Anxiety is probably familiar to most of us at some stage of our lives — starting a new job, public speaking, waiting for a medical diagnosis. We all feel it in lesser or greater degrees. Even children feel it. It’s not uncommon for children to feel some anxiety when starting a new school. But children aren’t the only ones. Parents may feel some anxiety about how their children will fare. It may or may not surprise you, that teachers feel it too. Having spent most of my life in schools as either student or teacher, where else could I go with this prompt?
First Day Jitters
“I feel sick.”
“My tummy feels all jumbly.”
“My head hurts.”
“I don’t want to go.”
“You’ll be okay once you’re there. Everyone feels the same on their first day at a new school.’
“But what if they don’t like me?”
“They will. Come on. You’ll feel better when you’re up.”
“But what if I mess up?”
“You won’t. Close your eyes. Take some deep breaths. Relax. You can do this.”
Everyone was already seated when he entered the room. They smiled. “Good morning, Mr Clarke.”
He smiled back. “Good morning, children.”
She was right. He could do this.
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.
Note: The collection of stories made in response to the previous prompt The ’49ers can be read at the Carrot Ranchhere.
It is not uncommon for children to experience some level of anxiety or worry when beginning a new school year or starting at a new school. Many adults experience it too when faced with a new situation. It is important to keep the worries in perspective to avoid having them grow uncontrollably until they take on monster proportions.
Today I am interviewing Brooke Graham, author of a beautiful new picture book called Go Away, Worry Monster! that is not only a tool for discussing these worries with children but also shares strategies they can use independently to chase those worry monsters away.
About the author Brooke Graham
Brooke Graham is a children’s author, primary school teacher and mother. She enjoys writing emotive stories that help children cope with life’s ups and downs. Brooke is a member of The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), The Australian Society of Authors, and Write Links, a Brisbane based writers’ group. Brooke teaches in primary schools part-time. She also does author visits in schools and kindergartens. In her spare time Brooke enjoys reading, bike riding, bush walking and spending time with family and friends.
About the bookGo Away, Worry Monster!
Worry Monster loves ‘helping’ Archie worry, especially on the night before he starts at a new school. Archie feels so anxious that his head hurts, his tummy flutters and his heart pounds. He soon realizes that the only way to feel better is to make Worry Monster go away. He does his belly breaths and challenges his inner fears by facing facts, and Worry Monster is forced to leave Archie alone! Go Away, Worry Monster! gives children useful strategies to cope with their anxieties and stress, showing them how to make their own Worry Monsters leave, even in highly stressful times.
I recently introduced you to author Ashling Kwok in an interview about her delightful picture book Lola and Grandpa with its gorgeous illustrations by Yvonne Low.
Today, Ashling is back with us. This time she has written about her just-released picture book The Battle which deals with school anxiety and would be an excellent choice for both teachers and parents to read to their children as they begin or return to school. This post is part of a Books on Tour promotion.
The following statements taken from the Mayo Clinic website explain agoraphobia as:
“a type of anxiety disorder in which you fear and often avoid places or situations that might cause you to panic and make you feel trapped, helpless or embarrassed.”
“The anxiety is caused by fear that there’s no easy way to escape or seek help if intense anxiety develops.”
“Most people who have agoraphobia develop it after having one or more panic attacks, causing them to fear another attack and avoid the place where it occurred.”
“Agoraphobia treatment can be challenging because it usually means confronting your fears.”
Sometimes, as Charli says, we can face our fears head on and defeat them with the choices we make. Other times we may need support to help us overcome them. Sometimes therapy and medication may be needed to help those suffering the debilitating effects of anxiety. I will not be discussing those paths in this post. Nor am I going to talk about the anxieties of children with Asperger’s or Autism. There are others who do a much better job of it and are much more knowledgeable than I, such as Sherri Matthews and Shawna Ainslie.
However, it is not uncommon for a child to occasionally feel anxious and stressed by situations that occur at school. The incidence increases when children are placed in situations that are inappropriate to their development and don’t respect their needs. Sometimes the anxiety and stress is manageable and alleviated by more appropriate circumstances outside of the school environment. But sometimes the distress to the child and family can increase to a level at which more help and support is required.
A school environment more suited to children’s needs would reduce the number of anxious and stressed students, parents, and teachers. Creating a nurturing and supportive school environment requires a firm understanding of child development and a belief in their ability to learn. It also requires that children are respected and appreciated for who they are, and that they receive timely and appropriate feedback, encouragement, and support.
In recent posts I have mentioned the importance of play, and of time spent in, and learning outdoors, in nature. In his book Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv espouses the importance of nature to the development of healthy children, as well as to the physical health and well-being of adults. Perhaps more time in nature would provide the calm that is needed to combat the hustle and bustle of modern life and pressures of formal, test-driven classrooms.
In fact, it is not just “perhaps”. In his article The School of Nature Louv provides evidence of benefits to learning that nature-based and place-based education can bring. He says, “greening schools may be one of the most cost-effective ways to raise student test scores.”
It is easy to talk about the failings of the school system and suggest ways it could be improved. It is more difficult to make the desired changes happen. While the majority of teachers work hard to create warm, supportive, nurturing environments for children, there are many situations over which they have no control. It is important then to have strategies for dealing with anxiety and stress if they occur.
I recently came across a book that may be useful if your child tends towards anxiety. Stress Can Really Get on Your Nerves aims to provide children with strategies for coping with stress. Written by Trevor Romain and Elizabeth Verdick, it is published by free spirit Publishing as one of a series aimed at helping 8 – 13 year-olds “get through life rough spots”. With Trevor’s fun, cartoon-like illustrations on every page, the book promises to turn stressed out kids into “panic mechanics” with a toolkit of suggestions for reducing their own stress levels. I’d have to say, they’re not bad strategies for anyone’s toolkit.
