How Photos Can Relieve School Anxiety
When our oldest son Jack started school the first few days were a breeze. There was none of the drama we had heard about, no crying (from Jack anyway), no tantrums, not a whisper of displeasure about going to school. Natalie and I thought we were the greatest parents in the history of parents. As it turns out, we were mistaken.
The following few months were a series of stressful mornings sprinkled with slightly less stressful mornings, for Jack and for us. Jack would spend each morning anxious about going to school and even on those days when he put on a brave face, we knew he was nervous. While it never got clinging-to-leg-while-screaming bad it was clearly affecting his overall attitude. Most parents of school-aged children understand this feeling, the guilt is awful and the stress can permeate the entire family.
Children often suffer from separation anxiety. While it’s a completely normal part of development many parents see this as either a failure on their part as parents or a weakness in their child. Neither of these is true, separation anxiety is a completely normal part of childhood development.
Problem Solved (sort of)
Last year we took a trip to Austin to celebrate my birthday with my sister’s family. We had just purchased a polaroid-style instant camera, Instax by Fujifilm, and thought this trip would be a great time to play with it. My teenage niece and her friends have tons of polaroids hanging in their rooms so I thought this would be a way to connect with her while sharing my love of photography with Jack.
We played around with it for a while but it wasn’t long before he lost interest, he is only 3 after all. The camera was set aside and forgot about for the remainder of the weekend.
The following week I was dropping Jack off at school, the camera was still in the car, untouched since our trip. As Jack began to tell me he didn’t want to go to school I politely probed as to why he didn’t want to. When he told me that he would miss me, I realized I had a possible solution, but it was a long shot.
I took out the camera and took a photo of the two of us in front of his school that morning. I gave it to him and told him that when he got anxious he should look at the photo and remember that daddy loved him and would be there to pick him up at the end of the day.
The following day he asked if we could take another photo before we even arrived at school. It wasn’t long before he wanted a photo of mom and brother too. We began taking pre school photos a few mornings a week and Jack has only mentioned being “nervous” as he puts it a few times since.
The Power of a Photo
The use of pictures has gone a long way in easing Jack’s school anxiety and it’s helped alleviate some of our guilt about taking him to school. Beyond fixing the immediate issue we faced there have been a few positive and unexpected side effects, taking a photo every morning allows us to share a moment with Jack, no matter how big a hurry we are in. These few moments reinforce our bond with him and helps him to feel valued.