By Meika Rouda
My son started 1st grade last week. The week leading up to it was tortuous for both of us. He was so anxious he was bouncing off the walls. Each day I was bombarded with questions like “What are we doing today?” “Can I have a playdate with someone” “Who is going to be in my class?” “Can I have noodles for dinner” in a constant stream so persistent I wondered if he was stopping to breathe. I felt like I was talking to a neurotic middle aged man. It is strange to see anxiety in a six year old but I am realizing more and more that either his ADHD causes the anxiety or perhaps the anxiety causes the ADHD. Either way, it is an issue we need to deal with. When I asked him to sit down and do homework the other night, he had a tantrum. I realized that he didn’t think he could do it, he forgot how much he actually knows after a long summer of not exercising his brain and the anxiety was paralyzing for him. So I had him start off easy, doing some old workbooks where he knew the answers. I could see his confidence start to build as he filled in the answers to the pages. Even though they were books for kids much younger than he is, I just wanted him to remember that he does know a lot.
Now that school has started, he is getting into his routine. We haven’t had too many struggles getting him to school yet but I anticipate that coming when more is being expected from him in the classroom. His school day is two and half hours longer this year than last year and he rarely eats at school. There are too many distractions or he doesn’t like the food or something happens where he just forgets. The first day of school he told me he didn’t want to go through the hot lunch line because he was too small. And he is small for his age, he looks like a four or five year old when he is almost seven. This is starting to cause more anxiety for him. I assured him he was big enough and that he would be fine. He then told me he was worried because you have to tell the adult at the front of the line your name and he doesn’t like to talk to adults. Yes, you guessed it, the idea of talking to an adult causes anxiety. But he did go through the line with the help of a friend from class and enjoyed participating in the program even if he didn’t eat the lunch.
Then I signed him up for soccer because he asked me to. He had several good friends from his baseball team that were going to play and the coach was a friend’s dad. Soccer is an ideal game for him because being smaller can be an asset; at least you are fast. What I didn’t anticipate was that the chaos of the game was too overwhelming for him and again, triggered massive anxiety. The first practice we sat on the sidelines and watched. Then the first game we were again on the sidelines. Then the next practice and the following game. My son is a good athlete and has played on the baseball team for two years in row so I wasn’t sure why he didn’t want to play soccer especially because at home he loves playing soccer and is actually pretty good. Then he told me all of his fears, that he was too small and would get pushed by the bigger kids and that he was afraid that the ball would hit him in the face. I realized the structure of baseball is better for him. He knows what to expect, there is a lot of room for personal space and the ball doesn’t usually hit you.
It is hard to predict what will work for my son and what won’t. I hate thinking that anxiety is going to be a life long battle for him but it might be. The more I can do to provide a predictable, safe and nurturing environment the better. The next sport he wants to do is skateboarding. I think it will be more anxiety filling for me than for him.
Photo Credit: Thomas Balkis