Anxious Kids At School. How to Help Them Soar.

Anxious Kids at School: How to Help Them Soar

Kids are all so different and the world needs the brilliance that comes from every version of them. 

We can’t know what they’re capable of, not for a while anyway. Some kids will start unfolding their potential in a certain direction from early on. For others it will be much later. Sometimes it won’t happen until well through adolescence, early adulthood or later. What’s important is making sure they’re supported enough to find that spark and ignite it when they’re ready.

There’s a risk though, that the potential of an awesome bunch of humans is being squandered.

Anxious Kids At School – What’s getting in their way?

Anxious kids will have the emotional intelligence, academic intelligence, strength, courage and social skills to light up the world, but because they’re often quiet, capable and no trouble at all, they’re easily overlooked. Teachers do amazing work, but the nature of the school system makes it difficult for them to get to know the detail of every child. 

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As with anyone, the best way to support kids with anxiety in being the best they can be is by first understanding the way they see and experience the world. Only then can we start to give them what they need, so they can give the world what it needs, which is them.  

It’s not that they need extra support – they don’t. What they need is for that support to be the type that respects and nurtures who they are, rather than the type that firsts insists they change into someone they’re not. They’re no different to anyone else like that. We’re building people, amazing ones, and there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach.

Success at school shouldn’t depend on having the confidence or extroversion to speak up, ask questions in a room full of people, or approach an adult they have no rapport with. Not yet. Not when they’re young and probably not even when they’re older. There are just too many children who will be stifled by the expectation – not because they’re not capable – but because they are less extroverted, perhaps less confident, maybe a little more anxious and more likely to keep themselves and their skills, knowledge and opinions quiet.

Of course, eventually we all have to be responsible for asking for what we want and going after that, but there’s no hurry to get there. In some children more than others, those skills needs to be nurtured, nourished and built, and that can only happen in an environment that supports them in feeling safe, noticed, free to experiment and free to fail, which will be where some of their greatest learnings will come from.

The expectation that all children should be asking questions, asking for help and making themselves visible from from primary school, or even middle school, is creating a culture where extroversion and confidence is rewarded and introverted, anxious or shy children are being overlooked. That’s a problem for all of us. Their compassion, their insight, their wisdom and their ability to connect are things that the world needs. 

Now for what to do about it …

There are things about anxious kids that will hold them strongly in the world one day. In the meantime, it’s important to recognise, accept and celebrate who they are, but let’s not expect them to be different. More than that, let’s do what we need to do to support them in being the amazing humans they are.

Your child’s teacher is in a prime position to do this, but to do this well, he or she might need to understand your child a little better. Teachers have a limited amount of time and given the tendency of anxious kids to hold back with people they aren’t comfortable with, it can be difficult for teachers to understand them enough to know what they need to flourish at school.

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You  know your child better than anyone on the planet and it’s this information that can make a big difference to your child’s experience and success at school. Think of your relationship with your child’s teacher as a partnership. Teachers want to do the best they can for your child, so give them whatever information they need to help them do that.  All of us have certain things we need to be the best version of ourselves we can be. Most teachers, the good ones anyway, when given the information they need to know about your child, will work really hard to give your child what he or she needs to fly. Here are some things that can make a difference:

  1. Understand their idea of ‘risky’.

    Kids who struggle with anxiety often don’t like being the centre of attention at school. Because of this, they’ll be less likely to take risks. For them, a number of things might come under the umbrella of ‘risky’, including speaking up, asking for help or clarification, asking questions, or having a go. It’s not for any of us to question the rationality of this – it is what it is and for them, it’s real. Understanding this is important to building their trust.

  2. Validate them. And don’t push too hard.

    When encouraging them to do something brave, it’s not enough to say, ‘Don’t worry.’ Think of it like this: Imagine that someone is telling you to put your head between the open jaws of a lion. ‘Just turn your head sideways and rest it on those big lion teeth. Yeah they’re sharp. And yeah it’s a meateater. And yeah, you count as meat. But don’t worry. You’ll be fine.’ Of course we’re not asking our kids to put their heads into the open mouths of lions, but we are asking them to do something that doesn’t feel safe, and just because we tell them they’ll be okay, it doesn’t mean they’ll feel it straight away. 

