Future Reflections         Summer 2010

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JITTERS AND BUTTERFLIES: HELPING YOUR CHILD DEAL WITH ANXIETY ABOUT SCHOOL

by Natacha V. Beim

From the Editor: The beginning of a new school year can be an exciting and joyful time. It can also bring a host of worries for young children. This article notes signs of anxiety in children and suggests steps that parents can take to help kids past some of the rough spots. Natacha V. Beim is a writer, speaker, and teacher. She is the founder of Core Education and Fine Arts Junior Kindergarten Schools.

You spent months insuring that everything was in place for that all-important first day of school. You met with the new classroom teacher and the TVI, and you made sure that your child's Braille books and assistive technology were ordered on time. You took your child to visit the new building so she could start to learn the layout. Yet, despite your best efforts, your child seems to dread going to school every day.

Anxiety about school affects many children, blind and sighted. In addition to all the ordinary stresses of childhood, blind and visually impaired children may face some unique challenges that heighten the pressure. Unless anxiety is addressed, it can have a negative impact on a child's attitude toward learning and socializing. Here are some signs that your child may need a hand adjusting at school.

Your child seems tired or lethargic.
When you tell him it's time to get ready for school, there is no sense of eager anticipation. At the end of the day your child goes through the motions, doing whatever needs to be done, but has energy for little else.
Your child seems unhappy or just "okay."
You remember that she used to laugh more, and notice that now she doesn't have much to say about the day's activities.
Your child complains of stomachaches, shortness of breath, headaches, or dizziness.

If these signs seem familiar to you, you probably need to take action. Here are five ways to help your child adjust at school. 

1. Talk about the issue.
Before you make assumptions about what is going on, talk to your child. Ask her if she likes her teachers. Has she been making new friends? What classes does she like? Is there anything she wants to share with you? Don't stop there. Talk with the teacher and visit the school to observe how your child is getting along.

2. Involve your child in finding a solution.
Once you have identified the issues that are causing your child's fear or stress, develop a plan together. Involving your child will give him a sense of empowerment and help him develop problem-solving skills. Review the situation every week or so and work with him on the next steps.

3. Seek assistance.
Your child may benefit from additional help. Meet with the school counselor, your child's teacher, and/or the school principal. Talk about what your child is experiencing. Discuss what can be done to help your child feel more comfortable in the classroom environment. Is there too much noise and confusion? Is the teacher taking time to describe the pictures in books? Can the teacher give more verbal description during visual activities or allow your child to touch objects related to the lesson? Feeling excluded from classroom life can be very frustrating for a blind or visually impaired child, and can become demoralizing over time. You should leave the meeting with a solid action plan. Set a date to meet again and evaluate.

4. Sit with your child when he does homework.
By setting aside a time to work on homework together, you can connect with your child every day and find out how she is doing academically and socially. You will also have the opportunity to teach your child self-discipline and organization. Having this regular time together will help your child feel supported, loved, and understood.

5. Make a point of inviting other children over more often.
Socialization is important for all children, and it is an area where blind children sometimes run into difficulty. Making friends builds confidence and can help your child cope with the negative attitudes she may encounter. Strong friendships with classmates will help your child enjoy and succeed at school. Help your child set up play dates so she can share her world with her friends. Make these into special times by preparing a favorite snack or playing a game with the kids.

Take the time to listen attentively and empathically to your child's concerns. Don't be too quick to dismiss his fears with statements such as, "I'm sure he likes you," or "It can't be that bad." Recognize the issues and teach your child to deal with them effectively.

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