Managing School Anxiety
Advice for Parents and Carers…
At least that’s what the peice of paper calls itself… And I can’t see too much wrong with some of the information presented… NOW… After we’ve come out the other side of the dark tunnel…
But here’s the thing…
It’s makes it all seem so… straightforward… so black and white… and straightforward anxiety is not.
The more I read it, the more furious and frustrated I become. Now, after 18 months of work, trials, tears and recently wins, (and a lot of learning) we do a lot of what this ‘advice’ says. But if I had received it in the beginning, I can imagine I would have felt (more) overwhelmed, and wondered why it wasn’t so easy for us…! Why can’t I put a simple morning routine in place, and the anxiety will be gone? And he’ll just, you know, go to school? My son spent half of that 18 months (almost a full academic year) off school… A decision which this paper inherently disagrees with.
So here’s what I inherently disagree with.
Take suggestion no. 1 ‘Maintain good communication and work with the school to put in place strategies that will help your child manage full attendance and address any concerns’.
But what if the school is the problem? What if (as in our case) the teacher is a bully? What if the children are bullies? What if the school won’t hear your concerns? What if your child really is anxious BECAUSE of school? There is a presumption here that the child’s anxiety is unfounded, and that the attendance (the holy grail) is the most important thing? And the strategies?.. What Strategies….? Give me some to use!!
Suggestion 4 Clear messages about school attendance- Everyone has had a different experience of school themselves, some good, some bad. It is important that all those supporting think about the way they speak about school. The key message is that school is not optional and attending is in every Childs best interests’.
Talk about strong, confident (threatening) language! Phew. ‘Best interests’ is an interesting term here. Again, what if school actually isn’t in their best interests? Attendance cannot be the measure of success here. If your child attends under duress and finds themselves crying or vomiting throughout the day, how are they going to learn? And what are they going to learn? To me, all they will learn is they can’t trust anyone, not the school, not their parents… That they have to do what they’re told, regardless of how they feel! Is this teaching them to be confident, well adjusted adults? I don’t think so. It is a recipe for disaster.
Admittedly there are points that are positive and helpful… Not just for anxiety mind. Helping them break down tasks into smaller more manageable peices, rewards for facing fears, and encouraging independence, problem solving and persistence are all great parenting and life strategies. The term, ‘you can lead a horse to water’ does come to mind though.
So after the 12 ‘suggestions’ to get your child to attend school, we move on to a very brief look at anxiety itself… It’s a normal, sometimes helpful aspect of life and (here’s the bit that made me laugh) ‘we all need to develop ways of coping with these feeling…’ What ways? Here lies the core of what this paper is missing. How to handle the feelings of anxiety… How to teach your child how to handle them…
What do you do when your child is frozen and can’t walk another step forward…? Or when they are begging you in tears not to attend school (or any other activity for that matter)? All the ‘suggestions’ anybody gave you, go right out the window.
When it comes to addressing the things that could actually be going wrong at school they call it ‘Identifying any issues that might be barriers to attending school’…. Hmmmm not the issues that may be causing the anxiety.
And then it finishes with the type of messages we give must give our anxious children through our language. The use of clear, strong, consistent language that expects compliance. Showing a united front…. Against who!!?
And lastly the obligatory ‘get yourself some support’ section. This is probably the most important thing they say. ‘A supportive adult to share your concerns with’ I would take further to include someone who has been through it… Someone who knows how you feel, and can totally empathise without judgement. (And once you’ve been through it and come out the other side, you can help someone too!)
So how did we do it? Well after the initial freaking out, we got as much help as possible, (attended every class, read every book, watched YouTube and talked to people) and then took the information and made decisions that felt right for us and our child. We put him, his wellbeing and his happiness first. We removed him from the stressor (school) and gave him time to learn techniques, to build his resilience and to understand himself. We stood united as a family with him and against the anxiety, which built a deep level of trust. I kept thinking, what if he’d broken his leg? He would have had emergency care, recovery, rehabilitation, and only then been asked to run. Asking my child to go to a school he was frightened of, was like asking him to run on a broken leg. It just didn’t make sense. I also thought what if you take school out, and a child becomes anxious due to abuse or an accident. They are not going to be sent back into the situation that caused it, to help them recover… It’s counterintuitive! So why do we do it with school?
So if you are on this harrowing journey, be confident that you can do it! Empower yourself with as much information as possible, accept all the help that comes your way, and then follow your instincts… Make decisions based on your family’s needs, listen to yourself and listen to your child!