    What they need is to be validated (‘I really understand that asking a question can be scary for you,’) then given time and understanding to actually experience the environment as being safe, supportive and ready to catch them.  They won’t believe it will be okay until they feel it themselves. For some children it will take years to be convinced – it’s just the way they are, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In the meantime …

  3. Don’t wait for them to ask for help.

    They’re still learning that it’s okay to extend themselves into the world and that it’s okay to need help – but they’ll only learn this with experience. In the meantime, it’s important that they are supported in building their confidence by having someone check to see how they’re doing. Anxious kids generally won’t ask for help for so many reasons – it’s risky, it will bring attention, they’ll have to engage with someone they don’t feel comfortable with, and ‘what if the teacher explains it and asks me if I understand and I still don’t get it?’ They don’t hold back from asking for help to be difficult. It’s just something that feels bigger than them so they’ll convince themselves that they’ll be able to work it out themselves. When you think of it from their side it makes complete sense – they’re not about to look for lions with open, head-shaped mouths because a teacher tells them they should.

  4. Don’t wait until they under-perform to check how they’re doing.

    School isn’t a confidence competition and the reluctance of anxious kids to ask for help shouldn’t mean that they’re ignored and left without the support they need. If they are left without that support, they could end up with their confidence being shaken to the ground if they perform badly on a task. Anxious kids are generally really keen to please and will be quick to feel shame if they think they’ve disappointed. It’s important for teachers to be aware of this and to do what they can to give these kids the support they need to do well. That means not waiting for the them to ask for help, clarification or confirmation that they’re on the right track. It just won’t happen. They’re not great at coming forward, which is fine because their strengths lie in plenty of other things. Check on them, approach them and guide them – just don’t wait for them to ask for it. 

  5. And don’t wait for them to ask questions. 

    Teachers often let their students know that they (the teachers) are always available to answer any questions that anyone might have and that there’s no such thing as a stupid question. That’s all important … and none of it will make any difference whatsoever to a child who is anxious. Here’s why. When confident kids ask a question, it will likely come from a place of, ‘Well if I don’t understand then there are probably other kids who also don’t understand.’ For kids who are less confident – but every bit as capable – the desire to ask a question can be shut down by, ‘Well if I’m the only one who needs to ask this, then I’m probably the only one who doesn’t understand it. I’ll wait and sort it out later by myself.’ They might not know the exact questions to ask (because they don’t know what they don’t know) so they will be vastly aware of the risk for confusion, misunderstanding and unwanted attention. A teacher who can work around a child’s reluctance to ask questions, by checking for understanding and checking that he or she is on the right track, will be all kinds of awesome.

  6. Ask them what they think. Their opinions will be wise, informed and deliberate. 

    Anxious kids will think carefully about everything they say before they say it – probably they’ll overthink it and will censor themselves from saying anything. They’ll never talk out of turn, say the wrong thing or upset anyone with their words. When they do speak, it will be wise and insightful. Just don’t assume that because they’re quiet, they have nothing to offer. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

  7. But they will need time to get their thoughts together.

    Invite them to contribute to a class discussion, but don’t ask them to go first. Wherever possible, give them the opportunity and the space to think things through. They’ll likely come back with an edge that will be surprising. Ask for their opinion or for what they think an answer might be, but make sure they’ve had time to collect their thoughts. It’s important not to make the mistake of assuming that because they’re not talking they don’t have anything to say. It’s the environment, the attention and the need to get it right that’s the issue, not their knowledge. The thought of speaking in a large group is likely to set their anxiety on fire. Even for the toughest of us, the thought of having to speak publicly can be one of the most nerve-racking experiences. It’s even worse for anxious kids. Just keep this in mind, but don’t overlook them. 

  8. And they’ll need to feel safe before they speak. 

    Anxious kids will always work best in smaller groups, particularly if they are with at least one other child they feel comfortable with and when there isn’t a strong personality running the show. The opportunity to get the best out of them will be wasted if they are with too many bigger personalities or too many people they don’t feel close too. Give them an opportunity to lead the discussion within the smaller group by being the note-taker (this will see them asking for clarification or opinions – so that what they’re writing down makes sense) or by being the one who reports back to the class on the group discussion (they’ll want to do a good job of this, as they do with everything, so they’ll make sure the discussion is a good one).

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  9. Get to know them. 

