Saturday, February 20, 2016

Helping Anxious and Panicked Children

This is turning out to be a long blogpost, and I hope you'll stay with it. There is no easy answer to why the children we have in our classrooms today are more anxious than those of years past, but it's true that we see children daily who are on anti-anxiety medications.  It breaks my heart when I see medical reports for my students, and out of a group of 75-80 students, 6-10 of them have anxiety issues.

I got to experience that close-hand this week, with a boy I'll call "Q."  He's a bright 6th grader with eyes that take up a large part of his face, a great smile, and a desire to please.  He has come a long way from last year, when he had to be wrestled out of the car to enter the building.  In fact, for most of the year, his anxiety has been under control enough that it was easy to forget that this is a continuing life-struggle for him.

Working on a challenging test the other day, he told me that he thought he was going to get sick and wanted to call his mom.  I told him that calling his mom wasn't an option, but that he could listen to the Stop.Breathe,Think app to calm himself down.  This is part of the plan developed with his mom last year, and one I strongly endorse!  With an iPad and headphones, he sat and listened, and the next thing I knew, he was off and working on his test.

If you have never used this app, please try it!  Last year I had several students who listened to it before they took big tests that stressed them out. It simply uses visualization techniques to achieve calm. What I like about it is that you can choose your mood, then pick from a list of emotions, and it will tailor what you need to listen to.  It gives you choices, usually three, with varying time lengths, most from 3-15 minutes long.  I have experimented with it to better know it, and usually I'm visualizing that I'm on top of a mountain looking out, or in a sunny field; it really is quite nice!

 Several hours later, I ran into him in the hallway on his way to the cafeteria.  He was breathing heavily and about to burst into tears.  I asked him what was wrong and heard, "I'm afraid I'm going to get sick.  I need to call mommy right now!"  He was clearly panicked, so we moved over to a little alcove, plopped down on the floor, and talked. And talked.  I held him, and talked him through to a place where he could get up and come with me to a "safe" place.  He never actually ate much (I learned not to throw away his food, because he was hungry an hour later!) but he was able to rejoin his classmates for the last two periods of the day.

Here's what I learned:

1) Talk in a calm voice.  Don't be afraid to be firm, but reassure the child that he or she will be okay.  They are really holding on to your words at this point, so don't be afraid to repeat your reassurances.

2) Figure out if the child is truly sick.  Q had been in good health all morning and hadn't said or exhibited any signs of being ill.  I realized that the chances of his throwing up (his greatest fear) were slim.

3) Don't hesitate to ask the child what he/she needs.  You may not be able to provide it, but they know what helps them.  In this case, Q kept repeating that he "needed to talk to mommy."  That was a pretty clear indication to me of the level of his panic, because that's not how he would normally talk.  So I asked him what his mom would do.  He told me that she would hold him tight and talk to him in a soothing voice.  So, there on the floor, I put my arms around him and talked to him in as soothing a voice as I could.

4) Don't offer things that will put ideas in the child's head.  Q has been offered a trashcan or a bucket when he's said he's afraid of being sick.  That only makes his mind work on the idea that now another person thinks he's going to vomit.  Just stick with simple, reassuring phrases.  I don't remember everything I said, but I know, "You're going to be fine" was repeated multiple times.

5) Alert the guidance counselor, nurse, administrators, and parents when you have the opportunity.  Keep everyone in the loop so that you're all on the same page about what's being done to help this child.  Q's mom was so appreciative of the time we all took with him.

6) Recognize that although anxiety might not seem huge to you, it is to the child.  After expressing her sincere appreciation, here's what Q's mom had to say about how he feels.  It broke my heart.

I know you are all busy and having Q and his issues added to your day is not easy.  I am very sorry.  Tonight Q told me he thinks he belongs in a mental hospital, he hates his life and he wants to die.  I just ask that you please continue to be supportive of him and do your best to be understanding of his issues.  They seem crazy to those who don't have the fears that he does but his issues are scary to him.  

This was one of the most challenging experiences I've had this year.  At points I second-guessed a lot of my decisions.  Should I let him call his mom?  Would that help?  Would that only reinforce that he can't get beyond this on his own, with help from folks at school?

I don't pretend to have all the answers. But I wanted to share this experience with the hope that it'll start a dialogue among teachers, and that maybe we can share ideas that have effectively worked for us in the past.

Have you ever experienced something like this?  What have you done to help the child?

Monday, February 1, 2016

Currently January!

Two posts in one day!  This is highly unusual.  But it's Farley's Currently.  And that's just got to be done.  When I remember.
Listening and Loving - I left school early to get my tooth fixed.  Lost a chunk of it on Friday.  The tooth didn't hurt, but boy oh boy, was my tongue sore from moving past that rough edge every time I talked.  Yay for dentists!  And yay for coming home early and getting dinner together!  

Thinking - I sort of agreed to join with a colleague and her daughter to "Run the Year."  That's right.  2,016 miles in 2016.  And then I started wondering what I'd done.  The momentum may wear off at some point, but I'm pretty surprised that I'm still able to get up when there's still a 4 on the clock (okay, so it's 4:55, but still!) and go.  I'm averaging 5 times a week, which is truly amazing.  And says a lot for the power of friendship and accountability to keep you going!

Wanting - oh man.  Some weekends just fly by, don't they?  Last night was one of those when I just wished there was another day....just one more!

Needing - I'm amazed at people who can pump out products!  It takes me for. ever.  I've reread I am Malala, and I'm almost done with the packet, but turning it into something that I hope will be good for my students, and then!  Then, turning it into something that I hope others will want to purchase.  Boy, that's a lot of work (and emotional energy) for me!

Swooning - my husband took a job with the Department of Education in our state last Fall, and he's been working long hours.  It's all good stuff, but I'm looking forward to having a couple of days away with him.  And in warmer temperatures!

It's Monday! What are you Reading?

I love talking about books and especially reading what other teachers and librarians are reading.  I get so many good ideas for what to read next from them!  Thank you Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee from Unleashing Readers for coordinating this week after week!

This weekend, I started reading One Crazy Summer.  I only have a little more to go, so I'm hoping to finish it tonight.  I really like the book, and I hope my students will too, but I'm concerned that some may shy away because they don't have enough background knowledge about the turbulent 60's to make sense out of some of the names and events.
But this book has won so many awards I just have to trust that it'll win kids over.  It's a tremendously engaging story of three sisters, abandoned by their mother at a young age, who travel to Oakland, CA to spend a month with her.  At the beginning of the book, it's pretty apparent that she doesn't really want them there, but slowly the oldest one, Delphine - whose character is so beautifully described - works her way into her mother's presence, and her mother finally opens up to her about why she left their father.

I'm also reading The 5th Wave because a student lent me his copy, saying I just "had to" read it.  
And it's okay.  I can see why he liked it because he loves anything SciFi and filled with adventure and this certainly is.  What I like about it is that the aliens are never really described (at least so far.  I know she meets one later on in the novel.)  That gives the story an eerie feel to it, like you don't know who's safe and who's not.  I need to finish it because I have to decide if it's okay to put on my shelf for sixth graders!

The final book that I'm reading is one that I'm purposely savoring.  It's One Thousand Gifts, and it's also one that I'll probably reread once I finish, which is something I almost never do.  Ann Voskamp has so many thoughtful questions about her faith that resonate with me.  I find myself stopping many, many times, just to chew on what she's written.
So how about you?  What are you reading?