I think time outdoors, breathing the fresh air, and enjoying the natural world is a great antidote to stress. I may no longer gambol in the grass, but I can sit in stillness and quiet, appreciating the beauty around me as I unplug from technology and reconnect by grounding myself in nature. I’m not sure how that works for agoraphobics with a fear of open places though. Perhaps having more time in nature as a child and learning techniques for coping with anxiety and stress could work as a preventative. But it’s only a thought. I am no expert.
This brings me back to Charli Mills and her flash fiction prompt to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a response to an agoraphobic moment. I have used the Mayo Clinic’s broader interpretation rather than the “narrow” definition of “fear of open spaces”. (I’d rather not be fenced in!) I hope my story portrays a recognisable response that could occur in a variety of circumstances. Please let me know what situation you think of as you read, and whether you consider my attempt successful.
She could hardly manage to chew, let alone swallow, the morsel of cereal occupying her mouth.
Her vacant stare and stifled moans alerted him.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m trying,” she mumbled, and squeezed her hands between her quivering knees.
“You’ll be fine. You haven’t had an attack for months. And, you’re prepared.”
“I know.” She pressed her arms against her gurgling belly. “But …”
Finally, she looked at him. “But …”
He sponged her clammy forehead.
She looked away. “What if they don’t like me?”
“They won’t like you. They’ll love you. Come on. I’ll take you.”
What did you think of as you read? I wrote the piece about young teacher about to meet her first class. Did you pick it?
While anxiety about school is more commonly thought of as presenting in children, it is not uncommon for teachers to suffer from school anxiety as well. We accept that teaching is a stressful role, but for some it can also cause anxiety.
I think there are few who are immune from anxiety. We need to be more open in talking about mental health in general. Recognition, acknowledgment and supportive discussion are important factors in helping to overcome the effects of anxiety.
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.
It is almost the end of another school year in Australia. I can’t believe that it is now four years since I left the classroom, both sadly and probably, to never return. I often hear advice given to never say “never”, but although a large part of my heart remains in the classroom, I’m fairly certain that I’ll not physically return; not full-time anyway.
It is also the end of the first year of formal education for Gorgeous 1 (first-born grandchild). I’m pleased to say that he has had a wonderful year and very much enjoyed attending school. His parents are happy too and relate many positive things about the teacher and the ways in which she has nurtured the children. That makes grandma happy too.
However a few queries have been raised in recent discussions. One of these is with regard to class allocations for next year. The parents commented that Gorgeous 1 won’t know what class he is in, including teacher, classmates or classroom, until he turns up for school on the first day. They wondered if this was common practice and about its purpose.
Sadly, I think it is a fairly common practice for which a variety of reasons may be given. However I’m not convinced that any of the stated reasons are justified or have any real validity.
I very much liked the way my most recent school dealt with class allocations. I thought it worked well for everyone: children, parents and teachers.
Towards the middle of Octoberchildren were asked to identify three friends they would like to be in the same class with the following year, and any they wouldn’t. I never emphasised the “not like” part but made sure that children knew it was there if they wished to use it. Few did.
At the same time parents were invited to submit in writing things they wished included for consideration when class allocations were made. Requests were to be specific to their child’s needs; for example friendship issues or the type of teacher thought best suited to the temperament, learning style or needs of the child. Identifying a teacher by name would invalidate the request.
The process of allocating children to classes was time consuming with many things to be considered; including, for example, the distribution of children of high, mid and low achievement levels; boys and girls; children from non-English speaking backgrounds; children with disabilities or requiring support with learning or behaviour.
Current class teachers collaborated to draw up lists which were checked by an administrator to ensure even spreads and that parent requests (not revealed to the teachers) were complied with. It was no small feat. We would go into the meetings armed with lists of children’s friendship groups on sticky notes, scissors, coloured pencils, erasers, and more sticky notes. It was always amazing to see the classes come together.
The best part of this process occurred in the second-last week of term when teachers and children met their new classes for the following year. Another feat of organisation. Class teachers told children which class they would be in and distributed to each their portfolio of work to be given to the new teacher.
All year levels met in their respective assembly areas, divided into their new classes, met their new teachers and went off to their new classrooms for about 45 minutes. The new teacher would explain class expectations and topics the children would learn about. Sometimes the teacher would read a story or engage the students in discussions about what they had learned in the current year and what they were hoping to learn in the following year. Oftentimes children returned with a small gift from their new teacher; for example a book mark, pencil or eraser. They always returned excited.
In addition to stories and discussions, I would always ask my new students to draw a picture of themselves, write their name and anything else they would like to tell me about themselves or their picture. I would also take their photograph and attach it to their drawing. In addition to the portfolio of information coming from the previous teacher, this would provide me with valuable information that I could use when preparing for the new year.
In addition I would have a letter and a small gift ready for my new students. The letter helps to create a positive connection, makes them feel special and helps to ease the transition back to school after the holidays. It also ensures they remember what class they are in and who their teacher is. It lets their parents know as well.
I think this is a wonderful process and one that should be adopted in all schools. It has many benefits; including:
helping teachers get to know important information about students before the year begins and aiding preparation.
reducing the anxieties of children and parents over the holidays, wondering about which class they would be in and which teacher, even whether they would be in the same class as their friends.
Once children knew their new classes I arranged their seating and named their groups to match. This provided opportunities for children to bond with future class mates as well as identify their class for the following year. There would be no unnecessary confusion or anxiety on the first day of school.