This November, 24 girls in 6th-8th grades embarked on a 2 day Journey and Wise Girl Workshops headed to Windsor, CA to be a part of it! An amazing group of Girl Scout Cadettes worked diligently to earn their Journey Badge. What an honor it was to help them think more about friendships, bullying, and how to handle conflict. I was struck by how engaged each girl was and how they gave great thought to each of the questions they worked on in their small groups.
From this event, I got to thinking how busy young girls are in their own lives and the drive to produce and get better is all around them, even for girls in 6th-8th grade. These kids are already thinking so hardcore about their future.
There is a pressing anxiety in the world. Who has time to think about friendship, bullying, and how to handle conflict? The message kids get when their isn’t time to talk about these important areas of their life? Just shove your feelings inside and move on. It’s not important. Just keep moving forward.
This workshop allowed girls to slow down and think about some of the most pressing issues of their developmental time. Friendship is an essential part of growing up and helps set the stage for how we function in life with others.
Upon ending the workshop the girls shared a few words on how the time we spent together made them feel. Girls said things like they felt informed and educated. Girls said they were relieved to talk and hear from one another. Some of my favorite feedback of the day? “Better.” So many girls felt “better” after talking together. I couldn’t ask for anything more.
Wise Girl Workshops mission to to change the world one girl at a time. Thanks Windsor, CA Girl Scout Troop #11302 for valuing girls and giving them the time they need to think and do what is truly important.
One of the topics covered in the Wise Girl Workshops Emotional Toolkit workshop is on how to make wise decisions around sexual health, and is age appropriate for all grade levels covered. As the article in The New York Times “Teenagers are Sexting—Now What?” by Perri Klass, M.D. on March 12, 2018 greatly points out, it is important to talk about sexting as a part of what tweens and teens are facing today, not with shame but with an openness. My job is to help girls come up with a plan about what they are going to do when they themselves or friends are faced with the question to send nudes, normalize the curiosity they may feel, and think about the outcome of their actions and whether sending pics are worth it. Because as this article points out, the median age for getting a cell phone is just after age 10.
The end of summer comes with a mixed bag of emotions. Happy to see our kids head back to school to get some structure and rhythm to their days. Ecstatic siblings get a break from one another and the bickering has a natural hiatus. Sad the fun is over. Dreading no more sleeping in. Reluctance to go back to the rigid schedule. Hopeful this year will be good for them as they learn, grow, and connect with others. For some families, anxiety is also an emotion in the bag. For some families, anxiety takes up the whole bag!
Some children have gotten a healthy dose of anxiety mixed into their DNA so they tend to lean that way. Other children have had experiences causing anxiety. Some children have a bit of both.
No matter how anxiety developed, there is one major Don’t when it comes to handling back to school anxiety:
#1 DO NOT LET YOUR CHILD STAY HOME FROM SCHOOL! I know, I know. You think I am yelling at you with all those capital letters in your face. If you can imagine we are talking in person, I am looking at you directly in the eyes, with a slightly serious head tilt, and assertively telling you to not let you child stay home from school. Then I am going to gently, kindly, and directly discuss with you why this statement is my #1 Don’t.
Parents often let their kids stay home with the best of intentions. Promises get made about how they will go the next day. I am telling you now, letting your child avoid what they are fearing is only feeding the anxiety monster more. It creates anxiety by giving it more time to develop and get bigger and bigger. It may appear the anxiety quiets down when you give your child the thumbs up to stay home, but this ease is temporary. If you are planning on them going to school tomorrow, the one day buffer put a bandaid on a broken leg. As we all know, bandaids don’t fix broken legs.
Anxiety has a way of making people believe something really bad is going to happen. It tricks our brains into creating fantastic stories. Like last night when I feared for my life because I was home alone for the night….Here I am this morning, alive and well creating this post.
Yes bad things do happen at school. Kids can be cruel, teachers move too fast on a lesson, there is no room at the lunch table, being the last one picked, getting blamed for something you didn’t do. Those things, among others, can make school feel terrible.
Let’s talk about a few ways to support an anxious child who doesn’t want to go to school.
- Assess what is really going on. Are they really in danger? Is there a peer who is hitting them with sticks when the yard duty isn’t looking? Is there someone on social media who has threatened to beat them up after school when they walk home? Is someone threatening to post inappropriate pictures and say it was them
If we are going to help our child, we need to know what is really happening. Sometimes anxiety is warranted. Like if someone via social media this summer told a girl she better watch it or she is going to smash her face in if she sees her at school. Or if last year a child was a target of someone’s constant teasing, then we can see how anxiety is present.
