When we moved to Georgia last year it was pretty hard on Jay and I. Derek has the emotions of piece of paper, and Em didn't know what was going on, so for them, the move was really easy. For me, I felt like I had lost this entire safety net that was there for me my entire pregnancy with Em, and for Jay, he left behind the only life, schedule, and home he had ever known. He's a child that loves routine and structure, so when his life got flipped upside down last year, it was really hard.
For weeks he would walk around our new house crying that he wanted to go home. Whenever we went somewhere new, he would cling to Derek or I and wanted to be carried constantly. The hardest part was when we would go on play dates with other kids his age and for months, and months (and still today too), there would be all these other kids running/playing/laughing and Jay wanted to be there, and wanted to have fun, but he just couldn't bring himself to play and be a kid, like all the other kids. As a parent, there is nothing more heartbreaking than seeing your child sitting there and being emotionally unable to play like the other 20 kids in the room.
Since then we've learned quite a few ways to help ease Jay into social situations, and while he's still not 100% (because I do believe he has a very introverted personality and part of it is just who he is), we're at a lot better of a place with him now then we were a year ago, and I'd love to share what has worked for us!
Finding a Friend: Both in North Carolina, and now in Georgia, Jay has had one really great outgoing friend that has been able to help get him out of his shell. On Jay's birthday last year we got invited over to one of his friend's houses for a play date and that friend was incredibly outgoing. Jay thrives off of being the follower or wing man, so running around her house, and following her lead was great. Since then, if we're going to be in a large setting with lots of friends, Jay does much better if his friend Claire is there since he can play off her lead. I realize this isn't teaching my child to be independent by any means, but if hes not laying on a gym floor crying, I'll take it.
Don't Avoid Things Just Because the Your Kid Gets Anxious: Our church does a Wednesday class every week called Music Makers for toddlers. This is where Jay's anxiety comes out on a weekly basis, but I really think going each week has helped to make a difference. When we go, Jay always wants me to be the one to go and get him a puppet, or an instrument, or do basically everything for him that all the other kids are doing for themselves. We've set an expectation that if we go, he has to participate, or we'll leave. Other parents I'm sure think I'm crazy when I say firmly, "go pick up a puppet, or we'll go home", but Jay always asks to go to Music Makers each week, so if we're going, he's going to participate. Since setting those expectations while we're there he's gotten better and better each week. And I think being consistent, and gently pushing him out of his comfort zone has helped.
Give Lots of Prep Time: I've read articles that say giving a lot of prep time for doctor visits and things isn't a good thing to do, but for us it works really well. If Jay has a doctor appointment coming up we talk through it everyday for a week or so, and he's more prepared for when it happens. We say, "You get to see Dr. So-and-so next week!", "Did you know your friends go to the doctor too?", "The doctor makes sure that we're healthy!" and then we talk about what they'll do at the appointment and what exactly will happen, and now Jay ends these conversations with, "And Jay doesn't cry!" in a happy manner. He still isn't 100% at the doctors by any means, he won't stand on the scale, or willingly let them touch him at all... but at the eye doctor last month he played all the games and did really well, so I think we're on a good path!
Don't Label Your Child to People: Jay's anxiety mostly comes out when he is around lots of people, or new people/situations. I found myself for a long time telling people. "oh sorry, he's shy...", and over the last month or so, we've realized that he self identifies himself as shy now. When we're having people over for dinner he's literally said, "I'm going to go be shy in my room". We've been trying to reverse this by calling him brave, strong, fun, etc... we'll keep you posted if it works, but it's probably best to not label them as shy from the beginning.
Eat Animal Protein: A couple weeks ago I read this article that talked about signs of nutritional deficiencies in children. The first section said that if your child suffers from depression or anxiety that it may be a sign of a nutritional deficiency in protein, and that animal proteins specifically have all the amino acids necessary to create neurotransmitters that keep our emotions calm, balanced, and happy. Considering Jay hates all meat, and only eats scrambled eggs a few times a week, this was kind of a huge light bulb moment for us. Since reading that I've been really diligent about making sure he's getting more and more animal based protein in his diet, and I personally do think it's made a huge difference.
Tell Caregivers/Teachers Ways They Can Help: When we moved it took Jay months to feel comfortable going to his Sunday School class at church. Eventually I talked to his teachers about his fears and anxieties and it made a huge difference. Jay definitely needs to be reassured that he is safe, and loved, and after his teachers expressed that to him, he looked forward to going to Sunday School each week.
A Comfort Object: When we lived in NC there was a duck puppet in the nursery at church that Jay loved. When we moved we bought him his own duck puppet and I think it helped him to have something that was familiar to him in new situations. He would bring it to church, playgroups, etc... and it really helped to calm him down. We since lost that puppet on an airplane, and then bought him a new one, but he actually doesn't need it anymore. He leaves his new puppet at home and feels fine to leave the house without it.
If you have an anxious child, I'd love to hear what has worked for you in the comments below!