    Anxious kids tend to be warm and generous and with an enormous capacity to connect – but people will have to work to uncover it. Kids with anxiety will tend to run in the other direction to anything that’s unfamiliar, so the last thing they’ll do is initiate a connection or a conversation with someone they don’t feel close to, such as a teacher. It’s just too much expect children, particularly anxious ones, to feel comfortable reaching out for support or help from people they don’t have a rapport with. Give your child’s teacher some inside info he or she can use to start building a relationship with your child. Anything your child is interested in will be a good start – pets, sports, hobbies, big news (like a moving house or a new sibling). Ask the teacher if he or she can quietly – not in front of the entire class – strike up a conversation about one of these interests. It will mean a lot to your child to have a teacher who does this and it will start to build the connection that your child needs to feel safe enough to soar.

  10. Find ways to let them shine without the spotlight.

    Anxious kids will rarely welcome the spotlight in public. At home they can be little firecrackers – funny, kooky and crazy good fun – but in public it’s often a different story. There will always be those kids who revel in the spotlight like there’s nowhere else to be, and then there will be those who won’t. Both ways of being are normal and completely okay. Both types of kids have the potential to set the world on fire through their creativity, their passion, their courage and the way they inspire the people around them – but they’ll do it in very different ways.

    Anxious kids aren’t likely to put themselves forward for things. Let the teacher know this and ask the teacher to gently encourage your child to try different things that might give them the opportunity to shine, keeping in mind that they might not readily put themselves out there. Clue the teacher in on your child’s outside interests so that there’s a solid place to start – but don’t let it be the only place. That amazing human of yours might find a spark where he or she hasn’t even looked yet – the school play, the swimming squad, art club, hockey – who knows?

  11. Don’t force them to connect with unfamiliar people.

    Because of their sensitive and huge capacity for empathy, kids with anxiety will be great with people, but let them do it in their own time. Wherever they go, whether it’s to a new class, a new grade, or on camp, let them be with at least one person they are close to. The more the better. This will help them to feel safe and confident and these are the conditions under which you’ll be most likely to see them take flight. They’re not running for election so there’s just no need to force them to meet new people or to have new experiences on their own. They’ll hate it and they’ll be back to the beginning in terms of feel safe and confident enough to show themselves and everyone else what they’re capable of – and that would be such a waste. 

  12. Catch them if they’re performing less than their capability.

    Be aware that children with anxiety might often perform less than they’re capable of to avoid the ‘fuss’ that comes with getting the highest mark, the lead in the play, the captain of the sports team – even though they’re completely capable. Be sensitive to their need to avoid attention if that’s an issue for them. Ask your child’s teacher to praise your child privately when they do something well, but to be mindful that they might not want a public fuss made of them.

    If the teacher can have a little chat about this with your child and name this, it can help to shift it, ‘You would be [a great class leader/ awesome in the school play/ stellar in the cross country squad], but I notice you haven’t put yourself forward for [the role/ the part/ a place on the team]. Are you worried about having to speak on assembly/ that you’ll be in front of an audience/ that you’ll be with people you don’t know? I understand that can be scary. Let’s talk about that.’ 

And finally …

School shouldn’t be a test of extroversion or confidence. By making learning too self-directed too early, and expecting that all kids will be able to seek out clarification or understanding, we’re losing some of them. The spark that’s there in all of them is staying unlit. It’s a loss for them and it’s a loss for us. School is the launchpad into the real world, and the world is losing a lot of brilliance and potential by gearing towards the learning styles of the more confident and extroverted. 

All kids need certain things to be their best, but anxious kids who are quiet and ‘absolutely no trouble’, can be easily overlooked. All kids are different. The more you are able to share with your child’s teacher what works and what doesn’t work for your child, the more likely it is that the teacher can prepare the runway for him or her to fly. 

81 Comments

Belinda

This is such a relevant apostle at the moment for my 9 year old and I. But how do I discuss these ideas with her teacher? She has a lovely teacher this year with years of experience but I feel funny telling her how to adapt to my child.

