This week I had the pleasure of speaking with a wonderful second-grade teacher in Kansas about how to help anxious children feel more comfortable in the classroom.
The teacher had observed that children are becoming more anxious, when compared with students in the past. She asked if in the next book 70 Play Activities we have any activities that could help and I suggested the thinking game, “What’s Working for Me.”
Children often have feelings and thoughts of which they are not mindfully aware. Those thoughts and feelings about life experiences or specific situations can cause feelings of unease that increases anxiety.
At the heart of it, the cognitive side of anxiety (because there can be quite a strong biological side as well) is about the perception that one does not possess the necessary skills to cope with or manage specific task demands in daily life. As an example, a child might be anxious about a vocabulary test if the words are difficult for the child to read, remember and retrieve. A child might be anxious about going to lunch when he feels he might not have the skills to seek out a table mate and feel less alone while eating lunch.
So we have an activity in the next book of 70 Play Activities (2016) called What’s Working For Me that helps children think about what might be working and what might not be working about a specific life circumstance. The children are then empowered to find new thoughts, words and actions to cope in a new way with the situation. You can use it for a variety of circumstances, let your creativity guide the way.
Let’s look at the lunch example. We would say this….quietly, one on one with the child.
“Joey, I see that you are hesitant to go to lunch each day. I’d like to know more about what that is like for you. Are you open to playing a thinking game with me about lunchtime?”
“Let’s write down a few things that are working for you when you go to lunch. Then we can fill out our What’s Working for Me planning sheet and develop a plan to make lunch time better for you.”
T: Let’s think about what you like about lunch.
J: “Well, I’m usually hungry, so it’s good to eat.”
J: “I like the days when they serve grilled cheese.”
J: “When Sam is at school, I usually sit with him.”
T: “Great! let’s write that in the green box, What’s Working For Me.”
T: Now, what don’t you like about lunchtime?
J: “I hate sitting alone.”
J: “Sam is sick a lot so then I have to sit alone.”
J: “No one asks me to sit with them.”
J: “It’s embarrassing.”
T: “Thanks for sharing that with me, I can see how it could feel sad to eat lunch alone.”
T: “We have a third box on our What’s Working For Me planning sheet. Let’s brainstorm how lunch could look differently so you can feel better about going to lunch.”
T: “If lunch were better for you, what would that look like?”
J: “Well, I’d have a friend to sit with all the time.”
T: “Who else besides Sam, might you like to sit with?”
J: “Jessica but she sits with her friends.”
T: What if you asked Jessica, “Hey Jessica when Sam’s not here, may I sit with you guys at lunch?”
J: “She’d probably say, ‘No.’
T: “What might be a good time to ask her? Would the best time be right before lunch, or might you ask her in class one day to plan ahead for the situation?”
J: “I could try to ask her in the morning before school.”
T: Okay let’s write that down and maybe even practice the words you will use.
T: “Then we can even write a few more ideas, about other things you can do to make lunchtime a happier time for you.”
As teachers, clinicians and parents, you know that conversations with children might be really straight-forward or you might need to help them along in the conversation. Be patient, ask reflective questions or ask the child to tell you a bit more, “Help me understand that better.”
Just letting children know that they can solve a difficult situation by looking at what is working and what they’d like to see be different is empowering and can lead to better daily experiences.
Give it a try and let us know how it goes @kidlutions @drlynnekenney.