My little B had anxiety. Mega anxiety towards recess and to leaving her family at the door at the beginning of the school day.
Mom was SO good. She did not bend down onto one knee and proclaim her everlasting love for her one and only daughter and say thing like “I’ll miss you too” and “You’re making mommy sad sweetheart!” She was a trooper. She held her hand as tears streamed down her daughter’s cheeks, gave her a swift kiss and said “I love you! I’ll see you at the end of the school day” and promptly left. Sometimes she would even leave her with another parent from our class who was also waiting to come inside.
Strategies I used in the classroom to curb the tears
1. Pair the student with a friend for recess
It was very comforting for B to know that a friend was waiting with her while she walked down the hallway, put her shoes on, and ran out to the park. 3 minutes before recess, I would pick 2 loving and excited peers and tell them “B is feeling a little sad today. Sad is an uncomfortable feeling. Do you guys think you could help B have comfortable feelings and wait for her to go out to recess together?” And of course, these loving 5 year olds had no problem with that.
2. Talk about what is giving the student uncomfortable feelings and ACKNOWLEDGE them
B and I talked about everything under the sun when it came to figuring out what was giving her uncomfortable feelings at recess and at drop off time. The reasons were endless but I addressed each one by letting her know it was OK to have those uncomfortable feelings. Lots of students think it’s not ok to feel mad, upset, angry, or frustrated. By telling B it was OK to have those feelings, we understood each other much better in our student-teacher relationship.
3. Insert the family link
I did some research on the Interwebz about separation anxiety. B’s mom DID say that her appetite was being affected by her anxiety, but nothing else lined up as far as actual separation anxiety goes. She did not refuse to go to school, she didn’t threaten her mom with consequences, she didn’t even put up a fight. Some of the research I read even says separation anxiety can’t even be completely confirmed until the age of 7. I feel this makes some sense since you need time and environment changes to be able to distinguish between separation anxiety and having uncomfortable feelings from change.
After much research, I came up with a plan. B loves books. B misses her family during the day. Together, B and I decorated a piece of purple construction paper (her colour choice of course!) with a photo of her family she brought from home. We drew four boxes at the top, one for each day she is at school. The deal was if she put on a brave face every single day she came to school and every time she went out for recess, she could draw a happy face on a sticky note and put it in the box. At the end of the week, 4 happy faces means Ss gets to take a book from the classroom home for the weekend.
Her eyes lit up at this proposal.
In our classroom, we don’t do stickers or candy or treasure boxes or prize bags or certificates. We do hugs and 5 fives from me and real rewards that promote healthy relationships.
Here is B happily choosing a book at the end of her 2nd successful week.
It’s also important to note that if B cried, that didn’t mean she didn’t get a happy face that day. That would be going against the technique of acknowledging the fact it’s ok to have uncomfortable feelings. She had to put on a BRAVE FACE during recess and drop off time. We talked about how a brave face means a smile in our face, and brave eyes that are the driest as possible for that day. I never once said she could not cry.
If you have a student in your class with a situation similar to B, I encourage you to try these strategies. B’s mom deserves a lot of credit too. She read The Kissing Hand and every other book printed on God’s earth to help B through this. She drew hearts in her arm for B to look at the during the day to let her know she loves her. They did the same thing each day during drop off and didnt let the situation linger.
I love winner parents.