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Anxiety Around Saying Names- And Our Boot-Camp to Help

Caroline has some anxieties- specifically around doing things perfectly. Yes, she’s a bit of a perfectionist. I’ve seen this anxiety and perfectionism come through in several ways:

1. Trying new things. 

She doesn’t want to even try something new until she knows she can do it well. She’s been this way since she was a baby. She wouldn’t try things in front of me until she had it down. Instead, she’d practice in her crib before and after naps. She was like this with everything from rolling over, to standing up, to speaking. 

To this day, there are things she’ll do in her bed by herself, but never in front of me. Things that she learns at school, for example. She’ll practice singing her alphabet, and singing a variety of other kid songs that she’s learned in school, but never will she sing them in front of me. Not until she has it down perfectly.

The same applies to trying new things such as putting her shoes on by herself, or going potty by herself. She refuses to try it until she thinks she can do it. Asking her to try something she doesn’t think she’s ready for will result in an all out screaming fit- even if it’s broken down into steps, or I remind her that it doesn’t have to be perfect. She doesn’t care if I’m there to lend a hand. She simply won’t entertain the idea of trying until it’s her idea and she feels comfortable.

2. Writing Practice.

This is our current battle. Caroline really likes learning. She really wants to learn how to read. So I decided that we’d focus on one letter each week. We’d do letter sounds, words that start with that letter, and writing practice. I had no idea the can of worms I was opening with this. I thought it would be fun, but it’s causing both Caroline and me to get frustrated and butt heads. I think this might be a glimpse into her teenage struggles with Mama! LOL!

We start by tracing a letter in her wipe clean book. She traces great. But she notices if it’s not perfect, and she erases and starts over. She gets frustrated with this.

Eventually, because she does so great with tracing, I have her try and write the letter on her own, right next to the traced letter. If it’s an involved letter, I give her dots to connect first. She does great. But, she doesn’t think so, even with my praise. She eventually starts doing it incorrectly on purpose. This is what drives me crazy.

My message is always that it doesn’t have to be perfect, but we always need to try our best. So, when she stops trying her best, that’s when I get frustrated. Then she gets overly frustrated at her lack of perfection, and my frustration… and she starts screaming and throwing things. It has been very frustrating!

But, we aren’t stopping, because I think we need to work through this need to be perfect. And, she also has a desire to keep going, even when we get frustrated! She’s determined!

3. Social Settings

She gets nervous in social settings. Mostly because of the chaos. She doesn’t like loud places, and she doesn’t like commotion. I don’t think she likes the lack of control in the situations.

So, at the playground at school, she used to get pretty overwhelmed. To the point that she was sitting and staying out of the commotion, and needing hugs from her teacher. She seemed to always be nervous that someone would take something from her or push her.

A little bump from someone running by on the playground, was misconstrued as a push in her mind. I’ve seen it happen, and she’s suddenly yelling “that girl just pushed me!” Encounters like that stayed in her excellent little memory, and she became anxious in settings like this. Read how we helped this social anxiety here.

4. Saying Names.

This is a big one for her. And I was so confused at first. She is an EXCELLENT talker. She communicates insanely well. She is well understood by most, and enunciates very well. She’s still missing a few sounds as is normal for this age (S, F, etc.). But even so, she talks very well. She refuses to say names, however.

I thought she was just being defiant and stubborn. I’d ask her to say someone’s name (her gymnastics coach as an example), and she’d simply refuse. When you have such a great talker refusing to even try, it’s natural to assume she’s just not listening. I tried to explain that it is polite to use people’s names in conversation. It didn’t matter or get through to her.

There was an underlying issue, however. She was nervous. She finally told me that she was scared she would say it incorrectly. I was so shocked, and felt so bad. I’d noticed in the past that when other children in her class would say her name, she’d correct their pronunciation. She didn’t want her name to be said wrong. And in turn, she didn’t want to say others’ names incorrectly. So we worked on this in other ways…

Our Name Boot-Camp: How We Helped Caroline to Feel Comfortable Saying Names

1. Practiced Names of Characters

We started by getting out her little characters. She has tons of them because this is her absolute favorite version of playing. Daniel Tiger characters, Paw Patrol, Trolls, etc. We got them out. She says those names all the time. We wrote the names out on a whiteboard so she could see the letters and associate sounds. We said them together, and she said them alone as she does daily during play. We focused on showing her that she already said SO MANY names.

2. Practiced One Real Name At a Time

We went through her classmate’s names first in the same way- writing them out and talking about letter sounds. Then saying the names together and separately. Abby, Emma, Marcelo, Alejandro, Kenyon, Evan, Harith, Eliora. She said every single name perfectly. We all out celebrated as she mastered a name.

The next day, we’d practice all of the character names, and all of the real names she’d already mastered, plus at least one new one. We did this daily until she’d mastered the entire class. Then we moved on to gymnastics coaches, swim coaches, teachers, family, etc.

3. Rewarded Trying

If she didn’t want to try, we never gave up. We were clear in our expectations. When she did try, however, she got a reward. Usually in the form of chocolate! We showed her how proud we were of her for listening, for trying, and for doing her best.

4. Showed Her Success

From the very beginning, we let her see success. We started with names she already said. Daniel Tiger, O the Owl, Katerina, etc. We showed her that she was very capable and gave her confidence. And then she nailed it. I mean she said Alejandro without any issues! She did a phenomenal job.

Where We Are Now With Names

We’re done with our “boot-camp”. Caroline has slowly built confidence. She is still very nervous to say names in front of other people. We don’t require it now that we know it is a source of anxiety. We do, however, explain to her how nice it would be for her to try. We simply require that she acknowledge people and talk to them. Hello is fine.

We know she’ll get around to saying their names in front of people. In the meantime, she’s already using names in her natural conversations. I pick her up from school and she tells me all about her day. She uses her classmate’s names without hesitation in that comfortable setting.

It used to be that she’d make me guess who had brought show and tell. Now she uses the names and does so without prompting.

We’ve seen great success by simply acknowledging her anxiety and working with her instead of against her and making it worse.


Other Posts of Interest

My Toddler’s Anxiety Around Other Children

How to Ease Your Toddler’s Fears

Helping Your Toddler Be More Flexible

3 Year Old Update (Saying Names and Pulling her Pants down on her own)

When Your Toddler Refuses To Do Or Try Things

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