We have been struggling with separation anxiety over here for quite some time. M, my five-year-old, has been struggling with separation anxiety for about two years. One of the biggest separation anxiety triggers for her is when I have to use the bathroom. This started just after the miscarriages. As a three-year-old, she saw me go to the bathroom, and then come out in inconsolable tears. I can imagine she thought something very traumatizing happened in there, which it did. It was the moment I discovered I was miscarrying for the second time. Since then, M has not left my side when I have to go to the bathroom.
Cognitively, I understand it was stressful for my daughter to watch me go through physical changes and witness my emotional lows. However, living this day-to-day, having a little human follow me to bathroom, ask if I have to go to the bathroom or when I will go to the bathroom, what I’m going to be doing in the bathroom, and if I’m done in the bathroom has been difficult to deal with.
Lately, M has been able to let me go to the bathroom on my own if she is distracted. Since some of her behaviours seem to be habit, and I don’t want to reinforce fear, we don’t spend much time talking about this anymore. It’s a short conversation about how we are all safe and nothing bad will happen when I go to the bathroom. While it is a norm for moms to have an audience while using the bathroom, I could be spending 30 minutes negotiating with my preschooler, or recovering with her during her big emotions.
Enter The Brave Jar.
I resisted a reward system for a long time because I’m not a huge fan of the whole reward for behaviour thing, but I really just want to pee by myself! The Brave Jar was created last week. I don’t believe in doing a “good job” or being a “good girl,” so The Brave Jar is what works for us. Anytime that M demonstrates being brave, she gets to put a pom pom in the jar. We haven’t quite decided on what to do when the jar is full yet, but she is set on getting a new toy.
The Brave Jar helps build self esteem, courage, and conversations around M’s day. Today she put pom poms in the jar for staying in a different room while I used the bathroom, and for asking for an ice pack and cuddles when she fell down.
The use of The Brave Jar is always a choice. I never say that M has to be brave, and I don’t use it to coax her into certain behaviours. If she doesn’t feel brave enough to be in another room while I use the bathroom and needs me in that moment, it’s completely her choice. I try to build up her confidence, letting her know that she has played while I used the bathroom, and I know that she can do it again.
Pom poms will also never be taken out of the jar. They are not something I would threaten to take away as a consequence. I would never remove a pom pom from the The Brave Jar knowing how much internal emotional work she did to earn those pom poms.
Even though I so desperately want to go to the bathroom on my own, I don’t want to retraumatize my daughter in doing so. I will continue to build attachment and connection with M so that she can be confident I will be there to support her in making brave decisions. To me, The Brave Jar is more than breaking a habitual behaviour. It’s building my daughter up to face adversity, recognizing her emotional work, and walking alongside her as she discovers resiliency, one pom pom at a time.
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