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School refusal, anxiety and the plastic brain

There is nothing more traumatic than having a child clinging to you and refusing to file into school in the morning. Even worse is when a child flatly refuses to go to school and the accompanying meltdowns.

Anxiety is the neurological state of feeling unsafe.

Feeling “safe” is key to combating anxiety. That is why people with a severe case of anxiety sometimes do not want to leave the house, or why some people feel the need to stay in bed for hours to rest in the morning. It’s also why children – ALL children – thrive on routine of some kind. When we feel unsafe, we cannot function socially and we start to exhibit behaviours relating to anxiety – inability to focus, inability to listen and often also digestive disturbances – a common stress response in mammals.

This concept needs to be better understood by some of those who work with children – including some teachers and paediatricians. Just because a child shuts down in unfamiliar circumstances, it doesn’t mean they are “autistic”, for example.

When someone doesn’t feel safe, their senses are bombarded and they get quickly overwhelmed. They may, for example, suddenly develop awkward eye contact and tunnel vision, and not be able to process sound as normal. This is actually a manifestation of the Moro and FPR reflexes, which cause sensory processing difficulties.

Some practical ways to help a child to self regulate when suffering from short-term anxiety

During a short period of adjustment for a few days or a couple of weeks, there are few things you can do to help a child feel safe in the world by toning the vagus nerve.

  • Practice deep breathing: in to a slow count to four through the nose, out to a slow count to eight through the mouth
  • Encourage humming
  • Encourage singing
  • Baroque music – in particular a Vivaldi lute concerto
  • Brain Gym Hook-ups
  • Cat arches are a wonderful yoga movement for calming an anxious child (or adult!) and helping them focus, especially accompanied by some lovely breathing – not to be confused with RMTi cat arches, however!

Additional activities you can try for dealing with meltdowns, sleep and digestive disturbances are:

  • snow angels
  • star jumps
  • get your child to lie like a star and slowly fold right up into a ball, like an anenome, then back to a star – repeat several times
  • roll a ball up and down a wall with the back
  • doing silly walks – have a competition
  • play row, row, row your boat with another child or you
  • do push ups against a wall

In the case of longer term anxiety, please consider booking an appointment with a neuro-developmental therapist. We work with the autonomic and central nervous system using a gentle movement programme (and in my case, a gentle sound programme too) to help people feel safe and create/strengthen higher brain connections in order to take them to a state of greater self awareness, greater emotional awareness and improved self regulation.

You can book to see me here

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