The Best Parenting Strategy for an Anxious Child: Thankfulness?

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Little Crying Girl Standing Outside Pre School Building

The first six-week period of school has come and gone and we are well into the second…and yet my anxiety ridden six-year-old is still crying every day when I drop her off.  I had expected some resistance at the beginning of the year…moving away from family, trying to make new friends, adjusting to a new house, and starting kindergarten in general are enough to send a little girl into a complete tailspin.  But as the weeks progressed I expected the challenge to get a little easier.  I tried all strategies I could gather…bribery, punishment, extra snuggling, getting up earlier, sleeping in later, walking away quickly, sticking around longer.  I read “The Kissing Hand” and offered a family photo to take to school.  I have a list of people praying for her. We have had long talks about what goes on at school…she likes her teacher, she has friends, she isn’t struggling to learn, no one is being mean to her.  Her response is always, “I just miss you too much.” And in combination with all the other issues we have been dealing with (fear of elevators, panic attacks over running bath water, worrying over the weather and an overwhelming fear of the dark) I came to the conclusion that her problem could be boiled down to one root issue…anxiety.

Following my discovery, I stumbled on a Bible verse that I never thought would be applicable to this situation, yet in the moment it screamed for my attention as I contemplated what my next move should be. I have used Philippians 4:6 over and over in counseling adults and have memorized it myself to help in anxious situations…but the conclusion I have always drawn from it was that if I’m anxious, I should pray about it and God will give me peace. But lets look at it together…

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

We are asked to pray in every situation but what else are we to add to prayer?…yes, THANKSGIVING!  Throwing up an exasperated prayer is not the ticket to a peaceful and anxiety free life…but add thankfulness and you are on your way to experiencing the peace that God has promised.  Through my research I have come across actual scientific studies which conclude that gratitude actually physiologically reduces stress in the body by altering the hormones that are produced. (Find some more info in this article)  So this made my parenting strategy take a whole new turn that I had never thought of before.  Though it seems a bit unconventional, it is extremely Biblical…and even scientific…to help my anxious child, I have decided to saturate her life with encouragement to be more thankful.

So on the way to school this morning instead of offering a bribe or getting frustrated with my daughter…I told her that even though she would miss me, she could be thankful that she gets to see her mom everyday…some kids don’t, and I pointed her to some of her friends whose parents are divorced so they only get to see their mom every other week or on weekends.  And I talked to her about how she could be thankful that she gets to go to school…and we talked about kids in other countries that have to work like grown-ups instead of getting to play at school with friends.  Eventually, I would like her to come up with some examples of her own…but today was the start (for both of us) of hopefully a new outlook for the school year…and of a new, thankful way of looking at life.

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It’s Okay To Be Okay

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Every couple of weeks our family tries to have movie night…we sit around watching a family friendly movie, eating popcorn and junk food, snuggling together on the couch.  But being the analytical pair that we are, my husband and I can never just let the movies be a source of entertainment.  We are constantly questioning every motive and reviewing every image with a skeptical and often cynical eye.  The kids often get frustrated as we are known to stop the movie a few times over the course of its playing to discuss the events that transpire.  “Why do you think she did that?…Is that a nice thing to do?…What should he have done?…Is that being obedient?…Should she have talked to her parents like that?” I usually take movie night as an opportunity to teach my children…often going against the moral that the movie intends to portray.

In this particular movie one of the main characters is at a despairingly low point in his life.  He has been kicked out of college, told he isn’t good enough to achieve his life goal and he has been ostracized from his peers.  As he waits to see what troubling event life holds for him next he basically says, “I guess I am going to have to resign myself to just being okay….I couldn’t be great so I will just be okay.” And as the movie goes on we find out this was just his disappointment speaking and when he finally realizes his full potential he doesn’t have to be okay…he can be the best at something else.  But I found myself applying this principle to the life lesson I have been struggling through myself.  Is it possible to always find something to be the best at? Isn’t it okay to just be okay?

I spent my whole life striving to be the best at everything…sports, music, art, relationships…you name it, I tried to be the best at it.  And often times I succeeded.  I couldn’t settle for 2nd place in the 800 meter run, I wasn’t giving up the lead part in the musical, I needed that trophy in the art fair.  And when I entered the real world after high school, I faced people who were better than me at a lot of things.  I started questioning my identity and trying even harder to top their performance level.  But in order for there to be “the best” there had to be the second best…and I found myself in that spot a lot. Despite what your t-ball coach told you when you were 4, everyone cannot be a winner.  So what are “the losers” to do? Feel terrible about themselves? Long for the gifts of someone else? Never feel fulfilled with their life because they aren’t the biggest and best? That’s no way to live…and definitely not the way God has called us to live.

We are fed a trail of lies starting from childhood, winding through adolescence, leading on into adulthood that tells us everyone deserves to be the CEO of a major corporation, everyone should be writing a novel, everyone should be on the radio or television and everyone should be doing exactly what they had always dreamed they wanted to. Don’t get me wrong, I want my kids to succeed in life, but I don’t want them to experience the aching disappointment I felt when I turned 30 and realized I hadn’t “made something of myself” just because I hadn’t become the next American Idol.  I don’t want them to spend their lives striving for what comes next and fail to enjoy what they have been given. Our culture of “if you dream it, you can do it” has not produced more people fulfilling their dreams, it has made all those people who don’t have the means to do what they always wanted feel like they are completely useless.  And what I want my kids to ultimately know is that according to Biblical standards it IS okay to be okay.

Most of the time when I am trying to be the best at something, God hasn’t entered my mind even for a split second.  I am only concerned about myself and what I can accomplish. I haven’t taken time to consider what God would want from me, I haven’t taken time to think about what would be better for those around me.  And isn’t that what the Bible says we are actually called to do? What I really want my kids to know is that if I have done my best for the glory of God, if I have sought God’s will for my life, if I have laid my rights and needs down for someone else….and I’m still just okay…then, it is okay to be okay.