Sunday, 6 May 2018

First term back at school anxiety - chase those monsters away!

First Term Anxiety
It's the end of first term. How has it been for you? What about your little munchkin? If it's the first term EVER, life has changed radically for both of you. If it's the first term AGAIN, life can still be challenging if your child is prone to having anxious thoughts. School isn't home. The comforts of your own environment just aren't there. And when Mum or Dad isn't there, life can be a bit overwhelming. Teachers are great at dealing with these issues, but they do have so many other kids to attend to. Eventually your child will have to learn his/her own strategies for overcoming these anxious times. It's a skill for life.

Firstly, it helps to identify the problem.
For this to work your child needs to be able to discuss what happened, how they felt, how their body felt, and what thoughts they had. Mindfulness isn't as hard as you think. It just takes practice. Help your child to become mindful. When you're out together and you see something, or something happens, ask the question - 'What did you think about just then?' For example, if your child reacts badly to an event, such as burst into tears or fire up angry, ask them, what did you think just then? What thought did you have? My kidlet said the other day that she thought "I'm never going to fix this!" And so an anxious moment followed. Also, her reaction was a bit over the top because she had misinterpreted what happened. For younger children this level of self reflection might not be possible. So focus on how the body feels. Or use a toy/puppet show to talk about the situation. Often a child finds these less confronting and easier to handle because it's not directly about them, it's about the puppet. Genius, isn't it? Counsellors and psychologists use this method for tuning in to a child's mental state.

So what has this to do with school anxiety?
Much of our response to stressful situations brings on anxiety because w feel we are not in control of what is happening and we fear the outcome, ie: get into trouble, get hurt, lose a parent, become lost etc. I know myself that in new situations I wonder how I will be perceived, whether I will find my way around a new place without getting lost or being late. For children starting school again or for the first time there is the worry that:
  • Mum or Dad are not going to be there 
  • the teacher is new, a stranger 
  • there are unfamiliar children in the class 
  • the classroom is new and unfamiliar
  • the routines are different (child doesn't know what is going to happen or when)
  • other children won't play with them/like them
  • they will make some sort of mistake and get into trouble
So how do you begin working on mindfulness with your child? In my book 12 Annoying Monsters - Self Talk for Kids with Anxiety I provide resources to help kids find the right words to describe how they are feeling, to look at what makes them feel anxious.

What are you afraid of?
Here’s a little exercise to help you identify what it is that you fear or are anxious about: Say this and fill in the missing bit –

“I am scared of ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­_______________ because ____________________________”

“When I’m scared it stops me from ___________________________________”

“If I wasn’t scared, I would be able to __________________________________”

I also explain the physical symptoms of anxiety, and that even though it seems very scary at the time, these symptoms do go away if you focus on breathing evenly and deeply, speak to someone about what is happening and find a distraction.