Anxiety runs in our family and my youngest, Gabi, was not exempt from it. She had the advantage of being a fourth child and therefore receiving the wisdom gained from our experience with the others. I had learned that the most important way to react to her anxiety was to let her know that we really heard her and that how she felt was important to her and us. So from the get go, I would allow her to experience her feelings and just let her be with them. When the time felt right, we would think about different strategies and work on them together. At six she was well schooled in relaxation techniques and beyond her years in understanding how she processed the world. We talked – a lot.
A common theme in our discussions would springboard from questions like: “I want to be like…” or “Why can’t I be happy like…?” or some variation of these. I approached these desires and questions by explaining that people are not like smorgasbords, using of course, age appropriate language. I told her that if she wanted to be like one of her friends then she had to take all of them. I focused on what she did like about herself and would say “I wonder if — can sing or if they’re good at math?” or I would help her pay attention to things in her life that she appreciated so I would ask “Do you think she has kind siblings like your brothers?” I hoped to help her understand that we all have something that we don’t want or like and comparing yourself to others is futile and worthless. A few years ago, these particular conversations stopped.
Gabi is now fourteen and in her first year of high school. Driving to school the other morning she said to me “Mom, the best thing you ever taught me was that if I was going to compare myself to anyone, I must look at everything that they are.”
From my pre-coffee brain I managed a “What?”
“I mean, I think I am better at knowing who I am because you taught me that. I’ve noticed that a lot of the people I’ve met don’t know who they are.” She said.
“I’m so happy to hear that sweetheart,” I replied.
My expression must have looked a little too pleased because she shot at me with an impish smile, “Okay, that’s the last compliment you’re getting for a while!” We had arrived at school and with teenage swagger she climbed out the car with a parting “And don’t smile at any of my friends. It’s embarrassing.”
I didn’t smile at any of her friends but I absolutely smiled all the way home.