Anxiety, Learning, and … the Magic Ingredient

We have to change the way we think about education. For schools to be places of learning, they must first be places of relationship. 

An anxious brain can’t learn. The thinking brain (the prefrontal cortex) can only be ‘on’ when the whole brain feels safe: physically safe (free from hunger, pain, exhaustion, sensory overload/ underload) and relationally safe (seen, welcome, cared for, connected to).

Of course we want to support academic progression, but if we shortcut the opportunity or time for teachers to be able to build relational safety in the classroom, learning won’t happen. Without relational safety, there will be anxiety. It can be easy to overlook these kids or assume that they are giving everything they have to give, but too often, they will fall short of their potential.

Let’s not make the mistake of thinking we’ve seen everything these kids have to give or that we know what they’re capable of. They don’t even know what they’re capable of yet, but we know they can do hard things and surprising things – they just need to feel safe enough first. They need us to stay curious about their potential until they feel safe enough to let us uncover that potential.

Children can only learn when they feel relationally safe: when they feel cared for, connected to, and noticed by their teacher. When we talk about ‘safety’, we’re talking about what the brain perceives. Being safe doesn’t mean feeling safe. Children can have the world’s warmest, most loving teacher, and be a part of the safest, most caring school, but this doesn’t mean the brain will feel safe.

Relationships take time, and learning can’t happen without them. Yet, our teachers are under more pressure than ever (as are our children!) to show academic results. Some kids will excel no matter what’s happening in the room, but too many won’t. This isn’t because they aren’t capable, but because they don’t feel safe enough – yet.

Until children feel safe enough, we will only see the fringes of what they can do. We don’t need to change them – there is nothing wrong with them. What’s wrong is the world that thinks all children should feel safe with all adults, even ones they don’t know yet. This idea is ridiculous.

These kids don’t want to be ‘indulged’. They want to feel safe. We all need that, so we need to be kind to our teachers too. We need to give teachers more time and opportunity to build the relationships that let them do their jobs. Building relationships isn’t a distraction from teaching. It’s the vital foundation of teaching.

The teachers that get the importance of relationship are magic-makers – they change lives – but learning might take longer at first, while the relationship is building. When the relationship is there, these teachers have the most profound capacity to lead even the most anxious kids into learning, brave behaviour and discovering their rich potential.♥️


Solen AlNoaimi

I took my daughter at age 6 to start a school and decided to pull her out within 2 weeks because of what you’re talking about above. I worked as a teacher before and my intention was to go back to teaching at the same time as my daughter started the school and I completely changed my mind. My daughter was very opposed to the idea from the beginning and regardless of the many times we visited the school ( it was about a half h drive) knowing that she had no idea how to get there in foot and back or the schools whereabouts in relation to our house was a big red flag. Then when we were in class ( I was allowed to sit in with her first week due to my strong request) she started asking questions like “ why do we need to sit for so long? Why is the door closed? Why can’t we go outside? So many questions and if allowed and if they could all kids have a right to ask. And if they can’t we should be their voice.
Those moments inside the classroom of a big conventional school we stuff our kids in made me question this system. I was able to sit there and look through the eyes of my child and eyes if the other children – many took turns sitting on my lap. I decided that I don’t like this system but had no idea about what other possibilities were there. During this time and research I learned about the term: “ Human-Scale”: “.. it deals with the belief that there is a proper scale that defines its limits by the well-being of both the person and the planet and the ability of the person to seek wholeness. “ Parks School UK
It deals with everything from the size of the school to hours, to flexibility of time and space. Relationships at the forefront. So I started on a journey to start such a “ human scale school “ where i live. They also call these schools “ Democratic free schools” I hope that I will be able to open the doors of this school soon and many more to come for all children who will benefit.
“ Human Scale asserts that community institutions should be created with the person at the center in a way that enables real and authentic relationships and connections between people” another quote from Parks school – a democratic school in the UK


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Thanks so much @maggiedentauthor♥️…
“Karen Young - Hey Sigmund has such a wonderful way with words especially around anxiety. This is her latest beautiful picture book that explains anxiety through the lens of the Polyvagal theory using the metaphor of a house. This shows how sometimes anxiety can be hard to notice. I think this book can help kids and teens better understand stress and anxiety. I loved it! This would be great for homes, schools and in libraries.
Congratulations Karen.💛”
Of course we love them, no matter what - but they need to feel us loving them, no matter what. Especially when they are acting in unlovable ways, or saying unlovable things. Especially then.

