In the spring of 2011, after our older daughter Abigail had started second grade, she began experiencing frequent stomach aches. They would usually come in the evening around dinner time, she would become flushed in the face and just need to lie down. After six months of doctor’s visits that included everything from strep throat to allergy tests and even an endoscopy, the stomach aches went away.
Six months later, our younger daughter Sarah, shortly after starting first grade, began experiencing the same symptoms. Unfortunately, Sarah’s were more intense. She had stomach aches, cramping, and painful constipation. She became fearful of several things including being sick, going to school, and being by herself. There was a lot of crying, a lot of screaming, and several trips to the pediatrician’s office. After testing for a few things, it was becoming clear that Sarah was on the same path that Abigail had been on. Fortunately, this time around, our pediatrician recommended visiting with Amy to investigate the possibility of Sarah’s symptoms being related to anxiety.
During our first visit with Amy, she assured me that all of Sarah’s symptoms, while they could be something physical, aligned with a child feeling anxiety. Because Sarah is very verbal, often times we feel like we can reason with her and explain situations, but trying to explain Sarah’s anxiety to her and tell her the “right” way to view it was clearly not helping. Amy has helped us better understand the viewpoint of the anxious child. She has helped us learn how to talk with Sarah in such a way as to acknowledge what she is feeling, to help Sarah feel validated in what she is feeling, instead of feeling differently or wrong about it. The following spring, Sarah was doing very well in her first grade class.
It was late that same spring that we had a huge family change – we decided to take an assignment overseas with my husband’s company. We all felt nervous but very excited. We were busy with plans, selling our home and getting ready to move in August when we were delayed by an indefinite amount of time while we waited on immigration paperwork. We moved into a small apartment that was fun for the first week, but the reality of leaving our home, our neighborhood, friends and routine soon hit. We were all grieving, not sure how long we would be in this apartment and not sure what our lives would look like when we moved overseas. It was an emotional, scary time.
We were all feeling quite uncertain about what we were doing, but it is Sarah who is somewhat of the “thermometer” in our household. She felt all of the insecurity and emotion intensely. We had crying and screaming fits, periods of deep sadness, even a period of time when Sarah did not want to get off of the couch to play.
I am so thankful we were able to reach out to Amy again. She was a neutral person with whom Sarah could talk, and who, according to Sarah has great dolls to play with! As her parents, we had this idea that we could just tell Sarah how to “fix” what she was feeling by doing something different, acting a certain way, or believing something specific. One of the most important things we have learned from Amy is how to validate our children and their feelings. Simply being able to listen to them and acknowledge what they are going through as being normal has given them a confidence to work through a lot of these anxious moments.
While nothing about our move overseas was easy, we have done it. Our first move was an amazing adventure, but definitely filled with moments to practice the skills we have learned from Amy! The adjustment continued to be filled with sadness, anxiety, and a little anger, but both girls started new schools overseas, made many new friends and enjoyed an amazing experience. We continue to face fears and anxiety, but with an openness to talk, acknowledge, and validate. We have learned to be aware of our stressors, to recognize what are reactions to anxiety and to reach out for help when we need it, all of which is an ongoing process.
Our girls are now entering seventh and fifth grades, and we have made another overseas move. We have faced the grief of leaving another home, the sadness of leaving friends and the anxiety of not knowing what the next months will be like. Sarah and Abigail have both felt this intensely and have had the same feelings manifest. However, they are beginning to recognize and verbalize how they are feeling, and we know we can work through it as a family. We are thankful for the skills we have learned from Amy, and thankful that we are able to continue to seek her guidance and resources!