Author: Karen Copeland
We are in the home stretch for the 2014/2015 school year. Six and a half weeks remain, and even though I now have my son at home, I can still remember what these last weeks were like.
Anxiety producing. In a BIG way.
This is the time of year where everyone is tired. Teachers are trying to get the last of the curriculum taught, students are getting caught up on missing work or studying for end of the year exams, sleep is elusive due to the ever lengthening sunny days, and routines go out the window. It can be (?) overwhelming.
This feeling of being overwhelmed – it is hard. You feel like you have no control over anything. I would suspect there are a few of you out there who are like me, who like things to go according to plan – this not having control can feel very upsetting. For many years, it seemed my default response was to “dig my heels in” to regain control. It didn’t matter that I, as the adult, had more capacity to be flexible than my children. I would create the conditions for an epic power struggle – I could see it coming, but I had no idea of what to do about it. But I would think to myself “if I could just get everything back on track, make everyone follow my lead, I would feel more settled.”
Light bulb moment.
Yes, suddenly my anxiety trumped everything else that was going on. I wanted to feel comfortable and this was influencing my response to what was going on around me.
Here is what happens when we make it about our own anxiety. We start to look at things from a different perspective. Instead of being curious, we may leap to an assumption or judgement about why a child is behaving a certain way. And I would suggest we don’t often come up with a positive or understanding reason for the behavior. Instead, our internal narrative may go like this:
“I don’t have time for this today. I can’t believe she is going to [behavior] again!!”
“I’m so exhausted. Why does it have to be Monday?”
“You know, I’ve worked on this ALL year, and he still doesn’t get it!”
These judgments about the behavior – that we have actually probably been seeing for several months – then leads us to come up with responses that are quite different from how we typically respond to it. Our lack of patience can start to shine through. Imagine how confusing this might be to a child. What internal narrative might they take on?
“Mom knows I have a hard time with this, but now I feel stupid because I’m not doing it right.”
“I’m scared to ask for help. I don’t know what she is going to say to me.”
“I am trying my best, but I guess my best isn’t good enough right now.”
Once I figured this out, I was able to (mostly) shift the way I was responding to my family and others. I say mostly because, well, I’m not perfect and I don’t pretend to be. Sometimes that default response finds its way out into the open. When that happens I spend some time reflecting on what it is that I need to do to refocus, so that the next time, I move in a different direction.
Taking the time to be curious and trying to understand what need is being communicated makes a big difference. It helps me look at the behavior from a calmer, more objective perspective and assists in determining the best type of response. This is not the time to “change it up” dramatically from a practiced and predictable response, however, it may be a good time to re-examine priorities and be a bit flexible with expectations. When I can move away from “what do I want to achieve” to really looking at where my child is at in any given moment and thinking “what can we achieve together” the rest of our day tends to go better.
I write this post from a parent perspective, however I think it might be useful for anyone who happens to be working with children. I came across a great post from Karl Lindgren-Streicher called End of the Year Difficulties for Students that beautifully illustrates the importance of flexibility at this time of year. Please do take a read, you will not be disappointed!
So, in these final days of the school year, I ask parents and teachers to remember that it is not about us and our own anxiety about getting through the remaining days – it is about how we can help our kids get through them.
Please, don’t give up on them now!