Reply
elena

Hello,

Our son changed school in September, we have actually relocated and we live now in another country.
He is 7 years old and he was very happy and well integrated in his previous school. He had friends and connected very well with his teachers who loved him. However, the transition to a new school and country disturbed him quite a lot, he developed a severe school phobia. He’s been going through therapy ever since September, the school has been kind of supporting mostly in showing understanding and providing learning resources at home, but his teacher is unable or unwilling to connect with him, she doesn’t try to attract him and engage him in any way. She believes she should not give in to his fears and I should leave him at school to handle his emotions and get used to them. (which I disagree). Since end December he’s been going to school full time, but he needs me to be around all day to encourage him to go into the classroom, to be with him outside during recess time. Due to his difficulties, he hasn’t been able to make friendships, though he is a very kind and sociable child.
Lately other kids have started to mock him about needing his mum around, that he is weird- which of course troubles him a bit.
What would be his best reaction to these children?

I am also very unhappy with the teacher, who should be taking a more nurturing and understanding position in relationship with him, so he would let go of me and feel safer and understood at school.

Thank you for all your tips that may help this situation.

Reply
Anne

What would you tecommend as the best approach for a 12 year old girl who is very defensive about discussing this? My daughter doesn’t want to be perceived as “different” and becomes very defensive when I try to discuss this/provide suggestions etc. Help!

Reply
Felicity

Thank you so much for this article. This article explains all my feelings with anxiety in school and am glad there is an article that shows that I am not the only one. I have found the hardest thing to do in school is asking questions no matter how many times teachers say you can ask questions. When I have a question all of the anxiety comes.

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Katharine

This is such a great article, thank you. It is a spot on description of my daughter. She is only in Kindy, but already the comments we get from the teachers are that she is very attentive and well behaved but needs to put up her hand more and be involved. She is incredibly risk adverse and will actually avoid participating in any scenario she sees as competitive, to avoid being the winner or loser and having to deal with the feelings that come with that.

I know she will get there in the end, I wish I was better at supporting her though! I am kind of the opposite – I was always very confident at school and am a bit of a perfectionist. I (of course) want the best for my daughter, and am distressed to see her missing out by sitting out of things or not putting herself forward because she is anxious. A good example was this morning, it was Book Day at school where you dress as a character from a book. She always gets very anxious about these kinds of things, when anything other than the regular uniform and routine is required. Even though we had all the costume and props there for her chosen character she refused to wear them because she didn’t want people to think anything in particular about what she was dressed as. We end up clashing, as in the moment I can’t understand why she is being so stubborn about participating in things such as these, and I get all caught up in my own ideas of what she should be wearing!! It sounds pathetic I know, and with hindsight I can see my issues, but in the moment our differences result in a lot of tension.

I would be really grateful if you know of any resources for parents raising children with anxiety, or simply who are very different people to us, tools on how to support them when they are tackling the world in a way that is their own and not the way we would do it. I want to support her and nourish her developement and want to get less cross on a daily basis!!

Thanks again for the great article!

Reply
Karen Young

Katharine I’m so pleased the article was helpful for you. Anxiety can be so confusing, but the behaviour that comes with anxiety is one of two things – an attempt to manage the symptoms that come with anxiety (explained here https://www.heysigmund.com/anxiety-in-kids/), or an attempt to avoid the situations that trigger the anxiety. Your daughter is waiting to feel safe at school, but I expect that when she does feel safe, she will surprise everybody. Her ‘stubborn-ness’ sounds like it is more around wanting to make sure that whatever she does, it isn’t going to bring her any attention she doesn’t want. This might be any attention at all. Her anxiety will be telling her that she needs to be careful. The more you push against this, the louder her anxiety will scream at her to hold steady and to avoid anything risky. This is an article that will help explain this in more detail https://www.heysigmund.com/anxiety-children-metaphor-put-shoes-right-beside/. There are loads of articles on this link https://www.heysigmund.com/category/with-kids/anxiety-in-kids-and-teens/, and resources here https://www.heysigmund.com/shop/ that will explain this in more detail. It can be difficult to know what to do when her behaviour doesn’t seem to make any sense, but hopefully the articles will help with this.

Reply
Katharine

Thank you so much! She has really turned a page in her confidence but these changes retain things are still triggers. These resources are super helpful, thank you!

Reply
Poppy

Thank you your articles are very helpful. My 4 year old pre schooler is struggling at school with speaking to teacher and in groups. There approach is now to refuse to let her have fruit if she won’t say thank you or refuse to help her with her coat and not let her outside if she won’t ask for help. I’m am becoming frustrated and concerned this approach is making her anxiety worse. She is being punished for her shyness and fear of speaking out.

