Tuesday 30 January 2018

What does anxiety look like in a pre-schooler?

I work with a fabulous nursery who have just taken over a pre-school too. I'd like to say who but it might identify the child so I won't. They have such a great balance of professionalism and caring. They also really understand children.

I saw a 4 yo chap today who sat in my little group and pretty much did everything that was asked of him. He joined in, answered questions, volunteered answers, helped another boy who was struggling. Only a minor protest when he didn't get a gold star first, in fact.

Last time I'd seen him was before xmas when his behaviour was awful: I'd even managed to be hit around the head with my own boot! He'd ripped things, stole things, grabbed items out of my bag and ran off with them, tipped the bubbles on the floor while maintaining eye contact in some sort of act of defiance, refused to co-operate, etc etc

In many nurseries he would have spent hours on the naughty step, been told off, been discussed by staff as the 'really naughty one'. In this one, however, they knew better: they knew that his behaviour was actually as a result of low self-esteem, poor confidence  and a desire for attention which didn't matter if it was positive attention or negative attention.

They've given him a good routine with firm boundaries, ignored what they don't want to re-inforce and praised what they want to encourage. He's really doing well and is miles away from the boy he was before xmas! I'm sure they're will be a few hiccoughs along the way but with the right support and understanding he's doing fantastically!

Friday 12 January 2018

Working with demand avoidance needs a different approach!

I had a break through today! I won't get complacent as it might not happen again or at least not the next time I try the same things but.........

F is a beautiful, funny, witty, gorgeous little princess who is like a ray of sunshine...... until you ask her to do something, when she can turn into 'a monster from your worse nightmares' (parental quote, not my words but I do know what they mean). 

I have used demand avoidance strategies on her for a while but the session might go something like this:

Me: 'Ok, thank you for choosing the order of the session F, let's see, you chose the memory game first.'
F: 'yes, but I'm not doing your stupid game now........I'm playing with the plastic fruit'
Me: 'No problem, let's use the fruit for the game.'
F: 'Ok, but I'm not playing on the table.'
Me: 'No problem, let's sit on the floor to do it, we'll have more room anyway.'
F: 'NO and you can't make me!'
Me: 'Where shall we do it because look, (pointing at her written list) you said we'd do it and it's on the list?'
F: 'On the floor under the table.'
Me: 'No problem,' but actually wondering if I'll get out from under the small table she's referring to!

This might happen for all 4 planned activities or we may only manage 2!

Today I 'wondered' (alot!) and did not tell her to do anything at all. I acted as an equal, discussing her favourite things, commenting on her new shoes, drawing on a white board next to F drawing on her white board. I asked no questions but made lots of comments:

'I wonder where F would want to work' (she chose somewhere different to usual)
'I was wondering what F had for xmas'
'I wonder what order we should do these'
'I wonder if F could show me..'
'I wonder if F wants to carry on drawing while we do this activity'
'I'm not sure I know what to do here...'
'I think I need help with this...'

We managed all the activities and both of us looked far less stressed at the end. I will try that again but F may have changed the goals by next week!

We need a different approach, we can't be the adult and tell them what to do. We need to pick battles and  make different priorities but above all we need to understand that this child is very anxious and the anxiety means she needs to feel in control. She doesn't need reprimanding, she needs compassion and support. The children who need the greatest help may ask for it in the most unhelpful way (I don't know who said that, but it works for me)!

I love the ideas and activities  in Understanding Pathological Demand Avoidance Syndrome in Children: A Guide for Parents, Teachers and Other Professionals 
by Phil Christie ,‎ Margaret Duncan ,‎ Ruth Fidler ,‎ Zara Healy. If you work with someone similar to F, I'd highly recommend this book.