My 5-year-old daughter has lived close to half of her existence in quarantine, in a mask, social distancing, sanitizing, nose swabbing and everything else that comes with COVID life. This is her normal everyday as she knows it with no recollection of what pre-pandemic life was like.
Before COVID, my daughter was the first to make friends. She was the first to get on stage, the one to make everyone laugh and the one to count on to be Miss Independent. She was confident, full of personality and so brave.
Then the shutdown happened. Remember that? We all locked ourselves in our houses, worked from home, hoarded toilet paper, made banana bread and collectively made Zoom stocks rise at record speed. Like others, we never left the house, leaving me to be by my daughter’s side all day, every day, for weeks turned months — which honestly seemed like years. However, the world eventually reopened and as we braved the world beyond our front doors, I noticed my little ray of sunshine was now ridden with social anxiety.
So, we quickly went back in and locked our doors once again.
Social anxiety, according to a quick Google search, is “a chronic mental health condition in which social interactions cause irrational anxiety.”
Yep. That would be me over there comforting my daughter in a full-blown anxiety attack. She wouldn’t be able to catch her breath, as she sweat buckets and bawled her eyes out with so much fear. I would be overwhelmed at how I was going to calm her as she crouched in a ball in my arms demanding to go home immediately.
I was left feeling helpless, defeated, worried and sensitive. With only more activities, gatherings and outings to come, I knew something had to be done to help her.
Admittedly, I, too, grew co-dependent being with my kids living in our isolation. The first step I took was changing my mindset. We couldn’t be reclusive any longer, so we masked up and started to venture out into this new normal with caution.
By her side, I started with small settings, which allowed us to celebrate small successes that led to bigger ones, like introducing her to activities and playgroups.
The next step was to separate. This, by far, was the hardest. I separated from the kids two days a week for a couple hours at a time, dropping them off at their sitter who I used religiously before the pandemic. Even with the sitter being a familiar face, my daughter cried intensely, enough to make me cry and enough to make our sitter tell me I needed to be on standby for an earlier pickup just in case. As hard as that was, I kept to the two days, which increased as more trust and courage were built again.
What helped this process was having my daughter have access to her tablet to get to me whenever she needed.
Lastly, I talked to her schools. Listen: it takes a village! I wanted her teachers to know about her situation to make it easier for her and for me. You’ll be surprised at how open and receptive people can be when opening up about your circumstances.
Cut to now. My girl is back. Her social anxiety still creeps up from time to time, but on a much more manageable scale. Instead of instantly having an anxiety attack, she’s now open to talking about the outing and comes up with a game plan in order to mentally prepare.
As parents, we hear that everything is just a phase. This one was especially tough for us. But no one is alone in this parenting thing and with the right mindset and the goals in play, it will work itself out.
My lesson from this: Just stick with it, try and breathe through it, which is something I say to my daughter, too!
Janis MVK is a Chicago suburban mom of two beautiful girls, a journalist, a marketing and communications professional and a business owner.
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