Anxiety starts with a thought: UWCSEA's Personal and Social Education programme helps students to feel secure and confident
Naomi Kelly, Former Head of Child Safeguarding, UWCSEA
The Personal and Social Education programme at UWCSEA helps students to feel secure and confident for a successful learning experience. The dedicated programme led by classroom teachers, mentors and tutors is supported by the Counselling Department. Following parent workshops offered on both campuses this term on Anxiety in Children and Young People, Naomi Kelly offers and overview for parents along with suggested resources.
Whether it is avoidance of being alone in the dark, nervousness at being away from home on a camp or panic in a test situation, anxiety is a feeling that is initiated by a thought. It is a response to a perceived threat rather than an actual threat. The cause of the feeling is not always understood, but its intensity can be persistent and debilitating.
In any given situation, our automatic thoughts about a forthcoming event, affect how we feel about that event and subsequently, how we act.
Here’s a common example:
As you are walking through the tent plaza, someone you know walks past. You say “hello” but they don’t acknowledge you, it appears that they have ignored you.
Your automatic thought may be to wonder what was on their mind. You noticed that they looked distracted and thoughtful; it is a busy school and you feel compassionate. You make a mental note to yourself to check in with them later in the day to see if they are OK. When you do, they apologise for being so distracted that they didn’t see you; they share their gratitude at your thoughtfulness of checking in, and you both part with a feeling of warmth toward one another.
Alternatively, your automatic thought may be that they ignored you because they don’t like you, or that you are not significant to them. The thought saddens you; you may feel low and rejected. Over time, as you dwell on this pattern of thinking, you begin to avoid the plaza, just in case someone else ignores you and before long you don’t go there at all. The seed for social anxiety is sown.
The anxious person presumes that something will go terribly wrong. Their negative thoughts translate into fearful feelings. The threat of danger, can lead to immobilisation and avoidance. In order to change the resulting anxious behaviour, we need to learn to challenge the initial thought—the belief about what may happen. This is the premise of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
Singapore-based developmental paediatrician, Dr Roby Marcou, addressed parents at East Campus in October after talking with Dover Campus parents in late September. Her presentation ‘Anxiety in Children and Young People’ was particularly pertinent to parents of children across the age groups who endeavour to manage an anxious child.
If your child experiences separation anxiety, specific phobias, test or performance anxiety, school or social anxiety, Dr Marcou’s advice to support success in potentially anxious situations included:
- challenge unhelpful thoughts
- understand the value of challenge and cultivate optimism as a way of pre-empting anxiety
- distinguish healthy challenge from excessive stress
- cultivate proficiency
- be mindful of your modelling
In the words of Henry Ford, “The man who thinks he can and the man who thinks he can’t are both right, which one are you?”
Resources for parents
The following books are available for parents to browse through in the East Campus Counselling Department:
Perfectionism: what’s bad about being too good? by Miriam Adderholdt.
Test anxiety & what you can do about it: a practical guide for teachers, parents and kids by Joseph A Casbarro.
Freeing your child from negative thinking: powerful, practical strategies to build a lifetime of resilience, flexibility and happiness by Tamar Ellsas Chansky.
Freeing your child from anxiety: powerful, practical strategies to overcome your child’s fears, phobias, and worries by Tamar Ellsas Chansky.
Mind over mood: change how you feel by changing the way you think by Dennis Greenberger.
Freeing our families from perfectionism by Thomas S Greenspon.