Reply
Karen Young

Oh Poppy it’s such a mistake to punish children for being shy or anxious. There is absolutely nothing wrong with either. She is so young and learning to trust the world. I understand the importance of encouraging manners and asking for help, but this has to happen through connection, not through shame and punishment. Her behaviour isn’t because she wants to cause trouble, and it’s not bad behaviour. She is learning about how the world works and for now, she is choosey about who she lets her guard down for. At the moment, there is no distinction for her between interacting with people and manners. That will come – there is plenty of time for that, but for now, the lesson is that the world is safe. A gentle, loving approach will nurture the right way to respond to the world much quicker than a punitive one.

Reply
Poppy

Wow after one half term Into a new school new my daughter is like a different child. She loves school, is confident talking to friends and most adults. Puts her hand up to answer questions. Her new teachers have been amazing and understanding. No pressure just nurture. They gently support her if they sense the new activity is too much and they make small adjustments for example the teacher stood up with her in assembley to collect a certificate. Just shows finding the right approach for the individual can really help. I hope this is a newmlostive foundation for school life.
I also have an 8 year old with anxiety fight or flight problems and getting people to understand it’s not just ‘naughty ‘ behaviour is very hard. The support from this site is amazing. Thank you

Reply
Sean

Poppy, I would suggest that you read the book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” written by Susan Cain.

Reply

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The temptation to fix their big feelings can be seismic. Often this is connected to needing to ease our own discomfort at their discomfort, which is so very normal.

Big feelings in them are meant to raise (sometimes big) feelings in us. This is all a healthy part of the attachment system. It happens to mobilise us to respond to their distress, or to protect them if their distress is in response to danger.

Emotion is energy in motion. We don’t want to bury it, stop it, smother it, and we don’t need to fix it. What we need to do is make a safe passage for it to move through them. 

Think of emotion like a river. Our job is to hold the ground strong and steady at the banks so the river can move safely, without bursting the banks.

However hard that river is racing, they need to know we can be with the river (the emotion), be with them, and handle it. This might feel or look like you aren’t doing anything, but actually it’s everything.

The safety that comes from you being the strong, steady presence that can lovingly contain their big feelings will let the emotional energy move through them and bring the brain back to calm.

Eventually, when they have lots of experience of us doing this with them, they will learn to do it for themselves, but that will take time and experience. The experience happens every time you hold them steady through their feelings. 

This doesn’t mean ignoring big behaviour. For them, this can feel too much like bursting through the banks, which won’t feel safe. Sometimes you might need to recall the boundary and let them know where the edges are, while at the same time letting them see that you can handle the big of the feeling. Its about loving and leading all at once. ‘It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to use those words at me.’

Ultimately, big feelings are a call for support. Sometimes support looks like breathing and being with. Sometimes it looks like showing them you can hold the boundary, even when they feel like they’re about to burst through it. And if they’re using spicy words to get us to back off, it might look like respecting their need for space but staying in reaching distance, ‘Ok, I’m right here whenever you need.’♥️
We all need certain things to feel safe enough to put ourselves into the world. Kids with anxiety have magic in them, every one of them, but until they have a felt sense of safety, it will often stay hidden.

‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what they feel. At school, they might have the safest, most loving teacher in the safest, most loving school. This doesn’t mean they will feel enough relational safety straight away that will make it easier for them to do hard things. They can still do those hard things, but those things are going to feel bigger for a while. This is where they’ll need us and their other anchor adult to be patient, gentle, and persistent.

Children aren’t meant to feel safe with and take the lead from every adult. It’s not the adult’s role that makes the difference, but their relationship with the child.

Children are no different to us. Just because an adult tells them they’ll be okay, it doesn’t mean they’ll feel it or believe it. What they need is to be given time to actually experience the person as being safe, supportive and ready to catch them.

Relationship is key. The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains in our way. When we feel someone really caring about us, we’re more likely to open up to their influence
and learn from them.

But we have to be patient. Even for teachers with big hearts and who undertand the importance of attachment relationships, it can take time.

Any adult at school can play an important part in helping a child feel safe – as long as that adult is loving, warm, and willing to do the work to connect with that child. It might be the librarian, the counsellor, the office person, a teacher aide. It doesn’t matter who, as long as it is someone who can be available for that child at dropoff or when feelings get big during the day and do little check-ins along the way.

