Great- the title hooked you into reading what this post is all about! I’ll cut right to the story- a recent summer camp trip threw Tre into tears, perceived fear and worry…aka- anxiety.
To be a 7 y/o kid with the summer off to only think about how many times you’re going to go swimming or how late you’re going to stay up was what I thought Tre had on his mind. I was never more wrong. It wasn’t until a trip to the Turkey Hill Experience (ice cream factory in Lancaster, PA) with his summer camp that he revealed he was not as excited as I thought he was about going. The morning of the trip he awoke to see me all excited that his rescheduled trip (from 2 days prior) was that day and he was going to eat ice cream, ride a bus and explore the gift shop with $10 whole dollars! He looked at me, rolled his eyes and went into a whole rant about his stomach and head hurting. In the end he felt like he just couldn’t go on the trip. I talked and pleaded with him only to stomp out of his room, annoyed, while I quickly tried to figure out an alternative. Then I stopped. He did not complain of any ailments the day prior (on the 4th of July), but he did complain the day before that when the trip was originally scheduled.
I did what most Moms and Dads do- I had to ‘run the tape back’ and think a little deeper. I took a deep breath and walked back into his room and announced he was going on the trip and I was going to help him get ready because we had to leave soon. Yes I did! (I had calmed down by this point from my irritation). Within seconds the tears were flowing and his shoulders were heaving and this is how our conversation went (paraphrased!):
“Come on Tre…what’s really wrong?”
“I just don’t want to go on the trip…my head and my stomach hurt.”
“But why? You were disappointed when it was rescheduled Wednesday. (Pause) Your stomach and head weren’t hurting all day yesterday when we were home, why do you think it’s hurting today?”
*He shrugged his shoulders*
“Come on- what is it?”
*Now through mild sobs* “Ms. (Camp staff member) said it is a 3-hour bus ride and I don’t want to be on the bus that long and I’ve never been that far away from home without anybody from my family. I don’t know what we’re going to do on the bus for that long and I’m scared.”
*I quickly ran the tape back again and he was right*
“I can understand how you feel and I didn’t realize you hadn’t been on a trip without family or at least someone you knew well.”
*His shoulders dropped a bit*
“…and babe it is not a 3-hour ride. It is a lot closer than that.”
“Well I still don’t t want to go.”
“Harold- (now it was time to pull out the big guns and call him by his gov’t name!) Your father and I would never have you attend a trip or be in a place where we felt you weren’t safe or well taken care of. Last year when there was an issue with the other camp what happened?”
“I didn’t stay in the camp.”
“Right. I can understand feeling nervous and even scared about this trip because it’s something you’ve never done before. You are going to go and I believe you will have a good time.”
*By this time he started crying again and looked a bit shocked I said he was going. I started to help him get dressed and by this time he had all but his shirt on.*
“I want you to know you can always tell me and your Dad how you feel about anything. We may not respond the way think…you can always talk to us about how you feel…ok?”
Tre finished getting dressed and because we took longer to talk his breakfast had to be eaten in the car. Of course he was quiet on the way to camp and he continued to complain about not being hungry because his stomach was hurting.
“You know that you have power over your mind and over your body?”
*He looked confused*
“There are times I have been so nervous and scared that it made me sweat, it made me run to bathroom, I became nauseous, it made my stomach hurt and it took away my appetite.”
“Yes, you know what I did? I told myself (in those moments) that I did not have anything to be afraid of and I was actually causing myself a lot more stress by thinking that way. Please eat some more.”
*Still not buying it*
“If you don’t eat you will continue to be hungry and it could make you feel worse.”
*He took some more reluctant nibbles*
“You remember Isaiah 41:10?”
“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength?”
“No, that is a good one and it fits, but it’s the ‘fear not for I am with you’ one.”
“Tre- God can give you the strength to do things you didn’t think you had the ability to do. Those times I was scared and afraid, and I’m sure the times Daddy has been scared and afraid, God helped us move through that fear. That’s the key-we had to still do those things in order to learn how we could get through them.”
*Looking at me intensely*
“I understand this will be your first trip without family. I believe you will have a good time be alright.”
We rode on and I showed him Google Maps to prove the ride was a little over an hour and it was nowhere near the 3-hours he was afraid of. By the time we pulled up he blurted out, “Mommy I feel nervous again,” and his eyes were welling up with tears. What did I do? The only thing I knew to do. “Let’s pray.” I took him by the hand and I prayed and asked for God to be with Tre in ways that showed up as him being courageous, brave, calm, peaceful and open to new experiences. And I asked that he, the other campers and staff have a safe and enjoyable trip. By the time I finished (it was a brief prayer!) he was not crying and he was ready to go inside.
I kept my phone close throughout the day and wondered how he was doing. Daddy picked him up from camp, so I was waiting to see his reaction when he got home. To my delight Tre busted through the door to tell me about what a “Grrrrrreat” time he had on the trip to Turkey Hill Ice Cream. He had a such a good time I even got a souvenir out of it!
As I recounted our morning events to Daddy later in the day (he was asleep when it all happened) I thought a lot about anxiety and how it shows up in kids. I know some people are going to take issue with me naming Tre’s feelings as anxiety. That’s what it was folks…let’s call it by name so we can deal with it, move through it and help him as he experiences it. He has a lot more life to live and there’s no telling how he will respond to new experiences. Kids are no different than adults when it comes to life’s emotions. We can all help our kids by being aware of this and problem solving to help them learn skills that they can use.
Stay tuned for how the rest of Tre’s summer and experience(s) with anxious moments unfolds. There’s plenty more ya’ll! –krystal