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One by one, her fears have started to melt.
Violin recitals are no longer exercises in terror. On Valentine’s Day last year, she braved asking a boy in chemistry class to a turnabout dance, and lived with the “epic fail” of being turned down. She still feels bashful dialing the phone, but not frightened.
Understanding, not blame
While there is no blame going around the family, there is plenty of looking back at possible opportunities to head off Georgiann’s fears.
Amy Steely said her husband was every bit as protective: “I don’t know when he stopped carrying Georgie around.”
For her part, she knows that hardships in her childhood influenced her parenting. “I wasn’t going to let those things happen to my kid,” she said.
Albano said parents often feel guilt, but shouldn’t harbor blame: “Some parents are very aware, especially for their older children, that they started giving in and accommodating the anxiety — letting the children sleep in their bed, letting their child take days off school. It was harmless in the moment, but then they do recognize the pattern that emerges. So parents do beat themselves up, but they’re not to blame.”
Her new book, “You and Your Anxious Child,” helps parents differentiate anxiety from everyday stress and spot warning signs even in toddlers.
“Take your toddlers into the Mall of America. If they’re not running off from you to the candy or the toy store, you need to ask yourself, ‘Why are they clinging to me?’ ” she said. “Take a note of it and then encourage them. ‘Let’s take a look at the rides. Do you want to go on [one]?’ There are different things parents can do that will help to encourage their kids before these things take hold.”
Solutions must be gradual
Parents shouldn’t overreact at the first sign of kids avoiding fears, said Dr. Mike Troy, head of behavioral health services for Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. “Kids who are more anxious in lots of situations are often the most sensitive. They’re often the most thoughtful about other people’s feelings. The goal isn’t to remove how they are in the world.”
Solutions need to be gradual — somewhere between dumping a socially frightened child at a birthday party or letting the child skip it. Skipping might bring relief, Troy said, but “reinforces the avoidance behavior that can build on itself like a snowball coming down a hill.”
Georgiann still participates in therapy and has a phobia of spiders, which she is trying to conquer by viewing and touching images of them on her computer. But the sophomore honor student is in a better place.
Last week, she stood before the student body at Mayo High and talked about her struggle, as part of a program to spread awareness and tolerance. She was fidgety, aware of where she rested her arms and how her hair kept draping her face, but confident.
“I wasn’t, like, shaking. I wasn’t nervous,” she said. “I was kind of just, like, ‘OK, don’t screw up.’ So I was focusing ... I’ve been focusing on helping other people — getting out of my comfort zone, not just for myself, but to help others.”
Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744