Dear Dr. Bill,
Our 9-year-old, who had always been very independent, became sick while eating out at a restaurant three months ago. Since that time, she has been extremely resistant to things that never bothered her before. She doesn’t want to eat out, she asks for notes to get out of gym class, and she doesn’t want to venture from home. What do you suggest?
From your description, it sounds like the “restaurant incident” was quite traumatic for your daughter. If she already leans toward self-consciousness, she now may be fearful of suffering another embarrassing moment in public. It’s likely she’s trying avoid any situation where she could possibly be scrutinized or subject to embarrassment.
Right now needs an extra measure of your patience, love and encouragement. Spend some time processing what actually happened in the restaurant. Encourage your daughter to talk about the emotions she felt. Was she scared, embarrassed, or feel out-of-control?
Be careful not to “correct” or minimize her emotions by telling her “you shouldn’t feel that way.” Instead, empathize with her feelings of fear or embarrassment. This may help her to better understand and emotionally process the experience.
Also, don’t reinforce her avoidant behavior by giving in to her requests to stay away from all social situations. If you continually allow her to “escape” you will only compound the problem.
Be caring but firm, and insist that she return to her previous schedule and the activities that you know she enjoys. If she needs a little “hand holding” at first, that’s okay, but eventually insist that she demonstrate the independence she displayed before she became ill in the restaurant.
If the behavior persists, consult with a child psychologist or family therapist.
Thanks for writing, Terry. I’m Bill Maier for Shine.FM.
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