Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Parenting a Fearful Child

As I begin to close the door to the dressing room, she hurries to block my way. "Don't close it!" she pleads in a panic. I try to gently move her so we can get on with yet another round of fittings. She is insistent, but I can be equally so. "Honey, the door is not going to lock. Even if it does, the sales lady is right outside and she'll open it." Nothing moves her; in fact, she looks to be on the verge of anxious tears. "Sweetie, look at this door. It's made of plywood! If worse come to worse, we can break it down with one kick!"

While her fear factor rages, my frustration rises. Why can't we for once just get one simple errand done without a nervous breakdown? After the dressing room, it's the elevator. She's not going in there; I'm not staying out. Only the greater fear of being left behind forces her into that big moving box, and she squeezes her eyes shut until we reach our destination.

Recently it was being outside the front door for five seconds while I remained inside to set the house alarm. I gave in to her insistence to stay with me, but once outside no sooner had I shuffled all five kids into the car than I realized I'd left my cell phone behind. "Please, buckle your little brothers into their car seats while I get my cell phone." Panic leaped into her eyes and she shoved her sister aside to jump from the van and follow close on my heels. "I told you, I need you to buckle the boys in. You are the only one who can do it!"

"But Mommy, are you going inside? Are you going to close the door?" I was already frazzled with the sheer task of getting five children out of the house at the hottest hour of the day and had no patience for this paranoia. How can the child who asks to walk outside the gate by herself every evening - while the rest of the family is inside - be the same one who is now panicking at the very idea??

An article I read tonight was fairly helpful. Anxiety, it said is

defined as "apprehension without apparent cause." It usually occurs when there's no immediate threat to a person's safety or well being, but the threat feels real.

Anxiety makes someone want to escape the situation — fast. The heart beats quickly, the body might begin to perspire, and "butterflies" in the stomach soon follow …

When anxieties and fears persist, problems can arise. As much as a parent hopes the child will grow out of it, sometimes the opposite occurs, and the cause of the anxiety looms larger and becomes more prevalent. The anxiety becomes a phobia, or a fear that's extreme, severe, and persistent.

Somewhat comforting (but not really) was the reassurance that my frustration is at least normal:

A phobia can be very difficult to tolerate, both for kids and those around them, especially if the anxiety-producing stimulus (whatever is causing the anxiety) is hard to avoid (e.g., thunderstorms).

But the truth is that parenting a fearful child is a challenge. It is hard to balance sympathy with a sincere desire to push our child through that irrational fog of emotion into the land of reason. It is heartwrenching to witness our daughter's tears when she is embarrassed because she has broken down publicly, and because she hates being more fearful than other children half her age. As her mother, it is painful and humbling when my own lack of patience leads me to respond in ways that hurt rather than help this child I so love.

It is my prayer that as she matures, our daughter will truly learn to "cast her cares" on the One who is big enough and strong enough to carry them all ... on the Prince of Peace, Who alone can calm her anxious heart. We know He is able!


sea salt MOSAIC said...

oh honey. . .

I am praying for you tonight. sometimes we see fear, sometimes we actually smell the fear on our children. it's strange and scary and so very sad. they wander with blind terror in their eyes, sweat pouring off their face - strangely, seeping through the pores on their nose. they're bewildered and consumed with fear so real they can taste it. . . it's bitter. my heart is breaking with yours and i am praying for you.

HollyMarie said...

Steph, I was the same way as a child; I had an unnatural fear of being kidnapped. Kidnappers were EVERYWHERE; I was afraid of any and ALL strangers, especially bearded men. In time I grew out of it and your daughter will grow out of her fears too. Praying for you!

Anonymous said...

I just found your blog today and felt an immediate connection with you. My daughter used to go through this as well. After many years of praying, we are finally getting past this and she is blossoming into who God created her to be. She is still fearful at times but she is definitely in a better place and moving forward. That is my prayer for your daughter. We also got our niece from Haiti after the earthquake so I can also relate to you in that too. After a two year adoption process that was not over, all of a sudden she was home with us!