We all get anxious. It is a natural part of our lives, but I am increasingly hearing from parents that their child is very anxious.
Occasionally during an enrolment meeting, parents tell me that their child is anxious about starting school, or a parent will tell me during an enrolment meeting, that their child is very sensitive. Sometimes I may get a visit or call from a parent telling me that their child is reluctant to come school because they are feeling anxious. I usually have 23 teachers who are anxious right before their class assembly item.
Anxiety is a normal part of life, it is natural to feel anxious about something new, or about people’s reactions to you, or what you are presenting, or what you are about to do. In fact, I think anyone who tells you they never get anxious are either kidding themselves or have an over inflated sense of self!
So why am I increasingly hearing from parents that their child is anxious? I don’t know why. I wish I did, then I could be of more help.
One cause of anxiety, that seems to affect mostly boys but sometimes girls around 9 – 10 years old, is separation anxiety. It seems ridiculous, that after years of happily saying goodbye to mum every morning and racing into school, a child should suddenly become very anxious about leaving mum. Sometimes the child will point blank refuse to get out of the car in the morning, or there may be floods of tears each morning and a reluctance to let go of mum. A child may physically cling to a parent and refuse to let go. It is a stage some children go through. It comes from an irrational fear that something terrible may happen to mum if they are not there with her. The child can’t be re assured, it is actually a feeling of anxiety that they can’t reduce. Often I am asked to intervene in the mornings – I have even been phoned by a parent who can’t get their child in the car and they pass the phone to their child so I can speak with them. Sometimes, I use distraction, read a book, or go upstairs with them to make a milo. I have used stickers as a reward if they come to school each morning without any problems. The great news about this kind of anxiety, is that it quickly dissipates and life returns to normal.
Often a child may feel anxious because something is happening at home that they have no control over. This is one time when reassurance does help.
Then there are anxieties about friendship issues, or bullying that has been happening that we haven’t been told about. We can help with those types of anxieties through our restorative process.
Sadly, a child can feel anxious as a result of a parent projecting their anxiety onto a child. An example of this is when I spot this at enrolment meetings. The parent will say something like, ‘Mary is an anxious child so she may have a bit of trouble settling into school life’. Unfortunately, this is said in front of Mary. What Mary hears is ‘Mum says that I am an anxious child, so my role is to be anxious, because that is what mum said I am.’ Whatever we are told about ourselves by someone special in our lives, is what we believe we are.
Sometimes a child can feel anxious because their parent is a ‘helicopter’ parent who fixes every little issue in their child’s life. The child gets the feeling that they can’t fix any issue themselves and feel anxious if an issue arises that they need to sort out without their parent. They have not developed any resilience and consequently become anxious.
This is an excellent New Zealand website about anxiety in children, causes and some does and don’ts for parents. https://www.kidshealth.org.nz/anxiety