This weekend will be a big one for the Fricker household.
News Flash: Gigi is going on her first-ever friend sleepover. And I couldn’t be more terrified.
She’s slept away from home plenty of times – one of our closest friends has been taking her for fun sleepovers for as long as I can remember. But that is someone I trust, she trusts; a second mom.
Gigi is THRILLED. She has been counting down the days, the hours, the seconds, until this thing begins. Me? The panic is starting to set in. All of her closest friends from school will be there. She’s been telling me non-stop about all of the fun things they plan on doing. But, my mind is racing – what if? what if? what if? And this little girl… alone and afraid in the dark… is all I can see.
Gigi has endured enough for the little old soul she’s always been. Our transition to Calgary was surprisingly the hardest on her. A lot of insecurities have since surfaced and continue to do so.
It started with school. She never wanted to go. Her Kindergarten year – the kicker being, her mom was working right across the hall, and her brother, hanging out with a bunch of 2 year olds a couple of rooms over. Terrified eyes turned to tears, and she spent the bulk of her mornings trying to pretend to be “ok”.
Then came bedtime. And we quickly realized this was becoming a problem that wasn’t going to go away without a fight. If it was a school night, she would be afraid to fall asleep because she didn’t want to have to wake up and go to school. If there was a special event coming up, she would keep herself up afraid that she wouldn’t be able to fall asleep, and be too tired to enjoy the special day. If mom or dad had to go out at bedtime, she would worry we would never come back. If she couldn’t hear us downstairs as she slept upstairs, she would worry we had left her alone.
It definitely affected her socially. At playdates and birthday parties, she would panic at the thought of me leaving her side, bringing herself to tears. The worst part about it was that she knew she was different than her friends. She felt differently than they did, and she hated it. She just wanted to be like them.
In the beginning, I would say things like, “don’t worry Gigi,” and, “why are you so worried?!”. It drove me crazy. But I’ve learned not to ask those questions anymore and as impatient as I still feel about her worries, I will never say those words again.
We were at our wits end, with a professional’s phone number at my fingertips, when I came across this book – “What To Do When You Worry Too Much – A Kids Guide To Overcoming Anxiety” – by Dawn Huebner.
Everyday we would set aside time (15 minutes of strictly, “Worry Time”) and work through this book together. It opened my eyes to an anxiety-ridden world. Together, we turned her worries from these abstract, nonsensical thoughts into a Worry Monster that we were determined to shrink.
She’s learning to separate her worried thoughts from “the truth” and can pin them against each other to overcome her anxiety. We do a lot more asking – and a lot less telling. The questions have changed too… from “why?” to “what is worry telling you?”, “is it true?”, “is that really going to happen?”.
At school, she’s started taking the school bus. There is something about it that’s made everything easier. She needs to make the choice to walk away from us, rather than us walking away and leaving her. The bus driver is waiting for her to get on so they can move on to the next stop, she doesn’t have the luxury to dwell on her worries.
At bedtime, she’s started using the intercom on the phone to call us if she was ever concerned that we weren’t there (a safety behaviour that I’m a little worried could end up doing harm..).
Socially, we’re back at the sleepover. She is becoming a lot more confident when it comes to play dates and birthday parties, although she still rejects more invitations than I would like her to.
Up until now, we have been taking small steps. We are learning to expect these worried thoughts and are gearing up to deal with them head on. We’ve been lucky. We have only come CLOSE to looking into professional help, although I know that may be in the cards for us in the future- it will always stay on my radar.
This sleepover doesn’t seem in keeping with our “small steps”. It’s a leap, a bound even; one I’m not ready to take. But she sure seems to be… And after all, that’s what really matters…right?
Here’s hoping I can get through this sleepover without having to pull out any of Hailey’s worry-squashing strategies… for myself.
Update: After a lot of positive self-talk – she did it. She had a fabulous time – and I quote, “the best night of my life.”
So wonderful! My son suffers from anxiety but it manifests a bit differently than your daughter. I think that book might be beneficial for him. Thank you for sharing your story!