Anxiety at School – How to Build Brave by Building Their Village.

Boy reading

For our kids and teens, a school year will bring new adults into their orbit. With this, comes new opportunities to be brave and grow their courage – but it will also bring anxiety at school. For some kiddos, this anxiety will feel so big, but we can help them feel bigger.

If anxiety is a felt sense of threat, the antidote to this is a felt sense of safety.

This can be strengthened most powerfully through relationship. A felt sense of relational safety is critical in reducing anxiety at school and building brave behaviour in all children.

‘Relational safety’ in this sense means feeling welcome, seen validated, cared for, valued. The questions to ask are:

  • Do they feel seen, cared for, valued, by the adult in the room?
  • Is that adult familiar, warm, welcoming?
  • And because children are always looking to their primary important adults (parents/carers) for signs of safety: Do they (the young person) believe that we (their parent/carer) likes and trusts that adult?

There is a primal, instinctive reason for the importance of relational safety for all of us. We haven’t survived for as long as we have because we’re the smartest or the strongest or the most powerful. We’ve survived for as long as we have because we’ve worked together. We feel safest when we are ‘with’. This is how it is for all mammals, not just the human ones.

What’s important of course, is that the ones we are with feel safe to be with. For children, felt safety with an adult might take time. This is no reflection on the adult. The adult beside them might be the safest, warmest, most loving adult, but that doesn’t mean a young person will feel safe straight away.

This is also instinctive. It isn’t safe for children to follow every adult that comes to them, so a felt sense of relational safety might take time, and that’s okay.

As long as they are actually safe, we can help grow their felt sense of relational safety by nurturing their relationship with the important adults who will be caring for them, whether that’s a co-parent, a stepparent, a teacher, a coach.

There are a number of ways we can do this:

  • Use the name of their other adult (such as a teacher) regularly, and let it sound loving and playful on your voice. ‘Oh I wonder what Miss Smith is having for breakfast today.’
  • Let them see that you have an open, willing heart in relation to the other adult. ‘I really like Mr Jones. I’m excited for you to get to know him.’
  • Show them you trust the other adult to care for them (‘I know Mrs Smith is going to take such good care of you.’)
  • Facilitate familiarity. As much as you can, hand your child to the same person when you drop them off.
  • You know how lovely it feels to hear someone speaking beautifully about you behind your back? It goes a long way to building trust in the person who said it. To facilitate this between your child and the teacher, ask your child’s teacher to share anything positive your child does. It might be weekly or fortnightly – whatever works. Then, share that information with your child, ‘Mrs Wilder told me that you worked really hard in maths today. I loved that she noticed that about you.’ Then, share anything positive your child says about the teacher, with the teacher.

It’s about helping expand their village of loving adults. The wider this village, the bigger their world in which they can feel brave enough.

For centuries before us, it was the village that raised children. Parenting was never meant to be done by one or two adults on their own, yet our modern world means that this is how it is for so many of us.

We can bring the village back though – and we must – by helping our kiddos feel safe, known, and held by the adults around them. We need this for each other too.

4 Comments

Alicia

It’s nice to finally see its ok talk about anxiety and depression and to put in perspective what it means, and that reaching out as a parent or just struggling yourself that people are more accepting, and that there is help and tools to help. No more hush hush or negativity toward someone struggling.

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The point of any ‘discipline’ is to teach, not to punish. (‘Disciple’ means student, follower, learner.)

Children don’t learn through punishment. They comply through punishment, but the mechanism is control and fear. 

The problem with this, is that the goal becomes avoiding us when things go wrong, rather than seeking us out. We can’t influence them if we’ve taught them to keep their messes hidden from us. 

We can’t guide our kiddos if they aren’t open to us, and they won’t be open to us if they are scared of what we will do. 

We all have an instinctive need to stay relationally safe. This means feeling free from rejection, shame, humiliation. The problem with traditional discipline is that it rejects and judges the child, rather than the behaviour. 

Hold them close, reject their behaviour. 

This makes it more likely that they will turn toward us instead of away from us. It opens the way for us to guide, lead, teach. It makes it safe for them to turn and face what’s happened so they can learn what they might do differently in the future.

Rather than, ‘How do I scare them out of bad behaviour?’ try, ‘How do I help them to do better next time?’ 

Is the way you respond to their messy decisions or behaviour more likely to drive them away from you in critical times or towards you? Let it be towards you.

This doesn’t mean giving a free pass on big behaviour. It means rather than leading through fear and shame, we lead through connection, conversation and education. 

The ‘consequence’ for big behaviour shouldn’t be punishment to make them feel bad, but the repairing of any damage so they can feel the good in who they are. It’s the conversation with you where they turn and face their behaviour. This will always be easier when they feel you loving them, and embracing who they are, even when you reject what they do.♥️
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#parent #parents #mindfulparenting #gentleparenting
Kununurra I’m so excited to be with you tonight. I’ll be giving you super practical ways to strengthen your kiddos and teens against all sorts and all levels of anxiety - big anxiety, little anxiety, anxiety about school, separation, trying new things - all of it. You’ll walk away with things you can do tonight - and I can’t wait! Afterwards we’ll have time for a chat where we can dive into your questions (my favourite part). This is a free event organised by the Parenting Connection WA (I love this organisation so much!). The link for tickets is in my story♥️
Hello Broome! Can’t wait to see you tonight. Tickets still available. The link is in my story. 

Thank you Parenting Connection WA for bringing me here and for the incredible work you do to support and strengthen families.♥️
What a weekend! Thank you Sydney for your open hearts, minds and arms this weekend at @resilientkidsconference. Your energy and warmth were everything.♥️
I LOVE being able to work with early childhood centres and schools. The most meaningful, enduring moments of growth and healing happen on those everyday moments kids have with their everyday adults - parents, carers, teachers. It takes a village doesn’t it.♥️

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