A teacher, or any important adult can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
There is a beautiful ‘everythingness’ in all of us. The key to living well is being able to live flexibly and more deliberately between our edges.

So often though, the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ we inhale in childhood and as we grow, lead us to abandon some of those precious, needed parts of us. ‘Don’t be angry/ selfish/ shy/ rude. She’s not a maths person.’ ‘Don’t argue.’ Ugh.

Let’s make sure our children don’t cancel parts of themselves. They are everything, but not always all at once. They can be anxious and brave. Strong and soft. Angry and calm. Big and small. Generous and self-ish. Some things they will find hard, and they can do hard things. None of these are wrong ways to be. What trips us up is rigidity, and only ever responding from one side of who we can be.

We all have extremes or parts we favour. This is what makes up the beautiful, complex, individuality of us. We don’t need to change this, but the more we can open our children to the possibility in them, the more options they will have in responding to challenges, the everyday, people, and the world. 

We can do this by validating their ‘is’ without needing them to be different for a while in the moment, and also speaking to the other parts of them when we can. 

‘Yes maths is hard, and I know you can do hard things. How can I help?’

‘I can see how anxious you feel. That’s so okay. I also know you have brave in you.’

‘I love your ‘big’ and the way you make us laugh. You light up the room.’ And then at other times: ‘It can be hard being in a room with new people can’t it. It’s okay to be quiet. I could see you taking it all in.’

‘It’s okay to want space from people. Sometimes you just want your things and yourself for yourself, hey. I feel like that sometimes too. I love the way you know when you need this.’ And then at other times, ‘You looked like you loved being with your friends today. I loved watching you share.’

The are everything, but not all at once. Our job is to help them live flexibly and more deliberately between the full range of who they are and who they can be: anxious/brave; kind/self-ish; focussed inward/outward; angry/calm. This will take time, and there is no hurry.♥️
For our kids and teens, the new 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. For some kiddos, this anxiety will feel so big, but we can help them feel bigger.

The antidote to a felt sense of threat is a felt sense of safety. As long as they are actually safe, we can facilitate this 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 facilitate this:

- Use the name of their other adult (such as a teacher) regularly, and let it sound loving and playful on your voice.
- Let them see that you have an open, willing heart in relation to the other adult.
- 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.

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.

The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains that block our way.♥️

That power of felt safety matters for all relationships - parent and child; other adult and child; parent and other adult. It all matters. 

A teacher, or any important adult in the life of a child, can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child (and their parent) so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, I care about you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
Approval, independence, autonomy, are valid needs for all of us. When a need is hungry enough we will be driven to meet it however we can. For our children, this might look like turning away from us and towards others who might be more ready to meet the need, or just taking.

If they don’t feel they can rest in our love, leadership, approval, they will seek this more from peers. There is no problem with this, but we don’t want them solely reliant on peers for these. It can make them vulnerable to making bad decisions, so as not to lose the approval or ‘everythingness’ of those peers.

If we don’t give enough freedom, they might take that freedom through defiance, secrecy, the forbidden. If we control them, they might seek more to control others, or to let others make the decisions that should be theirs.

All kids will mess up, take risks, keep secrets, and do things that baffle us sometimes. What’s important is, ‘Do they turn to us when they need to, enough?’ The ‘turning to’ starts with trusting that we are interested in supporting all their needs, not just the ones that suit us. Of course this doesn’t mean we will meet every need. It means we’ve shown them that their needs are important to us too, even though sometimes ours will be bigger (such as our need to keep them safe).

They will learn safe and healthy ways to meet their needs, by first having them met by us. This doesn’t mean granting full independence, full freedom, and full approval. What it means is holding them safely while also letting them feel enough of our approval, our willingness to support their independence, freedom, autonomy, and be heard on things that matter to them.

There’s no clear line with this. Some days they’ll want independence. Some days they won’t. Some days they’ll seek our approval. Some days they won’t care for it at all, especially if it means compromising the approval of peers. The challenge for us is knowing when to hold them closer and when to give space, when to hold the boundary and when to release it a little, when to collide and when to step out of the way. If we watch and listen, they will show us. And just like them, we won’t need to get it right all the time.♥️

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