I’ve never had to deal with real anxiety about school before. My kids displayed lots of other emotions about school – Boredom? Yes. Apathy? Sure. Loathing? Check. Uncertainty even? Sometimes. – but never what I would call real anxiety.
My youngest, however, has just this year been expressing real concern about going to school. He can’t sleep at night (prompting epic, three-hour long sessions of jumping on beds and shrieking hysterically). He talks about school constantly (immovably certain that Grade 2 will be overwhelmingly harder than Grade 1 and that everyone will laugh at him). He begs to be homeschooled (which, ironically, I would love to do, only in this case I don’t think I have the tools to help him through his learning difficulties).
It’s all very new territory for us, and it’s hard for me to understand because I’ve never had to endure that kind of fear and anxiety. I’ve been afraid of things, of course, in the moment when they’re scary. I’ve been nervous of everything from writing exams to playing in big games, from signing a first mortgage to putting in an offer on a new business. But none of this has any serious psychological influence on me. I know that I have enough smarts and ability to get through most things, and that I have enough family and friends to help me out if I do come to the end of my own capacity.
It’s not that I never fail (because heaven knows I do). It’s not even that I don’t worry about whether I’ll fail at something (because I certainly do that also). It’s just that those failures and those worries are all on the surface, not at the core of me. At the core of me is the knowledge that failure isn’t the end of the world, that my friends and family will still love me, that there will be another day with other challenges and other successes (or even more failures). I worry, but that worry doesn’t immobilize me.
So it’s hard for me to put myself in my son’s position. The answers seem obvious to me – Sure, Grade 2 might be a bit tougher than Grade 1, and sometimes you might not get everything, and sometimes you might feel like other people are smarter than you, but you have lots of other skills and abilities, and your parents are here to help you through, and you have all kinds of people who love and are here to back you up. If you keep at it you’ll be fine. I promise.
But he isn’t able to see the world like that. For him, the same failure that barely stirs my surface, goes straight to his core. If he fails, he feels like a failure, identifies as a failure. No number of other successes and strengths changes that for him. No number of people assuring him that they love him no matter what convinces him that he’s anything but the failure he sees in himself.
And so he’s understandably anxious about situations where he might fail. They seem to him like just more opportunities to feel bad about himself, to feel that he really is the failure he already suspects he is. So he obsesses over them, works himself into frenzies of anxiety.
It’s hard for me to watch as a parent, hard to know what else I should do. I wish I could reach into the core of his being and give the knowledge of how much I love him, how much we all love him, in a place where it could never be erased. I wish I could give him the certainty that I’ve never had to question, that he doesn’t need to worry because failure isn’t the end of the world or of my love.
All I can do is keep telling him and hope that one day he’s truly able to understand and believe that he doesn’t need to be anxious for anything.