This is not ‘rewarding bad behaviour’. To think this assumes that they want to behave badly. They don’t. What they want is to feel calm and safe again, but in that moment they don’t have the skills to do that themselves, so they need us to help them. 

It’s leading with love. It’s showing up, even when it’s hard. The more connected they feel to us, the more capacity we will have to lead them - back to calm, into better choices, towards claiming their space in the world kindly, respectfully, and with strength. 

This is not about dropping the boundary, but about holding it lovingly, ‘I can see you’re doing it tough right now. I’m right here. No, I won’t let you [name the boundary]. I’m right here. You’re not in trouble. We’ll get through this together.’

If you’re not sure what they need, ask them (when they are calm), ‘When you get upset/ angry/ anxious, what could I do that would help you feel loved and cared for in that moment? And this doesn’t mean saying ‘yes’ to a ‘no’ situation. What can I do to make the no easier to handle? What do I do that makes it harder?’♥️
Believe them AND believe in them. 

‘Yes this is hard. I know how much you don’t want to do this. It feels big doesn’t it. And I know you can do big things, even when it feels like you can’t. How can I help?’

They won’t believe in themselves until we show them what they are capable of. For this, we’ll have to believe in their ‘can’ more than they believe in their ‘can’t’.♥️
Sometimes it feels as though how we feel directs what we do, but it also works the other way: What we do will direct how we feel. 

When we avoid, we feel more anxious, and a bigger need to avoid. But when we do brave - and it only needs to be a teeny brave step - we feel brave. The braver we do, the braver we feel, and the braver we do… This is how we build brave - with tiny, tiny uncertain steps. 

So, tell me how you feel. All feelings are okay to be there. Now tell me what you like to do if your brave felt a little bigger. What tiny step can we take towards that. Because that brave is always in you. Always. And when you take the first step, your brave will rise bigger to meet you.♥️
#anxietyinkids #consciousparenting #parentingtips #gentleparent #parentinglife #mindfulparenting #childanxiety #heywarrior
If anxiety has had extra big teeth lately, I know how brutal this feels. I really do. Think of it as the invitation to strengthen your young ones against anxiety. It’s not the disappearance of brave, or the retreat of brave. It’s the invitation to build their brave.

This is because the strengthening against anxiety happens only with experience. When the experience is in front of you, it can feel like bloodshed. I know that. I really do. But this is when we fight for them and with them - to show them they can do this.

The need to support their avoidance can feel relentless. But as long as they are safe, we don’t need to hold them back. We’ll want to, and they’ll want us to, but we don’t need to. 

Handling the distress of anxiety IS the work. Anxiety isn’t the disruption to building brave, it’s the invitation to build brave. As their important adult who knows they are capable, strong, and brave, you are the one to help them do that.

The amygdala only learns from experience - for better or worse. So the more they avoid, the more the amygdala learns that the thing they are avoiding is ‘unsafe’, and it will continue to drive a big fight (anger, distress) or flight (avoidance) response. 

On the other hand, when they stay with the discomfort of anxiety - and they only need to stay with it for a little longer each time (tiny steps count as big steps with anxiety) - the amygdala learns that it’s okay to move forward. It’s safe enough.

This learning won’t happen quickly or easily though. In fact, it will probably get worse before it gets better. This is part of the process of strengthening them against anxiety, not a disruption to it. 

As long as they are safe, their anxiety and the discomfort of that anxiety won’t hurt them. 
What’s important making sure they don’t feel alone in their distress. We can do this with validation, which shows our emotional availability. 

They also need to feel us holding the boundary, by not supporting their avoidance. This sends the message that we trust their capacity to handle this.

‘I know this feels big, and I know you can do this. What would feel brave right now?’♥️

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