Imagine if you could never go home. I know that would cause me great anxiety. There is comfort in routines. It is the comfort of knowing what to expect. Constantly dealing with "surprises" is emotionally wearing. And this is multiply true for children who struggle with flexible thinking. For these children, and children who struggle with self-regulation, the lack of predictability can lead to frustration and anxiety as they struggle to identify and follow expectations (Swanson, 2005).
Managing Anxiety with Routines and Organisational Strategies
- Use visual or written schedules: Calendars help children predict what is coming up, especially if you cross off each day as it passes. Visual schedules for the day's routine, as well as a schedule for an activity, will help children be more confident in what they need to do. When it is holidays, count down on the calendar to when school starts again. Keep as much of the "school routine" at home as possible, or (as one parent suggested) start the routine a couple of weeks before school goes back.
- Clearly identify start and finish points: Use clocks, sounds, verbal and visual warnings to help children count up to starting points and count down to finishing. This applies to individual activities, a session or a new school term.
- Be organised: Use containers, checklists, flow-charts to help children be organised and know what is coming up next.
- Have rules: Display rules that clearly set out your expectations - but don't have too many. Avoid "don't" rules, but use statements that tell children what they should be doing.
- Use photos: Prepare children for important people they will meet or interact with through photos. You might also use video of new settings, people and/or activities.
Hopefully some of these techniques will help your child deal with the anxiety of going to school. The techniques will be most effective when they are used at home and at school, so it is important that parents and teachers share what they are doing with each other.
Next time I will talk about using relaxation techniques....