Another school year is underway, kids are back at school and by all reports most settled in to the new year well. My youngest was a bit nervous about starting high school but at the end of the day came home bursting with news, excitement and anticipation.
But it has not always been like that, in Year 1 my gorgeous, bubbly, beautiful girl fell apart every time there was a “test”. Don’t get me started on the focus on early literacy and the need to test year ones. The reality was I could not change the system so I had to deal with my child’s anxiety about performing well. There was no pressure from the teachers (they were some of the best) or the school but somehow my child had got it into her head that she had to do well and could not make a mistake.
My response was probably like most parents. I was shocked, sad, angry, looking for someone to blame, busy thinking, identifying solutions and just wrecked with guilt, worry and probably a bit of anxiety. I was also well into running the Art of Resilience so I will admit finding it a bit confronting – if my daughter was having issues, was I a fraud?
So my husband and I did what parents do, talked about it, worried about it, talked to the school, came up with strategies and tried them out. At one stage, the Principal would sit with her everytime a test came up. We even had days when we picked her up from school and gave her a break. For her, these strategies were band aids and while they may have worked for some kids, they did not provide a change in behaviour we needed to see. For example, solution of avoiding school by coming home was not very helpful in the long term. In the end I found a great psychologist (yes I know I freaked out too when it was suggested) and she went for about six sessions. In those sessions we all learnt some strategies and importantly helpful thinking that we could all use. I will never forget one time we were on a bush walk on holiday and my husband and my eldest walked on ahead and organised to meet us at the house were were staying. My youngest started to catastrophise, what if we could not find the house, what if they got lost? We talked about what she was worried about and some of the strategies she had learnt and she calmed down a bit. Then she said “You know mum, the things I have learnt from my teachers, my psychologist (she used her name) and you and dad really help me to calm down.”
She still gets anxious, after all it is normal to feel scared, anxious, sad, but she has the strategies to deal with it. She graduated primary school last year as Head Girl and won an Endeavour Award. All her teachers commented that she had come so far from the little sad child who used to cry everyday at the beginning of year 1.
So it’s great for us that her first week of high school was a good transition but for some of you the first week experience may not have been so good.
What do you do if your child is disappointed, worried or at the extreme end of the spectrum does not want to go to school or has stomach ache or other symptoms that weren’t there in the weeks leading up to school? What is the very first thing you need to do?
If we were face to face I would push you to answer. You may come up with a few like give your child a hug, talk to your child and ask what is worrying them, maybe you might say I would tell my child “it’s going to be okay”, you probably might suggest talking to their teacher. These are all good options but there is one thing that you need to do before anything else. It’s quite simple and something we do every minute of every day. If you child has been to one of my workshops lately they may remember the answer. It is Breathe. Sounds simple but it is easy to forget.
Then you need to Admit. Admit that you are worried, admit that you are not sure what to do next, admit that you are not perfect and can not solve everything. Like most of us you have imperfections. You have strengths in some things and find somethings difficult. So, you may say to yourself, “This is a tough situation and I am not sure what to do.” By admitting you give yourself permission to be imperfect and you are not to blame. You are also acknowledging that you don’t know everything.
Too often as well-intentioned problem solvers and busy parents we rush to find a solution, we want to make it better for our child, ourselves and who can argue against that? As a parent who has been through this I needed to admit that as a parent I was rattled by this and was acting out of an emotional place and not an objective position. For example, I was thinking: “What if this leads to depression?” So I needed to “check” myself and my emotions.
The next thing we need to do is Think
What do I do now? Who could I talk to? Who can help me deal with this?
In the case of your child not wanting to go to school, all the amazing teachers I know advice is that they need to get them to school and then we can deal with the issue. My advice as a parent is that you need to do something about it sooner rather than later. It may get better but like everything there is a need to nip it in the bud. You may find that you and the teachers may be able to get on top of it and you may need no extra help but how will you know if you don’t try. There is so much support out there for kids in this situation cause alarmingly it is happening more and more. Your school will have a support structure in place, they will have someone who can refer. Your doctor will also be able to help point you in the right direction. If need be call , Kids Helpline on1800 654 432 or look up https://kidshelpline.com.au/parents/issues/how-parentline-can-help-you for more information.
It’s all about Breath, Admit and Think (BAT) before taking action!
This term I have a number of afterschool programs that explore lots of resilience topics like dealing with perfectionism, mistake making and gaining a realistic perspective for children aged 6-12, Teens girls (11 -13).
Children Aged 6-12
In our A Very Arty Day at The Artspace Collective and our new “I CAN kids” at Loftus Community Centre we will focus on “Getting Real” and dealing with perfectionism.
Teens 11 - 13
Our new Teen Hub will give girls an opportunity to catch up with friends from old primary schools or make new friends. In addition it is a new weekly in term program which give girls a chance to hang out with friends and develop healthy mind and body habits for happiness and wellbeing.
Each week girls will take part in mind, body and soul activities aimed at improving body image, helpful thinking, mastering mindful meditation, communication & conversation and improving understanding of the value of yoga & exercise.
We hope to provide skills which will take girls from teens to young adults, providing them with the tools to practice respect, self-love & care for themselves and others around them. Skills that will last a lifetime for the mind, body & soul.
Girls will have an opportunity to shape our term activities and each week there is a unique “Let’s Talk” session which will allow girls to raise any issue in a safe and supported forum.
Teen Hub Loftus will commence on Monday, 5th February at 4.45 – 5.45.
To receive our special introduction price of $120 for Term 1 (8-week term excluding public holidays) use the discount code Introoffer. Please share this offer to other friends who may be interested. Bookings at https://www.eventbrite.com.au/o/art-of-resilience-14727754639
Teen Wellness Retreat
For those who can’t commit to an afterschool teen group, I am really excited to announce our Teen Wellness Retreat on the 24th of February in collaboration with Peak Body Fitness and Chloe Potter Yoga. It will be a whole day of Mind, Body and Soul activities. For more information see https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/teens-wellness-workshop-retreat-tickets-42521485909
Parents and Children
There is also parent and child Strength Heroes weekend workshops which I have developed with a psychologist and an early education specialist who is an ex teacher. These are designed to explore mistake making, identifying your strengths and being understood. We have three 1.5 hour workshops starting February 18th.
As a special back to school discount use the code word “backtoschool” to get a 10% discount on any of the workshops listed on the Art of Resilience Eventbrite page https://www.eventbrite.com.au/o/art-of-resilience-14727754639