- Anxiety is a huge problem for many of our traumatised kids
- Each kid has different triggers that set off their anxiety
- It is important that the trusted adults in a child's life are aware of the triggers and help the child identify them.
- Once identified, it is vital to offer the reassurance required to help the child feel safe and supported.
- Anxious behaviour is not disrespectful or naughty.
It's been well known that the boys all suffer from varying degrees of anxiety. How that has affected them, their learning and their relationships is something I've had to get in touch with. As I now know these boys so well, I can pinpoint those moments when behaviour is anxious and not simply "naughty". As I've become more aware of the boys' responses, I've been able to give the boys the words and tools they need to be able to talk about and cope with their anxiety.
I've tried very hard to empathise with the boys and be patient with behaviour that in a traditional setting may have earned the offender a detention. But as a fairly confident and self assured grown up, it is a struggle to try and work out how an insecure 8 yr old might be feeling. I myself couldn't quite identify with the overwhelming sense of anxiety.
At a recent PLG session for Manaiakalani we began a new block with an "ice breaker". Ice breakers are not my cup of tea, but this one seemed even worse. In our table groups we were to sing odd sounding words to a tune I didn't know and keep a rhythm. A task like this sounds fun to many, but sounds awful to me. I started to get a feeling of tightness in my stomach, my palms were sweating and I was frozen to my seat imaging that everyone was looking at me. My worst nightmare was that our lovely leader would ask me to join in or tell me I could do it. I wanted to hide. Which was the best way to exit the building? Everyone else was having a fabulous time, why wasn't I?
I remembered back to Standard 3 and Room 9 with Mrs Brown. I'm sure she was a lovely woman but for me I have no happy memories. She used to make us sing the roll call in the morning and singing and music was a standard part of everyday. "Naughty children" were forced to sing solos as punishment. I spent many a mat time hiding under the nearest table - stubbornness is one of my many strengths. My resistance to Mrs Brown's methods became such a problem that I recall a meeting with my mother where I was told I was to participate or there'd be more trouble. I'm not sure why I was/am so resistant to the idea of singing in a group, but the anxiety is real and I'm sure my behaviour comes across as defiance.
As the PLG singing session came to a conclusion and the stomach volcano subsided, I realised that my anxiety around music - especially singing - must be somewhat similar to how the boys feel daily. That sense of a volcano in ones stomach, unsure of why you're responding in a particular way and the absolute need to hide.
How often do we see children turning away, dropping their head, covering their ears, lashing out or needing space and time away from others? How often do we scold such behaviour as not joining in or being disrespectful?
In many cases we can attribute the behaviours to anxiety. Anxiety about the others in the room. Anxiety about being unsure of a task. Anxiety about what comes next? Anxiety about lunchtime. Anxiety about what waits at home. There are so many things that can upset the delicate equilibrium of a traumatised child.
Now that I am far more aware of the trigger points for the boys, we are able to talk about our angry tummies, talk about what we are unsure of, talk about what makes us happy and in most cases, very quickly have the wee lad back in action being a contented member of our classroom. More and more the boys are identifying their angry tummies themselves and coming to a trusted adult for reassurance and love. Ultimately, it would be great to see the boys eventually being able to self regulate their responses, but they are still only small and put up with a great deal.
I can only hope that the notes that accompany the boys into 2018 are carefully read by their teacher who will take the time to identify the anxiety triggers in their room and allow the boys the chance to talk about their angry tummies and receive the reassurance they require.