Bravery Bucks: Dealing with Childhood Anxiety

I wanted to put my head in the palms of my hands and cry when I heard our therapist say “There is no doubt she has some sort of social anxiety.” My husband squeezed my leg and then I heard hope in the next sentence. “We just won’t know to what degree until she gets older, and in the mean time I’ll help you work through some of the things that are bothering her the most. We can help her.” I felt a little better, we were there for a way to help her so we were on the right path who cares if it actually has a name and it means that we are dealing with childhood anxiety. I reached into my pocket book and pulled out the notes my husband and I were gathering the weeks leading to our appointment. Yes we had a list. Bugs, going to the bathroom in public, eye contact with strangers, saying hello to someone who has said hello to her, the jealousy she has towards her little brother, loud noises, being out of sight of Momma. The list really does go on but we could only take it one day at a time.

You look at your child and all you want is the very best for them. You want to form a bubble around them and not let any kind of hurt or harm come to them. However, life pops that bubble and we are all forced to just do our best. From the day my daughter turned 18 months old I “felt” something was wrong. I didn’t know what. She was so smart and bright in so many ways. I bragged that she ate so many kinds of food, that she was off of a bottle after 12 months and dressed herself at 18 months. Days went on and she continued to cling to me. I decided to enroll her in daycare two days a week. It broke my heart because I was a SAHM and here I was dropping my daughter off two days a week because she “needed” social skills.  She fought me tooth and nail every time I changed her, I thought she just didn’t want to go, but when I think back to those days now I realize it was more because she didn’t feel comfortable in dresses and skirts. Fast forward a few years and though she insists on wearing boys cloths she does love Kindergarten. Now that I’m a Mom of two so many more things are more clear, like it wasn’t a stage she was going through but she was simply shaping her personality.

I still felt deep down something was wrong, not mentally or physically but just something was off. In the past year it came out more and more. While dining out one night with her and my mother something really stood out to me. The waitress came over and took our order. The second she turned to my daughter she immediately looked down at her coloring and would not look up even when I said “you want the mac and cheese right honey?” I kept my thoughts to myself until later that night when my husband was home. I told him that when people at school say “good morning Madison” she looks down and doesn’t say anything, then I told him about the incident at the restaurant. I expressed to him that I have no idea how to deal with it but she clearly feels so uncomfortable talking to strangers, this is not just “being shy” like I had chalked it up to being for the past four years. I wanted to get her help. She needed help that was outside of my usual mothering skills.

Dealing with Childhood Anxiety

Insert our therapist Rebecca who has been a godsend. She has taught us so many useful things that has helped my sweet girl come out of her shell, even if it’s just a little bit. Getting her the help now will hopefully make the difference come the teenage years. Here are some things that have helped my sweet girl come out of her anxiety ridden days.

Model. Model. Model.

Rebecca told us that modeling is so key in the parent/child relationship. I told her please tell me more. She told us that a lot children learn by watching their parents. So when we go to a birthday party for a friend from school, I often voice my anxiety to my daughter on the way, “Momma doesn’t know anyone either and it makes me a little nervous, but I’m going to go and play with you and talk to at least one other person.” We set goals and I set out to do them so she can see me trying too. When we take the boat out on our lake we often park at a sandbar and spend hours upon hours swimming, eating, laughing and making new friends. One day I saw two little girls around my daughters age. At that time Madison was taking a rest on the boat because she was cold so I went over to her and said “hey those girls over there look your age, why don’t you see if they want to play with you.” She just looked at me with scared eyes. I took her by the hand and said “come on, I’ll take you over there.” I went over and asked the girls their names and ages and introduced my daughter. I then started talking to the Mom about Kindergarten and the town we live in. An hour later I looked over and she was still playing with them. That is the best example of modeling I could think of. She just needed a little push.

Bravery Bucks.

Rebecca told us we can’t really make her say “Good Morning” to a fellow teacher at school. However, we did introduce the “Bravery Buck” system. I actually got the idea from a book called Growing up Brave by Dr. Donna B. Pincus Rebecca thought it was brilliant. I pulled out a dollar bill from my purse and then I copied eight rectangles on a piece of paper. I then asked Madison to copy the dollar bill on each of the eight rectangles. She grunted and groaned and only made two. I know my daughter wakes before we do in the morning and colors quietly in her room until our alarm goes off at 7. One night when I went to bed I left the paper and green marker with her art supples and sure enough the next morning she came running in my room with a completed sheet of bucks! I then decided to get my three year old involved too, so I made him “listening bucks” since that is his weakness.

Dealing with Childhood Anxiety

I pass our bucks out left and right, sometimes I feel like it’s all I do on a daily basis, then there are days that go by that I forget and I have to start over by making such a big deal about it, but in the long run it really does work. There will be days where I feel like your passing bucks for the simple every day matters like simply breathing but I kept on remembering how much this really does help her. They collect their bucks in a pencil case aka. wallet. You really have to cash in something each day for them to really understand it and you have to make them earn things they really really want.  We use the every day kind of stuff to our advantage and go with it. She earns late bed times, extra bed time stories, maybe an hour alone with her aunt or grandmother, ice creams, she has even earned a few toys.  It doesn’t have to be things that cost money, actually the whammy that works the best for us is earning iPad time. It’s a work in progress but I know deep down we are doing everything we possibly can by seeing our therapist and getting the tips we need for now. I’ll continue to say good morning and offer everyone I walk by a big smile so I can model the best way that I can for my sweet girl. I’m happy to report that the bees don’t bother her much anymore, she now gives her order when we dine out with a smile, she waves to people on the boat, and the best one for this Momma is with a little bit of I know you can do this, physically holding her and a whole lot of bravery bucks she will finally go to the bathroom at a public establishment! Hey, it’s the little things.

The 2-Minute Action Plan for Fine Parents

Always remember that as parents we only want our children to feel loved and be loved, in the end we are working on improving their anxiousness so reminding ourselves that it’s a process and it doesn’t happen overnight is very important.

  • Remind yourself that some children just need more time to process things that may make them feel anxious. Modeling can help your child see that if Mommy and Daddy can do it so can they. Allowing them to see that there isn’t anything to be scared of is vital for a child. Talk yourself through the aggravation of something that may be really easy for you may not be so easy for your young child.
  • When you see your child performing any kind of good behavior reward them. Seeing the look of accomplishment and pure delight on your child’s face will prompt you to throw those dollar bills at them!
  • When your child shows any kind of bravery reward reward reward!

The Ongoing Action Plan for Fine Parents

In time, you will be slowly helping your child improve their kindness and see them overcome their anxieties.

  • Some examples of acts of kindness, being nice to a sibling, sharing with another child, remembering to bring their dish to the sink, or even playing nice with a sibling.
  • Examples of how your child can prove bravery, waves to a neighbor, says hello to the bus driver, orders their own meals while dining out, going to the restroom in a public place, asks another child to play, even talking about their day is an act of bravery because it’s showing that they are excited about the activities that took place during their day.
  • Always remember that when children are dealing with feelings it’s a process and it takes time. Be easy on yourself and know that you are doing everything you can. Your normal!

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