It started as a way to calm my own anxiety if I’m being completely honest. My oldest wasn’t even three years old yet, but she was starting a Mother’s Day Out program twice a week, and I was starting to second-guess my decision.
As someone with severe anxiety, my brain loves to give me detailed scenarios without me ever asking for them. So instead of thinking about her toddling around the playground or snoozing on her mat, I was worried about someone hurting her. Or taking her. Or just being flat-out mean to her. And by “someone,” I mean an adult, not a fellow toddler.
I was able to talk my brain down from the Law & Order SVU scenarios, but the flat-out mean one? Nope. I just kept thinking, “no one loves her the way her dad and I do. What if an adult loses patience with her? What if she doesn’t listen very well today? What if she misses us and cries the entire time; will someone call me? Will someone hold her? Or will she be left to handle her own emotions at two years old? What if an adult makes her feel less-than? What if they make her feel dumb? What if she feels left out? What if what if what if?!”
My chest felt tight. My heart was pounding. I started to silently remind myself of true statements: the sun feels warm on my arm. I can see the blue sky. I can hear the radio playing. I can smell my perfume. I can taste my coffee. Then, more abstract: I am capable. I am okay. I can trust my own decisions.
I realized then what I could do to help my small child protect herself (her heart, her emotions, her mind): tell her the truth.
“Hey, G? Let’s try something. Every time I ask a question, you say, ‘me!’ Okay?” In the mirror, I could see her little head nod in agreement from her car seat. I began with, “Who is brave?”
“Who is beautiful?”
“Who is strong?”
“Who is smart?”
“Who is kind?”
“Who is important?”
“And who is loved?”
“That’s right, you are, my girl.”
She smiled, kicking the seat in front of her with excitement. I felt like I could breathe a little bit more knowing I had filled her heart up with the truth, so no matter what anyone else said or did, she at least heard her Momma say otherwise that day.
We did this each school day, then eventually each time I knew we would be away from each other, whether that be with a babysitter or her attending an activity without me. I now do this with all three of my children, not just G–without fail on school days, and of course, on the rare occasions, we are all apart.
I use this pep talk when one of them is having a really hard time, too; gently reminding them of their courage, their intelligence, their kindness, or whatever part applies to the situation at hand.
I’ve also adjusted it some for my middle child, J, as she prefers to repeat full sentences, so instead of asking, I tell her, “say, ‘I am brave!'” And she replies, “I am brave!” And we continue down the list in that manner instead.
But the best part of this pep talk? My children have given it back to me when I needed it the most. There was a day my anxiety had really taken over me, and my oldest had found me in a puddle of tears on the kitchen floor. Without hesitation, she cupped my face and said, “Momma, who’s brave? Come on, who’s brave?”
…and how could you not believe in your own courage when it comes back to you from the mouth of your own child?