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Anxiety

How My 5-Year-Old is Learning To Cope With Her Anxiety

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It was the fourth time this week my daughter Noa had asked me the question. “Mommy, are you coming to my Spring Party?” I looked into her eyes, sighed, and said, “Of course not, Sweetie.” Noa took a deep breath and let it out. Then the smile began to grow as she leapt at me with arms wide open. “Oh, thank you, Mommy, thank you!”

When Noa had asked me this question for the first time earlier that week, I’d told her that, yeah, I was signed up to help and that I was excited to be at her school party.

The truth is that I don’t particularly love helping out with class parties. The mothers who usually lead this sort of thing at my daughter’s school can be a bit intense and overly ambitious–emailing links to Pinterest boards, delegating dainty little bird crafts and pastel-glazed sweets for the making. I’m typically more of a let’s-just-play-jump-over-the-wiggle-rope-and-eat-some-popcorn sort of gal. (And, being one of only two Jewish families in the school, I’m not in the best position to champion my own great ideas for  “Let My People Go-Gurt” or “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Hametz” Cookies either.) But as we well know, sacrifices are the name of the game in motherhood and when it came to this Spring Party I was prepared to do my part.

So I was stunned when my sweet 5-year-old with her dark, expectant eyes fell to the floor, literally collapsing into tears. Hadn’t she heard me right? I was telling her that, yes, yes, of course I’ll be there for you. But with every affirming syllable I spoke she seemed to sob even harder.

“I don’t want you to come!” Noa managed between breaths.

I sat on the living room floor, a bit confused, cradling my daughter in my arms. Her 3-year-old brother was thankfully oblivious behind us, zooming to the moon in his “Batman rocketship.” When Noa was calm enough to talk again, she looked up at me with her fretful furrow.

“I don’t want you to come to my party because it’s in the morning and you’ll have to leave when it’s over. I know it’ll be too hard for me to see you go. Mommy, I’m embarrassed to say it, but it’ll be easier on me if you don’t come at all.”

I know my daughter and this was not a test. She knew what she needed (or in this case, what she didn’t need). I was overcome with emotion. She was speaking her truth, expressing her feelings, and I couldn’t have been more proud.

When Noa was diagnosed with anxiety two years ago, she was having hour-long meltdowns multiple times a day. She would hit, claw, and scream at a torturous pitch, and when she had recovered it wasn’t long before I could feel the next round start to build. At her peak, Noa was in three different types of therapy, four days a week. We tried the gamut: elimination diets, positive reinforcement, massage, chiropractic care, essential oils, cranial sacral, reflective listening, sensory exercises, even medication. (If we thought it would help, we would’ve considered moving to the moon by way of Asher’s Batman rocketship.)

But, as much as I longed for the one, oh-so-elusive thing that would magically zap her anxiety forever, I know now that the most powerful tool Noa has in her size 5 pockets is the ability to recognize and name her emotions. When overwhelmed, everyday emotions like frustration, anger, embarrassment, hunger, tiredness, and jealousy seem to go rancid inside her. Putting a name to her feelings allows them an escape–and once they’re out, the hold they have over her fades.

Looking down at the girl in my lap, I felt her body relax with relief. Noa’s eyes were clear and she was coping. I squeezed her tight and whispered to her gently, “It’s OK to feel the way you feel. I love you. I won’t come to the party.”

Perhaps this year will be the yummiest and most adorable preschool celebration to date, but there’s not one mama in Noa’s class that will be happier to miss it than me.

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