Your job is to learn the most you can about what actually has happened. See if your child will show you the messages sent to her. Find out how many times this has happened, who was involved, and all the details you can so you can move onto how to help them navigate the situation.
2. If the anxiety is due to something truly threatening their safety, reach out for help. Talk to the teacher, school counselor, and/or administrators to help get the problem solved at school early before it has time to grow this year. Giving your child a person to connect with over this situation can help them feel supported at school.
A second option would be to talk with the other parent of the child involved. Whatever you do, make sure to come across in a respectful way. These calls can go well or terrible. Sometimes parents can become quite defensive. If you get a call like this, do your best to hear all the information being presented and communicate back in a respectful way.
A third option is to develop a plan with your child on how to handle the situation, but if the situation truly involves their safety, we don’t want to put off keeping them safe in the spirit of keeping their cool. If it feels like a situation you/your child want to try and manage on your own for a bit, role play what to say and do given the situation. Discuss safe places to be and safe people to be with. Continue to assess how the days go and if things are escalating, it may be time to go with the first two options above.
A fourth option: If none of this works, it may be worthwhile to look at whether this school is a good fit for your child. I would encourage you to talk to the school first. Find out if the school is willing to work with you.
I believe every child has a right to feel safe at school. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always come easy for every child. We need to help our children have access to this inherent right. Going it alone or asking for help, it is important we work to address these issues with and for our children.
- In true anxiety fashion, if the worry is about something that hasn’t ever happened, it is time to help your child move into the present moment. So often anxiety helps us write a horrible story in our head that probably isn’t going to take place. We can bring our child into the present moment by looking around to what is happening right now versus what we imagine is going to happen into the future. Be there with them in the here and now by coaching them on taking some deep breaths. Have them tune into your voice and just breathe. There are also some pretty amazing apps and kids/teen meditations out there if you need some help. You tube is filled with them.
A second tool is to help your child write a story of infinite possibilities using the facts. Example: The fact is I can go into the office and eat lunch if I don’t find someone to sit with. The fact is I can ask Kelly to eat lunch with me; she is nice to everyone. The fact is I can bring my book out to lunch and read today. The fact is I don’t know what today will look like but I am open to having a good day and I am not going to let lunch time bring me down.
I have a ton of other tools in my bag to support kids with anxiety, too much for a blog. Please feel free to reach out to me to talk more. Other great resources include the websites Anxiety BC and Worry Wise Kids.
Wishing each family and child a great start to the school year!
Running Wise Girl Workshops is no small task, and I am thrilled and honored to support girls in 5th-8th grade around areas of anxiety, making wise decisions, developing healthy coping skills, increasing self-esteem, and spreading more kindness to their peers and the world.
Totally wishing I could pull from the money tree blossoming in our backyard and say yes, I said, “No little one, I have to work. But I will be around more, and we can go to the pool and do fun things together.”
Point blank she said, “Well if you can’t be around all the time, can you please be off your phone when you’re with me?”
Really tuning in I said, “I will do my best. I have to do some things for work on my phone sometimes, but I will really try. I hear you and thank you for telling me what you want.”
Then squeezy hug. I love this kid.
I bet you can guess 1 of the 2 things to do this summer FOR your kids and teens.
#1 Get off your phone mom and dad.
Now that I have really got your attention (unless you just got a text on your phone you are now looking at…remember #1 people), let’s move onto #2.
Keeping up with other families and relatives is not always in your children’s best interest. Some families are constantly on the move and some barely leave the house. Neither of these ways of being are right or wrong. They’re just different.
What is important though is while you are doing nothing or doing something, pay attention to if it is working for your family. Doing back to back to back outings might be too much for your kids. They may need some R&R. Or maybe they are so bored and fighting all the time because they haven’t been stimulated enough.
Many parents can get swooped up in the FOMO (fear of missing out) and push their kids to the brink. So when little Johnny is having a meltdown because he is super fatigued from sun and fun, you may want to rethink what Johnny really needs.
Sometimes our children’s needs might not coincide with what we want. That fact can be a bummer to miss out hanging with another family you really enjoy or not getting to stay home all day when that is what you had in mind. This life is full of compromise.
