Responsible parenting and leadership are a start. In between reaching for the sky (Toy Story rocks).

Screw the darkness. I prefer the lightness of Pop.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

When the Choice Is Theirs

“When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful,
A miracle, oh it was beautiful, magical.
And all the birds in the trees, well they'd be singing so happily,
Joyfully, playfully watching me…”

—Supertramp, The Logical Song


As we approached the baseball field, Beatrice walked with me.

"Daddy," she said quietly. "I want to play in the game now."

"I'm so glad," I said. "It'll be a lot of fun, Sweetie."

"Yes, I want to play with my friends."

My heart lifted. Yes! I thought.

Only a few days earlier, her eyes said it all to me: lost, overwhelmed, anxious, scared. Even over the FaceTime call I could tell. Her breathing rapid and a little erratic, she just kept saying over and over again she didn't feel good and didn't want to go to school. Then she went to the bathroom and threw up.

I knew exactly what it was -- I felt the visceral ache of her panic attack as if it were me. Because it was me as a child. It was me as a teenager. It was me as a young adult and sometimes beyond.

Two days before I had left for my latest business trip, it was more of the same. She'd even held me and cried, nearly begging us both not to go to school because she didn't feel well. Then she held the Mama and kept saying the same thing.

That whole week was the same every morning, Beatrice saying her stomach hurt and that she didn't want go to school, that she wanted to stay home. The Mama even took her to our family doctor who didn't find anything physically wrong with her.

The week before was when she fell in the mud puddle during lunchtime -- soaking her from head to foot. At first, there didn't seem to be any fallout from it. She said she was fine. She said she had just fallen all on her own. But the very next morning she said she did feel well and threw up, so we let her stay home from school. The anxiety symptoms weren't quite clear yet, so we assumed she had a stomach bug.

But she did get anxious every morning afterward, which made her feel ill. The good news was that every morning she overcame her fear enough to get ready for school and went on to have a somewhat decent day. However, everyone morning its manifestation was a little stronger and painful to watch.

We worried this day would come, when a trigger like falling in the mud puddle (whether she was teased or not) led to awareness of embarrassment and her ongoing struggles with navigating first grade, compared to other kids. That she'd struggle more with developing coping skills than other kids.

A few years ago Beatrice had a slight speech delay, which her speech therapist at the time confirmed was more than likely auditory processing disorder (APD), which affects less than 5% of school-aged children. This was something we first became aware of when Bea was three years old.

What this meant was that she had trouble processing the information she heard in the same way as other kids because her ears and brain didn't play nice together. That in turn affected the way her brain recognized and interpreted sounds and how she reacted to various stimuli -- too much stimuli always overwhelms.

Ever since we've ensured she's had the help and the resources to persevere. She's come a long way and academically is on par, and socially manages fairly well, even though she's still easily overwhelmed and overcome with stress -- a deer in headlights on the long road from childhood to adulthood.

"I'm telling you it's anxiety. She's having panic attacks," I told the Mama.

"Maybe. She could have a tummy bug as well," she replied.

"Maybe, but I'm telling you they're panic attacks. I know all too well what they feel like. We've just got to continue to help her with coping skills, just like we've discussed before."

"Yes, I know. Poor baby."

"Great, she's become her daddy now," I said. I'm sorry, Bea. 

Processing issues aside, according to a Parent and Child article, Tamar E. Chansky, Ph.D., author of Freeing Your Child From Anxiety, said that nearly 20 percent of kids today have actually been diagnosed with some form of anxiety disorder — everything from minor phobias, like a fear of dogs, to generalized anxiety, which is when kids worry about everything that could go wrong. “Ten years ago, it was 13 percent. That’s a big jump in a decade,” she said in the article.

Based on everything we know and have been reading about to date, not overwhelming either of our children with adult sensibilities is so important. Helping them break down their fears into easily managed incremental steps so their confidence not only remains stable, but increases over time, is also critical. Encouraging Beatrice to push through things isn't wrong, but it can also exacerbate her anxiety since her awareness has been amplified, and when she's ready to bolt in her head and heart.

However, parenting means making the hard choices, and the Mama and I both agree that not everything is a choice for our girls -- that there are things they have to do and push through. But in certain situations when we empathize and when the choice is theirs they can learn to overcome on their own. After the stressful week Beatrice experienced she didn't want to play in her first little league game of the season. I was especially bummed out by this since I'm helping to coach and wanted her to be excited about playing and having some fun after such a stressful week.

We explained to the girls that we were all going to the game (not a choice), and that I wanted Beatrice to sit with our team still (not a choice), but that it was up to her if she wanted to play or not (her choice). Before the game and on the way to the game, she said she didn't want to play.

"Beatrice, are you going to play in the game?" Bryce kept asking her, over and over along the way.

Ugh. Not helping.

"Bryce, please stop asking her that. Thank you."

"Okay."

We parked and got out of the car. As we approached the baseball field, Beatrice walked with me.

"Daddy," she said quietly. "I want to play in the game now."

"I'm so glad," I said. "It'll be a lot of fun, Sweetie."

"Yes, I want to play with my friends."

My heart lifted. Yes! I thought. One little victory at a time.

Let's play ball, Baby!



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