This post was written in January of 2016 when my daughter was 4.5 years old. In the interest of protecting their privacy, I do not use my children’s full names. I use their first initials “A” and “L.”
When my first daughter was born I looked forward to the usual things parents look forward to; her first words and steps, birthday parties, play dates, dance recitals, gymnastics, and her first day of school. “A” was as perfect as kids come; she has always slept well, rarely threw temper tantrums as a toddler, and always behaved well for others. In fact, she was so well behaved that I thought I was just an awesome parent! haha! But I would soon realize that birthday parties, dance recitals, and play dates are not nearly as fun for “A” as they are for most children.
Looking back, the first signs of “A’s” anxiety and sensitivity was when she was a baby. She would cry at almost every man she came in contact with (except her father), and she would cry the moment a stranger walked into our house. When “A” reached the toddler years, she never climbed on things, got into things she wasn’t supposed to, or ran wildly around the house like a stereotypical toddler. In fact, having other children over who acted out or dumped all her toys around the house, would completely overwhelm her. She would stay by my side watching quietly as other more spirited children took over her play space.
When we would attend social gatherings “A” stayed attached to my side, taking it all in until she (sometimes) felt comfortable enough with her surroundings to join in. Some days that would happen fairly quickly and some days not at all. On those days I would feel completely suffocated and frustrated, having a child literally attached to me at every moment. I reached a point when I stopped going to many social gatherings because it was too stressful for me and I couldn’t enjoy myself. My husband is almost always working during these events so I became increasingly frustrated that he wasn’t available to help and at times I felt like I just couldn’t breathe.
When “A” turned three, we had a birthday party at an indoor play center with all her friends from her daycare. “A” spent most of the time playing alone and retreated into a small room by herself to read books. That same summer I took her to the circus. As a first-time parent, I still hadn’t fully understood her sensitivity, and I wanted her to experience it because I thought it would be fun! The circus tent was hot and extremely crowded, and she sat there in complete fear of all the people and noise, too scared to even move.
When I enrolled “A” in dance class at the local YMCA, she would sit with me quietly until she was ready to join the class. Sometimes there were tears, and sometimes there weren’t, but “A” always has to join the class on her timeline.
When “A” was four, we were at an indoor play center when the fire alarm went off. There were no signs of fire or smoke and everyone slowly exited the building as a precaution, understanding there was no imminent danger. Not “A” though. She completely panicked covering her ears from the loud excruciating noise and screaming in fear of being engulfed by the non-existent flames. Despite my best effort, there was no reasoning with her once the fear took hold of her. It took her almost a year to return to that place where she had once had so much fun.
“A” was four years old before she would walk up and down the stairs without holding my hand, too afraid of falling. While other kids her age are running up and down the stairs, she’s carefully taking one step at the time, while holding on to the railing with two hands. “A” can’t ride a bike even with training wheels, as she’s too afraid of falling, and she hates swimming lessons because she’s terrified to put her head under water. She is petrified of dogs, cats, and squirrels and every spring we have to adjust to bugs invading our space outdoors. She won’t eat popsicles because they are too cold, and she won’t wear jeans because they are uncomfortable. Her bath water is usually too hot or too cold and forget about trying any new foods. If she hasn’t had it before, she doesn’t like it, period.
“A” recently started a new pre-school and was scared to go to the bathroom because the toilet flushed so loudly. When they went out on the playground, she cried because she was so overwhelmed by children running around her.
While others were enjoying their child experience sports, dance, or art class I would get anxiety wondering if she would participate that day. Would she cry? Would I be judged for how I handle it? This is when reality set in, and I began to realize “A’s” childhood would not be so stereotypical. Everything would be a struggle, and I needed to learn how to best support her.