by Rebecca Thomas
‘Our anxiety does not come from thinking about the future, but from wanting to control it.’
- Khali Gibran
Like you, every heart wrenching story, every destructive, muddy image of Gabrielle’s wake fills me with the desire to reach out and do more. I wonder too how these stories and images are ‘playing out’ in our students’ heads?
Our students’ fears about their future lives have been increasingly building momentum over the past three years. Floods, earthquakes, terrorist atrocities, wars, pandemics are frequently mentioned, a child (unlike an adult) cannot assess the likelihood and risk like we can, so all of those subjects are truly scary things to process. Their growing brains are constantly under assault from things like fear, panic, uncertainty and feeling unsafe, what can we do to help?
Undoubtedly, some of these stresses will roll off some of our students with little or no impact, like our demands to tidy their rooms or put their phones down for a bit; others however, may be more sensitive. When these worries grow it can become challenging to manage them, the worries then manifest as symptoms of anxiety. When they become symptoms this is when we notice and first start worrying about them.
How can we act before the symptoms arise? Perhaps we should also worry about those who do not ‘seem’ to be affected by worries? Sometimes the students in front of us that appear to take on life’s ups and downs are actually suffering from high functioning anxiety. High functioning anxiety looks like being a perfect child.
What we all need is time to process what has happened, and be open to talking and learning about it.
Immediately as I think of this thought of ‘having time’ to process events I am reminded of a powerful video I saw from Suli Breaks back in 2018, titled, Time and Love. It begins with a story about 'feelings' being trapped on a sinking island, and the story follows each 'feeling' as they prepare their boats and flee the rising waters. It might be worth playing it to your teenagers as a provocation and a way in to talking about feelings and naming them. If they had certain feelings trapped on a sinking island, which of their feelings would flee and why? Would any feeling stay behind? I have included the poem Suli refers to in his video called Love’s Story at the end of this blog.
If you made it to the end of the poem, or the video, you will understand where I am coming from.
For those of us wishing to reach out and help the families worst affected there is one thing we can do, reach out to our children, our students in front of us, and make them stronger. The best course of action for our students who may be struggling (visibly or not) is three very simple human steps: encourage discussion, drawing and playing over the next week or two, so that they can get their concerns ‘out there’ and you can meet them in the most age-appropriate way.
Talking and listening not only helps you understand what is going on for your students, it also demonstrates that you acknowledge their feelings. This is better than telling them not to worry, as telling them not to worry could indicate that being ‘worried’ isn’t a valid feeling.
As you talk about world events and disasters, give them the amount of information your child/student is asking for without adding what you would do, for example, if a child is worried about a house flooding, assure them about what may have done to secure the property, like sandbags, and where the safest place to go would be in an emergency. Keep solutions factual and impersonal.
Art therapy uses creative methods to express what you’re feeling without using spoken words. Art therapy can take many forms, such as painting, drawing, sculpting, sewing, dancing or even baking.
Invite the students to draw/sew/dance/compose/sculpt/paint/bake their worry about the future. After the first creation facilitate a discussion around their output. Then invite them to create a new picture/masterpiece showing what they have learned from the discussion. Then maybe invite a third picture to show what things will be like afterwards. It’s a way of helping them work through their understanding of the situation.
Take time to deliberately join in with their play, spend time with them at morning tea and lunchtime. Get closer to them on the playground, visit them in their huts and listen carefully to what is going on. Joining in with their imaginative games and playing their way you will see their worries and concerns emerge. It might look like animals facing a disaster, or a fist smashing a Lego person, but you’ll know what it really means if you are now looking for meaning.
As research suggests, anxiety shouldn’t be encouraged as a feeling to ‘get rid of’, it is healthy and natural, but we do need to mindful in how we ‘teach’ our students to recognise and deal with it.
Suli Breaks point out, FEAR has two meanings:
Forget Everything And Run
Face Everything And Rise
Spend the next few weeks supporting our students to rise.
Love's Story Poem
Once upon a time, there was an island where all the feelings lived:
Happiness, Sadness, Knowledge, and all of the others including Love.
However, one day it was announced to the feelings that the island
would sink, so all prepared their boats and left. Love was the only one
Love wanted to stay until it started sinking. When Love was almost
sinking, he decided to ask for help.
Richness was passing by Love in a beautiful boat. Love said,
"Richness, can you take me with you?"
Richness answered, "No, I can't. There are a lot of gold and silver in
my boat. There is no place here for you."
Love decided to ask Vanity who was also passing by, "Vanity, please
"I can't help you Love. You are all wet and can probably damage my boat,"
Sadness was close by so Love asked for help, "Sadness, let me go with
"Oh...Love, I am so sad that I prefer to go alone!"
Happiness passed by Love too, but she was so happy that she did not
listen when Love called her!
Suddenly, there was a voice, "Come Love, I will take you." It was an
elderly. Love became very happy that he even forgot to ask the name
of the elderly.
When they arrived to the other side , Love asked Knowledge who the
elderly was. "It was Time."
"Time? But why did Time help me?"
"Because only Time is capable of understanding you...Love."
P.S: Time is capable of solving anything. Things today may not
have a solution but tomorrow you will find one!
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