Friday, September 16, 2011

First Grade Anxiety

I don't have the energy to go into all of the details right now but we are feeling like we are back at square one with Teagan and the adjustment to First Grade.

It's breaking my heart.

I've done some talking today.  One of the first calls was to Lori- the owner of the school Teagan had attended.  She knows Teagan so very well and she knows how our school district works so I knew she'd be a good person to talk to.  And she was.  I talked to a few friends at work.  I talked to Christy.  Jeff and I talked last night.  I've got an email conversation going with the teacher.

My baby doesn't like school.  She loves the before and after care program run by the YMCA.  She doesn't like the time she spends in school.  She particularly doesn't like lunch. 

I'm in "that mom" mode.  I'm going to knock on doors, send emails, make phone calls, read and talk until I can come up with a gameplan that will somehow make this better.

Step one- Jeff is going to get the paperwork filled out to have a background check on file so he can have lunch at school with Teagan from time to time.  Might be more often at first, if he can.  The school is very open to parents eating with their kids- there are just rules you have to follow (background check on file, call before 9:15 if you want to buy your lunch at the school, no bringing in fast food or restaurant food).  So we've got that ball rolling.

Step two- Waiting to hear back from the teacher.  One thing Teagan expressed is that she feels like she just doesn't understand.  She doesn't understand what she's supposed to do, how she's supposed to respond.  Even down to little things like where her papers go when she's done with her work.  I've asked the teacher if we can come in and walk through the procedures so that Jeff and I understand and can reinforce things with Teagan at home.  Jeff having lunch with Teagan will give us insight into lunchroom procedures and rules.

Step three- Haven't done this yet but plan to drop a note to the school counselor to see what suggestions she has.

I've been doing some reading online and am finding that First Grade Anxiety is quite common.  Kids who did great in Kindergarten in the same school will suddenly start having anxiety about school in First Grade.  I'm going to keep digging and researching until I find some guidance on how to ease that anxiety for my daughter.

What breaks my heart is how quiet she is about it.  She has been trying so hard and I think she's been bottling it all up inside. 

Jeff and I talked last night and there are some adjustments we plan to make at home, too.

We want to be more positive and less correcting in our interactions with her.  It's easy to fall into correction mode and I think we've slipped down the path too far.  I think Teagan hears a lot of what she shouldn't do from us.

When she asks for help, we need to help her.  Not that we never do!  But when she asks us to help her with something that we know she knows, we tend to push her to do it on her own.  Which sounds ok until I realize that we are asking her to seek help from adults at school when she doesn't know what to do.  Maybe she's using home as a testing ground and if we aren't responding to her by offering help or guidance in a positive way, maybe she's not comfortable seeking help for something she feels like she's already supposed to know from other adults.

Make sure she knows we love her, we value her, and that she is an awesome, smart, creative and beautiful little girl.  Kinda goes without saying but I want to make sure we have a focus on building her confidence in the weeks ahead.

My baby is hurting.  I hate that.  One thing I know she is lacking is feeling like she has an adult to turn to that she can trust and that she knows loves her at school.  She has connected with adults in the aftercare program.  She has adults at her old school, at church that she knows she can seek out in any situation.  She hasn't found that anchor yet in First Grade.  And right now, I would feel immensely better if there was someone I could talk to or connect with that was connected to her.

Last night, I sat on her bed and just watched her sleep.  Her little face is just so perfect.  Her tiny little mouth, her button nose, her cheeks.  Truly an angel.  And it shreds me up inside to know that she is struggling and we are no longer in a place where Mommy or Daddy can swoop in and make it better.  I feel so unprepared for all of this.  I thought figuring her out in infancy was a challenge but at least then I knew that crying meant hunger, pee, poop, tummy ache, I miss you.  That was all.  Now... she's this complex little being in these big complex overwhelming situations and I don't know what the facial expressions all mean anymore. 

We'll get through it.  Mostly because we won't stop until we get to a good place- I won't just leave her suffering each and every day.  We will find ways to improve how we handle anxiety.  We will find problems and seek solutions.  We will make sure home is a safe and soft place to fall.  We will be a family and figure this out.



C. Beth said...

She is SO blessed to have you as a mom. So many kids have trouble at school.... Not all of them have parents who want to get to the bottom of it.

My heart just aches for you because I know it really hurts to see your child hurting.

Lots of love to you...prayers too.

CH_BeBestMe said...

Aww, poor girl. You will sort it out. That whole 2nd to last paragraph made me tear up. So very true. You guys will be in my Ts and Ps.

Alison said...

Wow, that second-to-last paragraph is so powerful. I think it's a summary of parenting at every age. I can only imagine that the job of parenting is a series of adapting to one unfamiliar stage of development after another.

Dogs are much easier. :) But then, the whole pee and poop thing is another story...

Rebecca said...

We just went through our own first grade troubles concerning school. I understand just how much it all breaks your heart. Just stick with it and help her through the best you can. Sounds like you have a plan so roll with it..........For now, we are better...thank goodness.

noexcuses said...

