Emotional and PhysicalMonday, August 23, 2010
The Self-Aware Parent
Last Thursday night at 12:30 a.m., my daughter Jacey showed up in our bed. She complained of a stomachache, but had difficulty describing it. Do you feel like you're going to throw up? Do you need to go to the bathroom? Is it actual pain? All questions were answered with, I don't know.
Neither of us slept much that night, and the next day she was dragging with no appetite. She took baths, we put oils and warm washcloths on her stomach, and she rested. She definitely had physical symptoms, but I wondered if the looming first day of school might be the reason for her discomfort.
In our house we talk a lot about how the mind can affect the body, Jacey has been hearing this her whole life, but I know from experience that when you are in distress, it's harder to embrace this concept. So instead of lecturing her about the interrelationship between physical and mental health, I just spent time with her so we could talk.
We talked about music and movies, and we talked about school, specifically my grade school experiences. I told her about all of my teachers and how I was always nervous at the beginning of the school year. She listened intently, asked questions, and then took a long nap.
The next day was better, but she still seemed heavy and tired. We continued our talks and I mentioned that I was starting my new job next week, a teaching job at a university. I told her that I felt ready and excited, but also nervous and unsure.
She asked how I make myself feel better, so I told her that I talk about it (and thankfully, her dad is a great listener). Instead of keeping my fears in my mind where they can grow and become scary, I talk about them and even ask her dad (or others) for help if I need it.
That night when I was tucking her in, I could feel her struggle and discomfort, and right before I turned off the light she sat up and said, I'm feeling nervous and I am going to miss summer and I don't want to be away from home everyday for six hours!
It all came out really fast, she was breathing heavy, and she just stared at me, unsure of what just happened. I nodded and said, that makes sense to me, and that is completely normal.
I didn't try to talk her out of her feelings, and I didn't list all the things she had to look forward to. I just listened, nodded, and let her know that her feelings were OK and understandable. We talked about how great the summer was and how great it was to wake up late and hang out at the pool.
We talked about 2nd grade, her teacher, and the friends in her class. And when I asked what I could do to help, she already had a plan - she wanted to wear my necklace to school so she could feel closer to home.
I was confident that she would feel a lot better in the morning, but I also realize that regardless of why, her body really had been sick. Maybe it was a stomach bug, or maybe it was entirely mental, but either way it had become physical, and she needed to be taken care of on that level.
To tell her she was silly, wrong or that it was all in her head would have been disrespectful to her experience. I want her to trust her body and be attuned to its messages, and just as important, I want her to trust me.
So it felt right to walk both paths - soothe the physical and discuss the emotional, with the hope that one, or maybe both, would offer some relief.
And thankfully, she was in good shape yesterday, raring and ready to go for her first day of 2nd grade. Her energy was light, she was all smiles, and her outfit choice was based on two things: it was super comfortable, and it really showed off my necklace.