Please remember this:
#2 Tune into your kid and do what they are needing more of and less of this summer.
Wishing you all a wonderful summer!
Is it because you have a history of anxiety in your family? No.
It is because your child’s mind runs wild when she lays down to go to sleep, and she cannot seem to shut off her brain? No.
Is it because your daughter perseverates on details like, “What if I don’t get invited, or I don’t get an A on this project?” and cannot let the thoughts go? No.
While those are all good reasons you might consider an Anxiety Toolkit Workshop for your daughter from Wise Girls Workshops, that is not the primary reason your daughter needs one.
THE #1 REASON YOUR DAUGHTER NEEDS AN ANXIETY TOOLKIT
Everyone deals with anxiety.
You might be thinking, “What? That’s it?”
And I am saying, “Yup, that’s it!”
You see anxiety can become apart of our life for a moment in a time or in a way that lingers. Lingers for minutes, hours, days, weeks.
Either way, anxiety is a normal human emotion. It shows up for everyone at times. Who couldn’t benefit from learning tools to recognize the feeling for what it is, developing tools to help care for yourself, and having some time to practice those skills?
What a gift, right?!
There are some other benefits for developing an anxiety toolkit:
- Your daughter will feel more in control of herself when anxiety takes hold and know she can care for herself.
- She will have an awareness to help her understand what other emotions she is experiencing and have ways to manage them too. Some tools are transferable to other emotions, not just anxiety.
- Through Wise Girls Workshops group experience, kids will see they aren’t alone in terms of worrying and see many of their peers have similar fears. This fact provides relief!
- She will stop asking you to reassure her about things over and over and over and over….
- Your daughter can recognize it in others and provide helpful support.
- She will learn how feelings constantly change and while anxiety might feel big in the moment, we never get stuck in one feeling forever.
This anxiety toolkit business is good stuff, right? Developing tools to cope with anxiety isn’t just for those who have a serious problem with anxiety. We all need tools. We all deal with it. Everyone can benefit.
Do you remember your 5th-8th grade self? If you are like me, you may remember a variety of selves that showed up. Transitioning from a kid to a teen in the matter of 4 short years. From changing bodies to older topics of conversations to getting in and out of braces. Then there is the labeling yourself, judging others, trying to find your place, changing relationships with your family members and friends, and seeing yourself in a whole new way. And then there is the more modern day changes from no phone to phone and from texting to use of social media platforms.
I believe these years are extremely critical to our development and are a window of opportunity. Kids and teens can still hear us. I see it all the time in my work; kids who are spouting out their family values, words, and beliefs. Towards the junior high time though, many parents feel like their kids stop listening to them. This time is when it can be helpful to have your child hear positive messages from other people.
Deep down inside of me is a teacher with wisdom to share with younger people. While I don’t have all the answers, I believe I do have a knowing based on my own experiences, the experiences of others, and my training to help guide, share, and inspire.
There are a lot of things I wish I would’ve known and why I feel so compelled to run Wise Girl Workshops. Here are a few:
- That feeling you get when you start eating a lot of food when you aren’t even hungry or you find yourself drinking faster, that’s anxiety. There are healthy things you can do when you recognize that feeling to take care of yourself and watch it pass.
- You can be the person you want to be and you will also have challenges within yourself. That’s ok. You don’t have to be perfect.
- You are enough and can love yourself as is AND you can also work to better yourself all at the same time. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.
- You can make good decisions for yourself and seek guidance from the loving adults around you. It is ok, and people approve of you asking for help.
- We all want attention. You don’t have to seek it out in unhealthy ways and succumb to pressure from others in order to be seen.
- We are all just trying to find our place. It’s ok to feel sad, worried, scared, and lonely. It’s ok to talk to someone who cares about you when you feel this way. You aren’t weak. You are human. And you don’t have to happy all the time.
- You can dream big and make things happen.
- You don’t have to sit quietly when comments, gestures, or requests are made that make you uncomfortable. Stand up for yourself. Set limits with others.
- Allow yourself and others to try on different ways of being without judgement. We are all going through it. No one way is right.
- Give yourself permission to embrace your strengths. From academic success to athleticism, to being funny and caring. It all counts!
- No one ever starts out using substances and intends to be addicted. It can happen to anyone.
What do you wish you would’ve known?