(Apologies in advance to the dance aficionados)
Progressing with anxiety is like a dance step called the "cha-cha". Before even moving towards the dance floor, you need a basic level of security, self-esteem and motivation. Once you are ready, you take a step forward with your right foot, take a step back with your left foot, and then once again step forward with your right foot. From this basic description of the "cha-cha", it would sound like you haven't moved anywhere. But if you look closely at the dancer's feet, you realize there was a little inching forward. And when you stand back to watch the dance, you quickly realize that the dancer is moving across the dance floor. But without that step back, the dancer cannot push themselves forward.
Tzviel and his mother went to visit his class at school. It had been 6 weeks, since he had worked up enough stamina to walk through the school gate, up the stairs and into his classroom. 6 weeks since he had seen his friends. Because 8 year olds (and often many grown-ups) have a limited understanding of mental health issues, the class had been told that Tzviel had a kind of virus that took a long time for his body to recover from. That his body was still building up strength and Tzviel would be coming back to school at a slow pace.
Tzviel smiled big when he walked into class. His 32 classmates ran up to him and hugged him and embraced him and called out, "Tzviel! We missed you!" "I'm so glad you're better!". The teacher instructed them to sing a song for him, and Tzviel felt amazing. Tzviel went to say hello and shake hands with the principal and after 15 minutes, they returned to the car and drove home.
That night, Tzviel's family celebrated his step forward, his "success", with donuts and a lot praise from his family. They all understood what it meant for Tzviel to take this step forward. That night, Tzviel suffered the worst stomach problems. His anxiety kept him awake until 3:00am.
His parents recognized and anticipated the step back in Tzviel's anxiety "cha-cha". They reassured him and let him know that they were all there to support him. That he was safe. They let him know that when he was ready, they would be waiting to help him take that third step of the "cha-cha"- the step forward.
Sure enough, two days later, Tzviel asked if he could go back to school and spend a recess with his friends. That night, Tzviel suffered stomach problems and insomnia, but in a slightly lesser degree. His family applauded his success and let him know that it was up to him when he'd like to go back. They suggested maybe a lesson with his homeroom teacher who he loved. He was happy with that suggestion and asked to do it the next day. He then became hesitant. "Ima, what if my anxiety is too much? What if it's too hard? I want to. I really do. But I'm a bit scared." His mother answered, "Tzviel, I will sit outside the classroom the entire time. If you feel your anxiety building up, you can come out to me and we will work on it together or if it's too much, we can go home. I'll explain to your teacher."
Tzviel relaxed and was happy knowing that he would be safe with his "cha-cha" step forward.