Here in Connecticut, we have been hit pretty bad this year with snow storms. Which means we have had many delays and days off from school. I don't think my kids have had a full week of school since before Christmas break!
Personally, I have always loved snow days. Something very peaceful and freeing about suddenly being stopped and forced into giving up the schedule and to do list. And of course my children absolutely adore getting the call that school is closed! An unexpected day off is such a treat.
But lately, instead of waking up and expecting to go to school, my kids are waking up and expecting a snow day. School has become the unexpected surprise. And for a child who already suffers with anxieties about going to school, it is also an unpleasant one.
With the routine of going to school Monday to Friday not being the norm lately, my son is having difficulty making the transition from snow day to school day. He absolutely loves being home, staying in his pj's, playing and being with mom. But the fun comes with a price, because it makes going back to school again that much more difficult for him to handle. Some days, it is like we are back on the first day of school with all of the same worries and insecurities that came with it.
The serenity prayer asks that we be granted the courage to change the things we can, the serenity to accept the things we can't, and the wisdom to know the difference. Well, I know that I cannot change the weather. Even though my son now prefers The Weather Channel to Nickelodeon, we cannot stop the snow from coming or the schools from closing. I also know that I cannot take away all of his anxieties for him, and presently he cannot either. So what is there that we can do?
One idea that has helped us a lot this year is to take each day, each morning, each task one step at a time. (Thanks Alice for this helpful tip!) Talking about being scared and upset about going to school has not changed those feelings much at all. Sometimes it even makes them worse. So instead we have stopped and focused on what we need to do at that moment. "Let's read a story together to help you fall asleep." "Go to sleep so you will feel rested for the morning" "Let's just get up and get dressed right now." "How about we have breakfast together." "All you need to do right now is put on your coat." We keep going at this pace, and before he knows it, he has made it on the bus. I acknowledge his feeling of being scared and upset, but we don't dwell on them at that moment. Rather, we focus on the positive, the now, and what is important at each moment instead of looking at the whole day ahead which is just too overwhelming when you are anxious.
When do we talk more about how he is feeling and why? At calmer, happier times like while having a snack together after school, or cuddling together on a weekend morning. It is during those times that we have started talking about creating a tool kit. (Thank you Alisa for this one!) This "tool kit" contains all of the things that my son can use to calm himself down and build his confidence and security up when he is feeling anxious. I started by asking him what makes him feel better when he is sad or worried. His blanket, some favorite stuffed animals, thoughts of being on the beach in Florida, memories of Seaworld, hugs from his family - these are all some of things he wanted to "put" in his tool kit. Now when he is worried about something, I can remind him to pick one of his tools to use to help him calm himself down and put his mind at ease.
Now don't make my mistake and try talking about this tool kit while your child is anxious and upset. The only thing he will want to put into it then is "NOTHING!" Not helpful I'm afraid.
One last strategy I can share with you is called "changing the channel". If I can get my son to calm down enough to try this, it sometimes helps. I ask him to close his eyes and get as quiet as he can. I then tell him to imagine that his brain is a television set and that his hand is holding the remote. I ask him if he likes what he is seeing on the television now - this scary, unhappy show that keeps playing over and over again. I tell him to instead think of another show he would like to see playing in his head. Maybe one where everyone is happy, enjoying themselves, and acting strong and courageous like the most powerful sea animals (he loves sea animals!). Then I tell him that all he needs to do to get that new show on his television is to use the remote in his hand to change the channel. Whenever he doesn't like what is playing in his head, he can always change the channel to something that he does like and that makes him feel good to watch. Again, I learned to try this strategy out when your child is calm and relaxed. If they are already familiar with it, then they will be more willing to try it during those anxious moments.
As I write this, I just got the call that we will be having another snow day tomorrow due to the ice storm headed our way. Another fun day ahead tomorrow, but the going back will once again be tough. Like my son, I am trying to take it one step at a time. Hopefully, we will both make it back to the bus stop together with as little tears as possible.
May your heart be at ease,