Entering School–Overcoming Anxiety

Westcliffe Elementary School

Somewhat overwhelming from 5-year-old’s point of view

Layla’s lesson on overcoming ANXIETY:

Our neighbor’s grandchildren are visiting, their dogs are barking, parents and grandparents are yelling above the din.  Some folks decide to set off some illegal fireworks.  Layla runs up to the connecting neighbor gate and whines, wishing to meet the children.

And then we proceed to have a  dinner for ten F/friends, ignoring as best we can the stimulating energy and noise from next door.  In the middle of all this, a guest commented, “She’s so much calmer than the last time we visited.”

WOW!  She really is so much calmer.  When did that happen?  For two years we have worked at teaching Layla how to remain calm during times that must seem chaotic and new to her.  A lot of repetition of learning “quiet” and “wait.”
We know she is feeling less anxious because she is not panting a lot during these times.  She’s willing to self-select to lay at our feet or simply settle in a position that allows her to watch, without drawing attention to herself.

Anxiety is best overcome by being given the opportunity to EXPERIENCE the ability to self-sooth (calming) and the internalized belief of self-competence in any given situation/environment.

If your young school age child has anxiety about entering or remaining in school, here are some steps to take to help your child learn to calm himself and feel competent:

  1. Go to the school BEFORE opening day.  Allow the child to “own” his space in his school room, the bathroom, the hallway, the lunch room.  Encourage questions.  Sit in the chairs, write on the blackboard, play an imaginary game of “school” with all the other kids there and the teacher.
    Close your eyes (blindfold, if you like) and allow your child to lead you around and through the school, describing everything to you.
  2. Before opening day, practice what the routine will be for going to school and coming home from school.  If the child will be riding a bus, see if you can’t let the school allow you to take your child on a bus.  You may also buy a toy bus (match box size is good enough) and play “bus.”
  3. On the first day of school present your son or daughter with a “pocket talisman” that represents all the child’s feelings and the ability to find courage, safety, and determination–all the things that you as a parent are able to provide for your child if you were there.  It is a tangible thing for the child to hold when he or she is feeling anxious and uncertain.
  4. If you get a phone call from school that your child is not able to continue for the full day’s schedule, do go to your child and be positive.  “You did it.  You made it through the front doors and you sat in your chair.”  Talk about how much courage it took and how proud you are for your child’s ability to take on this unknown, scary adventure.
  5. When you are home with your child, don’t do a lot of talking or asking of questions.  Have the expectation that tomorrow is a new day with your child’s ability to start afresh–adding to the positive experiences of yesterday.
  6. If you suspect your child will be unable to make it the whole day in his second day at school, tell your child that you will pick him/her up thirty minutes later than the first day.  This gives your child some endpoint to look forward to.  Keep extending this time period until your child either tells you not to interrupt him at school, or he/she has made it successfully through the school day.  CELEBRATE when your child makes it through the whole day, but NOT BEFORE.  A Celebration is like being taken out for ice cream, or going to the park and playing with a parent, or a family special dinner–all to reward the courage and determination of the child.
  7. For a child who more extensive anxieties than these and who is really struggling with entering school, do seek professional intervention.  Talk with the school, use a play therapist.  Anxiety can be extremely fearful for the individual and crippling to his/her ability to be successful.

Be gentle with your children–

we all learn greater lessons for understanding ourselves and others through the thoughtfulness of others.

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