Are you anxious? Here is a simple test.
When you look at the photo of the rocks by the seashore are you thinking about how beautiful and relaxing it looks or are you thinking about how those rocks are probably going to fall down any minute?
After 20 years of parenting and 30 years of teaching you would think I would be done with parent/teacher anxiety.
But every year, at the beginning of the school year, I struggle with anxiety.
And I watch other parents and teachers struggling with the same issues.
I have to admit it is a lot better than it was 20 years ago. Now my anxiety comes in small bouts and I am able to disperse it about as quickly as it came. Some people might even call that “normal” instead of “anxiety’” but I would prefer if it just never visited at all to begin with! Because I still remember when it would come, take root, and stay with me for weeks.
So how was I able to overcome my anxiety with teaching, parenting and the beginning of the school year for the past twenty years? And what can you do to help yourself through these first few weeks of the school year?
I made a list of a dozen tips I have shared with other parents and teachers that I hope will help you, too.
And just today I had to remember #1 again when my daughter arrived late from her theater camp and had to be at another activity fifteen minutes later. The anxiety started to kick in and I had to remind myself…
1. Don’t take on other people’s anxiety for their own events on as your own. For example: My daughter chose to be part of a theater troupe and a show choir group. They have events that met with only an hour leeway between the two so I started to worry about if she would be “ok” doing two events “back to back”. I then had to realize that if she made that choice for herself that she needed to deal with any stress that came with the activity and not me. As long as I could get her there on time I didn’t need to worry about if she was “ok” with the intense activity. That was part of her journey and learning experience. Not mine. And for all I know she was perfectly fine with it all and was not stressed at all.
2. Don’t take on other people’s anxiety for your own life. This is a popular one. Do you have people asking you, “When is your child going to learn to read? How will they get socialized if they are homeschooled? Is what you are doing legal? What will the neighbors think?” Remember that these are their anxieties and not yours. You can try to help them by providing facts and information. Some will be relieved with the information and others will not. Remember – their anxiety over your choices is their journey and not yours.
3. Don’t be influenced by other’s “anxiety” in general. This comes up a lot with the advent of Facebook, forums and other social media. Do you ever see a person posting a lot of concerns or questions to a forum and think, “Oh no! Should I be asking those questions too? Is there something wrong with that curriculum, chart, lesson or method of schooling they are posting about?” Each person has a different journey. Some people ask a lot of questions because they have a lot less experience than you do. Some people ask questions to help them feel more comfortable and it does not stress them and others find asking questions to be a sign of stress. It is different for everyone. Focus on you and your family/students.
4. Don’t let fear steer your planning. Let love steer it. What do you love about this year? Remind yourself about all the loving and positive reasons you are on this homeschooling journey. Focus on your love of learning, love of spending time with your children, love of baking, love of math, love of reading or anything else you love about being able to homeschool your children.
5. Don’t let expectations cause anxiety. Make “success checklists” instead of “failure to succeed” charts. Planning charts are useful, necessary and sometimes what keeps our day together. But I have always kept a “checklist” as well. Why? Because a planning chart can guide us but usually, if I look at it at the end of the day I think, “Wow, we didn’t do everything on this chart today. I failed.” A checklist helps us focus on the positive. For each child I create a checklist of what I want to accomplish each day (math, reading, etc.) and copy or print out multiple copies. Every day I check off what we accomplished. Seeing all those checkmarks is so encouraging!
6. Don’t let standard charts and age expectations define your successes and cause anxiety. A lot of people don’t realize that kids between the ages of 3 to 7 vary greatly in development. This is one reason Steiner puts them all in the category of “early childhood”. You can’t really define learning points for these ages. Doctors, educators and other scientists have been trying for years but Steiner was wise enough to say “Hey, let’s realize that children don’t completely get out of that early childhood stage until age 7 and let’s honor that”.
What does this mean? This means some child may learn to read at age 3 but won’t be able to knit or do math. Another child may learn to knit at age 5 but won’t know how to read. Children under the age of 7 are slowly making their way to the age when they will be completely and holistically ready for first grade. To hold up one accomplishment (such as reading) as an indication of their G1 readiness is unfair to them and their peers. And it causes anxiety among parents and teachers. Children also make incredible and sometimes “overnight” progress at this age. So they may not recognize the letters one day and then the next day they will know them all “suddenly”. So how can one truly evaluate a child at any point during these early years when such “sudden” leaps are possible at any time?
But we do it constantly and it makes us anxious.
7. Ask for help. Any little bit can help. And it doesn’t need to be related to homeschooling. Things that are small but have made a big impact on me – cleaning help, garden help, visits to friends, participating in a co-op, public school programs that homeschoolers can participate in, having an older child feed a younger child, teaching children to make sandwiches for lunch and more.
8. Simplify. Doing everything at once is stressful. Start slowly and add things to your schedule. Don’t try to plan the entire day at once. Most teachers start with a partial day and add on things from there. If you are feeling overwhelmed take things out of your schedule and then add them back in gradually. Sometimes this can even help you see more clearly where your “tipping point” is.
9. Focus. Multitasking is for air-traffic controllers and circus performers – not parents. If you are forced to multi-task because a child needs immediate help in the bathroom while you are also reading math problems to an older child then it is ok to multi-task. However, in general, teachers and parents need to try to reduce situations in which they are forced to multi-task. The parent/teacher and the student can accomplish more in ten minutes of focus than they can in one hour of multi-tasking.
10. Consider your well-being. There are many health situations that can cause the body to switch into anxiety mode physically. Our minds then try to find a mental reason for this causing mental anxiety. Society has not yet fully accepted that physical anxiety is real. It is! In reality there does not have to be a reason for us to be anxious. Learn the difference between physical and emotional anxiety. Additionally, during times of high anxiety it is best to avoid physical triggers like lack of sleep, caffeine, and heavy sugar consumption.
Instead, try using the concept of physical anxiety to your advantage. Try to create a physical calm in your body and trick your body into the OTHER extreme. Your body will think “Ahhhh! I feel calm…there must be a reason for that.” This will trick your mind into feeling everything “must be OK”. How can you do this? Some popular solutions are sleep, naps, meditation, walks, herbal tea, Bach flower remedies, essential oils, and reflexology. See our other blog post “Ten Simple Anxiety Cures” for more tips.
11. Identify your main fear. You will be surprised but there is usually one fear that drives all of the little anxieties? What is yours? They can include – fear of disappointing a parent or spouse, fear of rejection, or any other fear. Sometimes there can also be just one issue that is causing a “stress traffic jam” and if you clear that issue everything will relax . Surprisingly these issues are often the small ones!
12. Don’t let perceived expectations of others cause anxiety. This is different from tips 1, 2, 3 and 5 above. In this case I am talking about perceived anxieties rather than anxieties people have actually expressed to you. In many cases, if you directly ask the person you are anxious about they may surprise you by saying, “I’m fine with your decision to homeschool! My best friend was homeschooled.” or “I’m not worried at all about your daughter’s reading ability. I didn’t learn to read until I was 8” or simply, “I’m not worried at all. I trust you.”