The Camp that Never Was: Dealing with an Anxious Child

This is the week I thought I had planned:  It was going to be hectic.

  • Ian was signed up for a week long basketball camp
  • I had hair cut appointments
  • a physical appointment
  • the boys karate classes
  • I signed Alec up for a painting class.  
I had to take out a sheet of 8 1/2 by 11 computer paper and write down all the times and places I needed to be and who I was dropping off, picking up, or would have with me.  Yeah-- CRAZY!

But I was willing to suck it up since it was only one week and both boys really wanted to participate in their activities. 

Little did I know how quickly things would change:

 Come 8:15 Monday morning and Ian was no longer certain he wanted to participate. 

We walked into the gym and his whole entire demeanor did an about face.  He was clinging to me, crying (loudly) and begging me not to leave him.

He told me he changed his mind and did not want to do basketball camp AT ALL.

He did not want me to leave, he did not want me to drop him off, he did not want to stay, he did not want to play basketball.

While I was slightly non-plussed I can't say this came out of nowhere:  I've been noticing, what I hope is a new phase, for a few weeks now.  His anxiety is higher overall and change makes him so anxious.

  • Ian doesn't like to be left alone or introduced into new situations.  
  • He gets very anxious and nervous if he can't see me when we're at the grocery store or a an amusement park.
  • He asks me a million questions about where we're going if it's someplace new, and he constantly asks me "what if" questions:  "What if you forget to pick me up?" "What if someone knocks on the door and you're in the shower?" 
I can completely relate since I was a basket case as a kid.

  • I threw up on almost a daily basis all through middle school and even into part of high school as part of just being perpetually nervous, scared and anxious.  
  • I skipped birthday parties for close friends if I wasn't sure what we were going to be doing. 
  •  I refused to go on all the 8th grade trips like to the amusement park and Quebec because I was petrified of what might/ could/ maybe/ perhaps happen.  
  • I bawled through dance recitals feeling like I was going to be sick 
  • My parents had to threaten me when I was 18 in order to get me to drive and get my license.  
  • I went into adulthood kicking and screaming. 
  •  I backed out of going away to college at the last minute and only agreed to commute to college when my parents threatened to make me pay rent.  
I'm grateful for all that my parents forced me to do but I still have memories of many days where I was completely and totally miserable.  I often felt like they didn't really understand and thought they were just being mean.

I realize now looking back on it all that they were at just as much of a loss then as I was dealing with Ian and his tears and fears.  

I was torn-- make him stay and be miserable or wait this phase out and hope that it passes more quickly with my love and support.

Looking at Ian in shambles this morning I was definitely at a loss as to what to do.

I tried to talk to him and understand WHY he had suddenly changed mind.

He had been looking forward to camp (or so I thought) and he knew I wasn't staying long before we got there today so I wasn't sure what prompted this case of nerves.

He explained that he thought he'd know some of the people there but he didn't know anyone.  I didn't really either.  After working at the school on a daily for over a year I only recognized 2 kids.  I had no idea who was in charge and since I wasn't asked to sign in or approached by any other adult I didn't know how to get any of my questions answered either.

I wasn't feeling 100% comfortable with leaving him and wondered how whoever was in charge really would have any idea of who they were in charge of if we didn't have to sign in and I was surprised they didn't have us review any of our contact/ pick- up information.

I called my husband and he and I both tried talking to Ian but the longer we were there the more upset he seemed to be getting.  He finally looked at me and told me the thought he was going to throw up.

 I had to get Alec to his class and so we walked back out with Ian in tow.

Part of me was thinking that it's really ridiculous that at 10 he's getting very attached to me again and part of me was upset about the money wasted but I just couldn't walk away knowing I'd be more than 40 minutes away if anything went wrong.

I've tried to teach my kids to follow their gut and his was telling him not to stay-- for whatever reason. 

I know my husband thinks I should have forced him to stay and try it out and while I really thought he should give it a chance too he was among complete and total strangers and we've taught him for years not to trust strangers.

 I had a hard time focusing on the rest of my day wondering if I did the right thing.

 I tried to look at this from an objective angle-- basketball camp was supposed to be something fun that Ian wanted to do.  It was not my intent to get him to "man up" and get used to being on his own.  

Yes, I had hoped he'd have fun, make new friends and have a great summer memory.

In reality I might have forced him to stay and tough it out for the week and he'd have a horrible summer memory of spending a week alone feeling like he was going to be sick and fighting back tears (of course he might have loved it and had great memories but I didn't want to be responsible if everything was horrible either).

Bottom line was he knew he wasn't ready and perhaps it will take him just a little longer to be mature enough and confident enough to greet tough situations head on.

My husband is trying to argue that he's getting too used to having us around and so he should go back to public school where he'll be forced not to be with me all day but I can't help thinking that is just NOT the answer.

I know my husband is afraid we're raising quitters since  I don't make them stick with any activities once they stop enjoying it but I think childhood should be fun, God knows they'll have enough of sticking with things because they have to once they reach adulthood.

Maybe I am instilling bad habits, I don't know, but I do think life is too short to be miserable when you really don't have to be.  I firmly believe that after school activities, sports and hobbies should be fun not something to stick with just because you committed to it.  I don't think most children really know and understand what they are committing themselves to and if they give it a good try and don't enjoy it; I don't mind them backing out.

It wasn't like I NEEDED him to stay at camp because I was heading to work or anything like that, we signed him up to have fun and practice playing basketball-- a game he loves.  I felt bad for him and did the only thing I felt like I could live with; I took him with me, gave him a hug and told him to please not ask me to sign him up for anything like that again for a good while.  

Until Ian learns how to cope and deal with his anxiety, I just have to wait it out with love and patience, even if that's not always my strong suit.  I know 10 years from now Ian will not want to be with us all the time.  I know this because not 10 minutes after we got home for the day he took off on his bike and rode around the neighborhood by himself (something that makes me much more nervous than the thought of leaving him at a town organized camp for the day); I wanted to say no but I applauded his desire to foster some independence and so I let him go-- with smiles on his face. 

This is the day we ended up with:

After realizing Ian was going to be with us all day, I ran home to pick up our Southwick's Zoo membership cards.  Alec's art class was out near the zoo and so Ian, Evan and I hung out at the zoo for the morning while Alec went painting.  Drop offs for the two boys were like night and day.  Alec could not have cared less that I was leaving him and could not wait to get started on his painting.  He knew the subject matter was birds and was thrilled to find a class that combined his two favorite things-- animals and painting!  He was beaming when we picked him up at lunch time and I was BLOWN AWAY by his amazing painting.

While Alec was happily ensconced in his art class the other two boys and I had a delightful morning walking around the zoo.  Ian was thrilled to see them working on a new habitat; complete with excavator and we were all happy to find a few more new animals.

Evan was in charge since it was supposed to be "our" day at the zoo and he guided us from animal to animal.  I gave some impromptu geography quizzes pointing to maps asking which country I was pointing to and asking the boys to name some animals that live there.  We talked about many animal facts that we've learned over the years and it was nice to have someone other than Alec answer for once.  We had lots of fun. 

Evan's favorite-- prairie dogs!

Evan noticed this next of baby birds on one of the buildings. 

The "new" animals-- cotton top tamarin

The zebras were so close today!


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