My eight-year-old son has been attending after-school care at his school since he started grade primary. I went back to school halfway through his first year, so I have had a very irregular schedule. My son is only at the after-school program for a short time every day and is picked up by myself, my husband or one of his sisters. He has never been forgotten and no one has ever been late picking him up. However, he is extremely worried that no one is going to pick him up and that he will be left at the school. He is experiencing a tremendous amount of anxiety because of this. He worries about the weather conditions as he feels any adverse weather could delay his being picked up. This has been happening for about 6 months. He is nervous in the morning and checks and double checks who is picking him up. The routine is generally the same every week. His school day is usually okay but lately if the weather is not good, he gets upset in the classroom. He worries I will be in a car accident on the way to get him (we have never had an accident). He gets upset at the end of day and will cry. We talk a lot to about how much we all love him and explain that no one is going to leave him at school. The teacher and caregivers at the after-school program have talked to him, but nothing seems to help. I would like to prepare him for September so that we are not facing the same problem but I am not sure what more I can do. He is a confident boy and does well academically. He has friends at school and seems to enjoy his life at school, other than the end of the day.
Your son is developing anxiety problems. Your concern and his good social and thinking skills can help him overcome this.
The natural response to a child who is becoming more and more anxious is:
- to reassure the child.
- to try and protect him or her from anxiety by accommodating to some of his concerns.
Although this is the natural response, it will make the fears and anxiety worse.
The first step, I think you have already done. Determine that there is no trauma occurring.
The second step is to work with him to face his fears. I would suggest you sit down with your son to discuss:
- What he is distressed about.
- He notices danger that is not there.
- You expect him to learn the difference between real danger and needless anxiety.
- You will help him overcome his fears by teaching him a different way of thinking and a way of calming his body.
The strategy to help him overcome his fears and anxiety has to be focused on him facing what he is afraid of. He will then find out that the fears are not realistic.
You can teach him to talk to himself in a different way. He can help you figure out how to change “worry talk” into “brave talk”. Instead of him saying “Mommy won’t come because she was in an accident.” He could practice saying “Mommy always comes. She has never had an accident.”
You can teach him to breathe slowly and deeply instead of rapidly and shallowly. Deep slow breathing can be relaxing.
When he feels anxious, encourage him to calm himself. He has to learn to tolerate anxious feelings. Give him support for being brave.
The final step is to stop reassuring him or giving in to his anxiety. It may help short term but it teaches him that being anxious gets lots of warmth and attention.
Although this approach is not the “natural” approach it is the only scientifically proven approach.
Stay the course.