My daughter has always been shy. Not the hide behind your legs, head up your butt shy, but the kind of shy where I could feel her physical pain at expectation of her to answer stranger’s questions like “What is your name?” or “How old are you?” While it has gotten immensely better over the years, there are still moments where I can feel her retreating inwards.
I was at a loss on how to help her, I never wanted to “fix” her shyness and didn’t care if strangers thought she was rude for not speaking to them. That said, I knew she struggled with moments like these-not just introductions, but any public interaction caused her crushing anxiety.
My biggest mom fail of my life was taking my anxiety filled child to Disney World where every single Disney employee and character would praise her and try to interact with her. During that trip, we created a secret code inspired by a blog I had read-it was incredibly simple but helped bring my daughter to a safe place. I would squeeze her hand three times, as if to say, “I love you.” It would remind her that she wasn’t by herself, I was right there with her both physically and emotionally.
During that trip, I didn’t hold her hand the entire time just for safety but also to constantly remind her that I love her even if she didn’t want to respond to the princess she loved and adored so much. We have kept up this tradition for the last couple of years and I have found it useful in all situations, even when she is throwing an epic fit, sometimes the physical reminder that I still love her despite my frustrations with her behavior can calm her.
Over time our code has morphed, she will respond with four hand squeezes to say, “I love you too.” Or once, before her spelling bee, she told me she had imagined I was saying, “You’ve got this!” I’ve realized it doesn’t matter what message she thinks I am saying, ultimately it is about knowing that no matter what, I’m always going to be there for her.