licking your lips – the first tell-tale signs of the anxiety welling up within you.
I have always prided myself on being switched-on to your moods and feelings. It’s one of the reasons I was desperate to be a stay at home mum – so that I would know you inside out and so that I would have time to work things through with you.
But as I sat watching, the pieces started to fall into place. I realised that you had been displaying these anxious behaviours recently, and I had not picked up on them.
The constant face-touching and flicking of your head – I had put it down to your fringe being too long. I figured your hair was tickling your face and had given it a quick snip ready for the big show.
The lip-licking was always noticeable during trombone lesson. I thought you were preparing your lips to play and I was annoyed that you would do it at inopportune moments. I got frustrated when you would lift your instrument to start playing and then suddenly put it down again to lick your lips. It made you late in the music.
I thought you were messing around.
Now I see that you were anxious during the lesson. Maybe you feared you would miss the beat or play the wrong notes? Maybe you were worried about messing up?
My irritation will have made the whole situation worse for you. I can see that now. And the realisation cuts deep into my heart.
And today, as your big moment approached, the fidgeting was off-the-scale! You couldn’t keep your hands still and your mouth was looking red and sore. And even though you delivered your line with clarity, once the show ended, you burst into tears in my arms.
How has this transpired? How have only put the pieces together today? What happened, my little one, to strip you of your confidence and leave you with such intense feelings of anxiety?
So what now? Where do we go from here? I have done everything I can think of to help you build a positive sense of self. It’s a project I have been working on since the day you were born.
- Every morning before class, I make you tell me 3 amazing things about yourself – I want you to learn how to be proud of yourself and create a positive inner dialogue
- I actively look out for you doing something well so that I can compliment you on it
- I tell you daily that you are special to me and that I love you
- I try to model quiet self-confidence myself so that you know what it looks like
But maybe this isn’t the point. Maybe it’s not about me at all. Maybe the anxiety is inevitable – it could be character trait deep within you or perhaps just a phase that you will grow out of.
Whatever it is, I want you to know, Little One – I am still proud of you. I still think you are amazing. Even if you doubt yourself, I DO NOT. You walked up to that microphone and delivered your words despite the whirlwind that was swirling around inside you. That makes it a huge accomplishment.
Little One, I don’t know what the answer is, or if there even is an answer, but I will be with you every step of the way. I will do my best to coach you to deal with these emotions.
I will sit with you when you need to be still. I will listen when you need to share. I will make you laugh when you need a distraction. I will cheer you on when you need some encouragement.
Today I saw the anxiety in you, and today is the last day you will ever face that feeling alone. x
UPDATE – To find out what happened next, see this next post – Childhood Anxiety: The Plan That Went Wrong
Have any of your children ever suffered with anxiety? Were you an anxious child? Did these worries eventually pass or do you have any advice on dealing with it? Please let me know in the comments section below.