Children notice adults being brave and persevering.
After Room 5 teacher Ann Pinkas had foot surgery, she had to stay home for weeks, and her students missed her during her convalescence. She came back wearing a big black boot for some time, explaining to her class it protected her foot. Then recently—ta dah!—Ann arrived in regular shoes.
These dramatic changes impressed her preschool students, and one little girl confided to another teacher, “I’m so proud of Miss Ann for wearing a tennis shoe.” The three-year-old sensed her teacher’s courage transitioning to new footwear in their busy classroom, without protective covering for her foot. Little acts of bravery aren’t always recognized in everyday situations, but it’s important to note them with children as a way of underlining their ability to handle difficulties.
On the first day of school, opportunities to witness children being brave abound, even though we don’t usually think of the situations that way. Sometimes it isn’t obvious to the adult mind what a leap children are making.
Many young children, who have been almost completely isolated during COVID, find themselves now in a class surrounded by other children. Imagine the difference in noise. Some children of all ages transfer to our school from very different programs. A few have spent the summer in another country, moved from another state, or may be trying out English for the first time. Of course many elementary children moved up a level last week, entering a class with new teachers, schedules, and expectations.
It’s helpful for children to hear that they are being brave in situations like these, even though we expect them to handle them. Explaining that they are exhibiting courage in tiny ways strengthens their core belief that they are capable and strong, and they can learn to talk to themselves that way. “You were brave to go over and say hi to your friend even though you haven’t seen him all summer.” “You kept focused on what you were doing even though there were so many children in the room.”
It also helps our awareness of bravery to think in terms of behaviors that could be happening but aren’t and to notice the ability to reset. “I think you got scared when I left the preschool classroom, but you only cried for a minute, then asked your teacher for help. That was very brave.”
Adults play a crucial role in helping children handle anxiety by validating their feelings and believing they can cope. And then, of course, whether you are a teacher or parent, recognize your own courage and endurance in stretching yourself to support children in new ways as you balance so many demands in your life.
All children (and adults) experience anxiety sometimes. Here is a helpful Apple podcast with Dr. Eli Lebowitz discussing the two most important things parents can do to support children when they are feeling anxious.