I'm trying to remember mine at this age. I don't recall noticing this kind of behavior. It's wonderful how open you both are to her. Just keep talking, reading and listening. Of course, praying goes without saying.

You are a great mom and the best advocate for your child. I will pray for you all.

Katherine said...

My son went to three different elementary schools in three years. To say we had trouble with him adapting was an understatement. As long as Teagan does well in school (finishing her assignments, getting along with other children), I would continue to reassure her that things will get better. Good communication with my son's teacher proved the best thing (it's also what we did to get my son to wear his glasses in school.)

Unknown said...

I am so sorry she is experiencing this. I love your plans to help her. I love that you are emailing and talking and doing something. Things will get better.

Kaishon hates school and it really stresses me out. I have offered to do homeschool (somehow) but he likes being with his friends. He just hates the lessons and the work and the drudgery I suppose. Who knows. Not me.

I will pray for her next week.

Garret said...

Awesome parenting Liz!

Liz's Mom said...

Is anyone else concerned that Jeff has to go through a background check to have lunch with his daughter at school? That's outrageous! What are they going to do if they discover something?? Ban him? What if they do discover something in someone's background? What about the child who can't have their parent eat lunch with him/her? What happens to that child when he/she goes home to that terrible parent? How many people have to be around to keep the other kids safe? 50? 100? The school can't share the information found, so the friends of the child would still be able to visit the home, or to spend the night in the home of the terrible parent. This is false security. As we have learned the hard way, most abusers do not have a criminal record.

averymommyof3 said...

It is a year later but I am just coming across this post because my son is having the same anxiety issues. I just left him screaming for me in his first grade classroom. He loved Kindergarten so this anxiety is new and breaking my heart.

So did your daughter ever get better? I feel like you did when you said you think your daughter is looking fro a comforting face or someone she can trust. I don't think my son has that and I'm not sure his teacher will ever give him that feeling like his Kinder teacher did.

I pray for him to find peace and we are going to see a Dr who can hopefully help with the issues.

Just nice to see my son isn't the only one going through these feelings of anxiety at school....

Eternal Lizdom said...

AveryMommy -

I'm so glad you commented and shared your own struggle. It's important to find people experiencing the same thing.

Yes, my daughter got better. We were well into Nov before I really felt like I could breathe again.

The things that helped the most were -

Keeping her in touch with her previous school. The owner of the preschool/kindergarten that she had attended the year before and one of the teachers there started writing her letters. My daughter talked to them on the phone a few times, went to visit after school, and wrote letters back and forth. Staying connected to those people and having them be really excited about her being in her new school was a tremendous help.

Meeting with the teacher and talking about the classroom rules and expectations. When Teagan could identify where her bad feelings were coming from, she kept focusing on not knowing what she was supposed to do. So we met with the teacher and learned about the classroom schedule and routine, the lunchroom rules and routine, playground rules, etc. We also talked to the guidance counselor. The school has a program the GC does where kids needing some special help adjusting or with making friends could be part of a weekly lunch club. So my daughter had lunch once a week in the Counselor's office with 3 other girls in her class. She felt special, she had a special connection with an adult, and she learned about making friends, going with the flow, etc.

And it was difficult but we had to make sure that there were consistent rules, expectations, and consequences at home. At the suggestion of her principal, we did implement a system were she would lose TV time in the evening if there was a problem at school. She needed to know that we still had the same structure at home - the consistency kept her grounded.

I hope that helps. And please stay in touch. You can comment back here or you can email me directly (

Anonymous said...

I am dealing with this myself, I think. My 1st grade daughter won't come out and say it.. but her symptoms are all there. She did say the other day that sometimes she feels "nervous" at school and so she goes into the bathroom and rubs soap on her cheeks until she calms down. I know this isn't "normal", but when I ask her what she is nervous about, she says "messing up." She was excellent in K, and even helped other kids. I think they may have caught up to her and she doesn't feel overly smart now, like she did last year. Other than that, she will not tell me what is wrong. She makes frequent nurses office visits (2-3 times a week!), and stays this hurts, or that hurts.. but I think it's because she loves the nurse. She feels valued and cared for by her nurse. That is they only thing I can come up with. Any advice??? How do I get my daughter to open up and tell me what she is feeling?

Eternal Lizdom said...

My guess is she doesn't really understand what she is feeling, either!

Have you talked with her teacher? The guidance counselor?

Maybe talk to your child about what is different between K and 1st grade. Talk about good and bad things that are different. Help her see the good things about 1st grade that she didn't have in K.

I don't get the soap thing - it does concern me a bit.

I appreciated that our school put so much focus on teaching kids the routines of the classroom and the lunchroom so there was no question about the rules... but I also think it put a lot of pressure on the kids to do things exactly right. My daughter has a lot of perfectionist pieces to her personality and the thought of not getting something that the school had put so much importance into exactly right must have really been stressing her out.

When your daughter says "messing up," have you told her that you don't understand what that means and asked her to say it a different way? Have you shared stories with her about being scared or even about making mistakes yourself?