When I taught children in the age range 5 to 11 years old, I was hugely fascinated with the vast array of emotions that flooded my small, stuffy porta cabin. Joy, excitement, dedication, sadness, determination, hope, panic, and confidence. However, there was one very common emotion that regularly tormented the children in my care. It consistently crept up unannounced and ruined their day. It subtly blended its way into activities, lessons, homework, and events. ANXIETY. I detest this word. It is problematic. Horrible. Nasty. Prolonged at times, and highly contagious. I have taught thousands of anxious children over the years. Some had tiny, brief episodes, while others tried to manage severe, prolonged episodes. I do not like this emotion. Never have. Never will. It has taken up too much of my life also, especially in my teenage years, and in my initial stages of teaching.
As I get older, I see and work with more and more anxious children and young people. Anxious parents. Anxious siblings. Anxious friends. Anxious students. Anxious musicians. Anxious daughters. Anxious grandsons. This anxiety monster is everywhere and trying so furiously to gobble all confidence, self-esteem, self-determination, and self-efficacy within our youth. And, as all parents know, if their child is anxious, they too become anxious. Anxious to sort the problem out. Anxious to identify the triggers. Anxious to know why their child is anxious, and so on. It becomes a vicious and overwhelming anxiety cycle that needs to be stopped. Parents often ask me how to remedy their child’s anxiety. I tell them that there is a solution but it MUST be followed, with consistency.
I often refer to anxiety as ‘the monster’- regularly appearing and throwing our life into panic, lack of clarity, and absolute turmoil. Scared. Panic stricken. Deeply upset. This monster is destructive and it does not matter how strong or determined we are. It does not care about gender, age, ability, or resilience. It just does not care. We all encounter the monster from time to time and some more than others. I know quite a number of people who would admit to living with the monster. He or she is there daily. Every second. Every day. Challenging. Destructing. Some of these people are children under the age of 11.
I can recall a truly beautiful child that I worked with some years ago. Carla. Dainty, protruding teeth, and a small stature. Carla lived and breathed each day with ‘the monster’ by her side…constantly. Her soft, blue eyes would often well up in an instant, unprovoked, unforeseen and out of nowhere. Her panic stricken body would freeze. Anxious thoughts multiplied rapidly in her developing mind. She became out of control. A vulnerable mess. No logic. Fear. Confusion. Panic. This monster would appear unexpectedly. Even if Carla was completing a set task, or happily playing with her friends, this tormenting beast would emerge. As an educator I found it deeply distressing to see any of my students suffer in this way. I tried talking with Carla. I tried positive affirmations. We tried and tested various routines and activities. Nothing worked. And then, one Autumn afternoon, we were about to commence music class. It was a composition lesson which the children really enjoyed. It was Carla’s turn with another friend to help set up the instruments. Being extremely efficient at carrying out their setting up duties, the two girls had a few minutes to spare before the music session began. During this time, I noticed Carla, tinkering with a keyboard at the corner of the classroom. She had a slight smile as her tiny, bony fingers journeyed cautiously across the black and white keys. That afternoon, during composition class, Carla composed a song. ‘Fluffy’. I was intrigued. She refused to perform her creation to the whole class because of her anxiety but agreed to play it for me during class break. She did. I was delighted. Proud. Happy. Happy for Carla. You see, Carla decided to create a song about a monster. About a monster that would never ever leave her alone. That scares her, makes her feel weak. Bullies her. Makes her cry. Carla called the monster ‘Fluffy’ as she no longer wanted to have a terrifying image of it. Fluffy was pink, large, cuddly, soft, and very funny.
Carla, aged 9
‘Fluffy is my monster
Pink and big and round
He plays with me and laughs with me
In my school playground
He used to be different
Black and brown
With big old scary eyes
But now he is my fluffy
I think he was always in disguise
Fluffy is a friend of mine
He helps me through the day
I like his smile and his sparkly eyes
He helps me and that’s ok.’
This was a pivotal moment in my teaching career. The creativity. Initiative. Determination. Strength. I saw Carla as a warrior that day. A real, true, genuine child that found an escape from the chains of something so incredibly horrible. Carla continues to play music. In fact, it is a huge part of her life. She is now studying to be a music teacher and is excited to pass on her love of music to children. She confidently admits that it saved her!