I’ve talked before about the fact that my son Dylan is a bit of an introvert. He’s often awkwardly shy and, if he’s unsure of a situation, he is painfully uncomfortable and nervous. As a parent, it is difficult to watch. To put it mildly.
I can usually see the seeds of anxiety start to sprout. He immediately starts to bite his nails, while shooting quick looks in my direction. If there’s nothing that I can do to reassure him, his eyes turn glassy and he gives up biting his nails for pinching the corners of his eyes. I think that originally started as an attempt to keep from crying, but has developed into a nervous habit that also serves as a way to somehow comfort himself.
It doesn’t usually work, though, and the tears aren’t far behind. If we’re in public, he tries to hide the fact that he’s crying by burying his face in his hands. Or if I’m nearby, he tucks his head under my arm and presses his face into my side.
Nothing I can say or do will help.
We’ve tried everything we can think of to “cure” him of it. We reassure him, we try to make sure he’s prepared for anything that might happen that’s out of the ordinary, we talk to him constantly about his anxiety and that, really, there’s nothing for him to be nervous about.
“You’re six!” we say. “You should be thinking about video games and baseball practice, and annoying your little brother and riding bikes with friends! You have nothing to be nervous about! WHY IN THE WORLD ARE YOU CRYING?!”
And then, the other day, that little light bulb above my head started to shine as brightly as the mid day sun.
We’ve spent countless hours telling him about all of the things that he doesn’t need to worry about, but it’s never been enough because it’s never been what he needed to hear.
No matter what we say, he’s still going to worry and be anxious. There’s nothing we can do to change him. We can’t “cure” him or “fix” him…because he’s not broken.
He is who he is, and though we might hate his anxiety for him, it is as much a part of him as his adorable dimple and goofy sense of humor. We need to embrace it instead of fight against it. Telling him that he’s wrong or silly for being nervous isn’t going to do anything to make him feel better about himself or whatever situation is currently throwing him for a loop.
I’m not sure my new revelation will make his anxiety any better or easier to deal with, but I at least hope it’s a step in the right direction.
This parenting gig is hard, mostly because we never know if we’re doing the right thing. We can only hope that by doing the best we can, and constantly trying to do better, we might end up doing right by our kids.
(Edited to add: I posted a follow up. Unfortunately, it seems that adopting this new philosophy is easier said than done.)
Have you had a parenting related “light bulb moment” similar to this?