The Safety Dance: Caregivers and the Anxious Child
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I handed Sara the box of tissues and, between sobs, she recounted recent events. Every school morning, Sara and Blake, her 10-year-old son, went through the same highly predictable routine. Sara would wake Blake at 6:30 a.m., the time they’d agreed to the night before. She’d rub his back and tell him what a great day this would be and how she would prepare his favorite breakfast. “Remember, we had an agreement,” she’d say lightly. But the nervousness and strain in Sara’s voice revealed her lack of confidence and resolve.
Blake would then moan and curl himself into his blankets. Sara would leave him there for 10 minutes, coming back to let him know breakfast was on the table. Blake would then complain of a stomachache, a headache, and a lack of clean underwear. Sara would calmly reassure him about his stomach and head and point out the generous supply of underwear in his top drawer. “But that underwear feels weird and it’s baby underwear,” Blake would cry. Sara would state, with growing agitation, that the underwear was perfectly fine and breakfast was getting cold. Blake’s protests would grow louder and more desperate: “You don’t understand. I can’t do this. I hate you. Why don’t you just kill me?”
At this point, Dan, Blake’s father, would burst into the room demanding Blake get out of bed or lose all screen time for the next month. Sara would try to get Dan out of the room saying, “That isn’t helping.” Dan and Sara would retreat to the hallway where they would argue, each accusing the other of mishandling the situation, until Dan angrily left for work.
“I just can’t force him go to school when he feels that way,” sighed Sara. Then she added with conviction, “I won’t force him. I have anxiety. I know what it’s like and it just breaks my heart.” Blake had not been to school in two weeks…