In no way are my children different than those around them; they have a good home, loving parents (yes, we do work too much but we try not to have it impact our relationships with the kids), almost all the opportunities they can imagine and – in all – a very healthy support system to build up their personalities from.
However, there are some things that aren’t really rooted in the family, per se; social anxiety (or any other type of it) is predominantly triggered through the child’s interaction with people/kids unknown to them, and surroundings that don’t instill them with confidence and security. It isn’t strange to have a small child develop a form of social anxiety from the early age, usually when starting kindergarten, preschool or school. Naturally, if the child is showing signs of anxiety even without obvious triggers, you should consult your pediatrician and establish roots of such behavior.
When my youngest started kindergarten, it was a very difficult time for us. I had already went back to work a few months prior and adjusting to all the changes made at the office while I was away took a lot of energy and time. Lilly wasn’t that happy about kindergarten from the get go, but we figured – she just doesn’t want to be away from her siblings. However, it turned out to be more than that.
Whenever she’d come back home, she’d be upset and sad; her teachers told us that she cried every day and avoided mingling with other kids. They didn’t want to alert us until it was every day, for a month in.
This is when we knew we had to address the issue and that the current state of things wouldn’t simply “go away”. Here’s what we did, and it helped.
Recognize the problem
Instead of just letting Lilly “find her way around things”, we actually took the time to acknowledge her feelings and see what the problem is. At first, she didn’t want to communicate anything. Slowly, without pressing her, we managed to learn what was happening. She told us that each time we left her at kindergarten, she feared we would never come back to pick her up. We were pretty surprised; after all, she lives in an adoring family, so her fear of being abandoned was very strange to us.
Rationalize their fears
After we had established the problem, we realized the best thing to do is rationalize her fears. Talking to her on several occasion got us to understand where everything was coming from. She told us a few kids from her class had similar situations and that it got her very sad and afraid. We managed to soothe her and explain we were not going to leave her, ever. Her amazing teachers at Little Learning School were fantastic in helping us communicate this to her, reassuring her with a positive and safe environment.
Be open about the experience
Even though she was very little at the time her anxiety got triggered, we weren’t condescending about the fear itself. While she still wasn’t mature enough to understand the complexity of the issue of being abandoned or living in a divorced home, we explained to her that divorces do happen, that mums and dads sometimes don’t live together, that parents die and that negative things can happen, for sure. However, we made her understand that no matter what happens, we’ll never leave her or neglect her.
Take a bright approach
A positive approach is a healthy approach. Make sure your child understands the benefits of kindergarten and see it as a place of happiness. After all, this is where they’ll gain new experiences, meet new friends, expand their horizons and have fun. Sports, dance classes, abundance of toys and activities, great playground designs, etc. – it’s all at their immediate reach and they should be reminded how blessed they are to enjoy this opportunity.
When your children are facing a situation like this or similar to this one, it’s important to stay calm and act confident around them (even when you have doubts). You are their guiding strength, and they need to read reassurance in your body language and hear encouragement in things you say – don’t ever forget it.