Children hitting or throwing something because someone looks at them wrong; silently freezing because others might be watching; running away because they can’t face an assessment, or screaming as their mother says goodbye …
Teachers across the country are facing a tidal wave of learners who suffer from anxiety. What is happening, and what can we do about it?
About 180 parents and teachers from the Mahurangi Kahui Ako (community of learning) gathered recently to hear psychologist Dr Ruth McConnell explain what is happening in the brain when we are anxious, and how we can respond.
Dr McConnell shared the importance of developing and maintaining strong attachment to parents, because confidence and security are developed most easily when we can relax in secure and strong relationships. Danger and risk are a part of life, and fear is often a healthy response to danger. However, sometimes our bodies trick us, moving into protective modes like freezing, fighting or fleeing, even when there is no need to worry. In these times, we need calm people around to help us regulate our emotions until we can do this ourselves.
Even though we are busy, children need to have parents and caregivers present with them when they are together, available to talk about times they are feeling overwhelmed. They so badly need to feel our calm presence, but when we are stressed this is really hard to prioritise. Comments said when we are feeling overwhelmed can result in anxiety that impacts on both relationships and learning.
So how do we develop courage, resilience and confidence in our children? Helping children understand that we all face fears, even as adults, is a good start. Become an emotional coach for your children – acknowledging that their feelings are real and strong, and that our bodies react in case there is real danger. If we breathe deeply and slowly, especially with a calm adult, we will help our bodies to know that we are okay, and, instead of operating out of our ‘survival’ brain, we can begin to think more logically about what to do. Helping our children realise that they can be the ‘boss of their brains’ is powerful when they know they have a supportive coach.
Mahurangi Kahui Ako is hosting John Cowan, of Parenting Place, who will speak on Navigating Technology with your Child on Tuesday, August 13.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to register your interest.
Helen Pearson, Lead principal Kahui Ako