Article from Lynn Lyons, MSW @LynnLyonsMSW @lynnlyonsanxiety
The beginning of the school year is a great time to think about the accommodations we put in place for anxious students. In my experience, most plans are not working and schools and parents are the first to acknowledge this. They’re trying to help, but the prevalence and intensity of anxiety continues to grow. Why?
Schools and parents, with the best of intentions, act in a loving, caring, helpful manner…but they often seek to provide the student with the comfort and certainty that anxiety feeds upon. Of course, concerned adults want to keep anxious kids in school, but when the plan focuses on allowing a child to avoid anxiety-provoking situations, children never learn the skill to step toward challenges; they feel permission to avoid them.
Think of it this way: anxious children already know how to get out of things.That’s anxiety’s main coping strategy. If the accommodation plan is based on creating escapes, avoiding challenges and keeping the classroom “safe” (which to anxiety means keeping the environment predictable and comfortable) then adults are actually making the anxiety stronger and more permanent.
To manage anxiety in a new way, the child must learn how to stay in the situation, and thus, respond differently to the thoughts, feelings, and sensations that worry and anxiety create.
This takes work. It requires a paradigm shift, and it’s easier when we start early. As we seek to increase the emotional resilience of our children (and simply make their childhoods less stressful), here’s the question to ask: how do we help children tolerate uncertainty and gain confidence through experience, mistakes, and adaptability?
Can we create an environment that truly makes room for mistakes and failure, without an undercurrent of expectations and performance? I think so. It’s our job to love them into action rather than join their fear and support their avoidance.
Accommodations based on avoidance may be well-meaning and effective in the short-term, but they are the opposite of what we need to do for anxious children.