Sunday, August 26, 2007

school anxiety

A mom wrote in recently to ask what to do about her daughter who is very anxious about starting kindergarten, even to the point of having anxiety attacks when she thinks about it. The mom did not send her daughter to preschool, and the two are very attached. What to do? Well, mama, I feel your pain and I'll try to help out as much as I can.

My own experience is just the opposite. I sent my daughter to preschool, and then kept her home for kindergarten. It happened one day when I was bringing her home from preschool and I questioned why I was sending her to school in the first place. So many times we fall into this cultural belief system without a second thought. School is like that--not that it is right or wrong, but it is a cultural pattern that we continue without really questioning why. If we really get down to the heart of the issue, we will find that many of our thoughts, habits and patterns are just handed down to us from our culture and our society.

My suggestion would be to question why she must attend school. Are you worried about meeting her educational needs? Does she need to branch out and foster more friendships? Do you need her to go to school so that you can go to work? Spend some time and write down the reasons she must attend school (all cultural and societal pressures aside). School must be something that will enrich your child, as well as your relationship with her. It should never be heartache and anxiety. There will be enough reasons to have anxiety attacks throughout life--school should not be one of them.

Personally, I have both. One of my children attends school (my oldest is in high school) and the rest of them are homeschooled. We decided to take the school issue one year at a time, and every year we have decided that homeschooling was such a fulfilling and enriching option that we have continued with it. Now my oldest will be going into high school, and I look at her today and know that she is not only mentally prepared, but emotionally as well. She was that child that stayed home from kindergarten, and I am so grateful that I have had the opportunity to share her school experience with her.

Take it one year at a time, and spend some time getting to the heart of the issue. School may not be the right option for her at this point. However, if you feel that it is, then try to soothe her anxiety by preparing her for the change. Visit the school with her, walk down the halls, get excited about the new opportunity, let her know that you will be very close while she is at school (perhaps even at a nearby coffee shop or shopping center for the first few days). I hope that helps and please let me know how she is coping (and you, too!).

Please, moms, if you have any advice to help a child make the transition into school, post it here and help this mom out. Thanks so much!


I have a good life said...

I'm working through the public versus home school thing right now. Thanks for sharing your experience. I especially like that you take it year by year. That makes sense.

Kelly said...

Although my kiddo is just a toddler, I have been doing the homeschool debate already, myself. I cannot imagine a harder thing for a young person to go through- one day being with Mama all day, playing and doing fun things to -BOOM- classroom! a teacher, a strange new place, having to ask permission to go potty...
Still, I think I personally struggle with the "social norm" thing of sending your kid to school - it's what seems "normal" and "natural" in this society... Thanks for bringing this up, it made me think more about the "whys" of schooling choices. I would love to see lots more about homeschooling choices and specifics from the Total Mom herself in the future! :)

my3sons said...

As an educator and a mom of 3 boys, my philosophy is "every child is unique". What works for one, even in the same family, may not necessarily be right for another. My sons all attend school - this year two in public and one in a private school. This balance has changed throughout the years, and we evaluate our options each year. I am a huge advocate of pre-school, primarily for social reasons. All of my boys had wonderful experiences with it, and I am certain that my enthusiasm for it helped with their adjustment. If you are having anxiety, your child will sense it, and will likely mirror it.

That said, it is an absolute necessity to check out the schools, meet the teachers, visit with your child and on your own, and ask the questions that are important to you. Talk with parents who currently have their kids in the program. Good schools encourage this. For preschools, look for accreditation, from NAEYC or another nationally respected organization - they focus on what is developmentally appropriate for varioius ages. Personally, I would never have sent a pre-schooler to a place that would require permission to use the potty! It's not developmentally appropriate. Their kindergarten did not even require that!