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Homeschooling and the Anxious Child

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Having anxiety myself, I find it so hard to see my six-year-old already struggling with it. 

Naturally, I blame myself for it – in utero or post-partum, I must have passed it on to him. You see, I was not an anxious child. My anxiety arrived around puberty from terrible bullying and then, later in adolescence, after my parents separated. Of course, it could be genetics (my family also struggle with anxiety), but being a mother, I take the responsibility on myself – rightly or wrongly.
When we sensed God leading us into homeschooling, I didn’t know the full reasons for doing so. And, though I don’t know them all yet, every now and then, I see glimpses of God’s perfect wisdom and kindness for our family. Our son’s anxiety is definitely a reason that God took us on this path of home education.

His Anxiety Surfaces

The first time we were faced with our son’s anxiety was when he re-started gymnastics at five. He had done it at four, and had loved it. Being very physical, he just took to it. We then took a term off in the summer for swimming lessons. When he came back as a five-year-old, the classes had changed from a preschool class to afterschool classes. Where before it had only been just the one class, the gymnasium was jam-packed with children, noise, and busyness.
As his class started, he refused to go out there. Climbing over me, pale-faced, teary – he just could not go out.
I did not handle it well. I thought he was just being silly. I kept thinking of the money we’d just spent on the term class. We’d never experienced this before and, at that point in time, we were parenting differently. We were more along the ‘authortarian’ style of parenting. Well, God was going to change us. 
We tried a few more weeks, and I tried my very best to be calm and patient, but he just would not go out there. Sobbing, he couldn’t explain what was wrong. Even though we were frustrated – especially for him as he had loved it so much only months before –  in the end, we stopped going. This happened once or twice with other classes he wanted to attend. 

We learned quickly that our boy was sensitive, struggled with loud and busy places, and had anxiety about new, unfamiliar, out-of-routine situations and places.

“I have the anxious feeling,” he often says. Whether we are about to go to church, for a walk, on holiday – silently, in his mind, thoughts churn around and trepidation wraps its’ icy tentacles around his little heart. It is so hard to see.

Toughen Him Up?

Sometimes I imagine that people – society, culture, whoever – would likely say that a child like Josiah ought to go to school to give him more confidence, help him ‘get over it’, and rely less on his mother. I can imagine that people would say that there is a possibility of him becoming a ‘mummy’s boy’.
And, I think, before I homeschooled and had an anxious child, I would have thought the exact same thing.
He needs toughening up.
He needs to be away from home to get stronger.
He needs exposure to grow up.
But then, God gave me this sweet, sensitive, boisterous boy and a past of my own where, if I had been homeschooled and more sheltered, I may have been a more confident and stable person.
Yet, I was not able to have those two key things for protection. 
I was forced to ‘face my fears’. 
I was forced to ‘face the bullies’. 
I was forced to ‘grow up early’. 
I was forced to be independent and was sent out of the family unit far, far too early. 
And did it benefit me in any way? Not at all. In fact, it harmed me deeply.
Instead of having a safe and secure space where I could venture out with security right beside me, I had to handle life’s pressures and hurts on my own. I didn’t know how to cope, how to process what happened to me, how to navigate the people, the words, the experiences. And it changed me, irrevocably.

Nourished and Nurtured

When I think of what I went through and which has changed me to this day, I feel the Mama Bear grow within me. Just like misconceptions about homeschooling itself, I can see through common thinking about anxiety and children, and stand firm in what I believe is best for our son.
What do I believe then?

I fiercely and unashamedly believe that home is the very best place for our son. 

From home, he has the space, the time, and the quietude to grow into himself. There is no pressure for him to be something he isn’t. There is no pushing him beyond what he is ready for. There is no hardship that he has to build a shield around him. There is no need for him to create more anxiety to protect his present anxiety.
What challenges there are, are allowed through us as his parents and which are worked through with us, by his side. I believe this is how he can now articulate ‘the anxious feeling’ because we’ve given him a home that enables him to do that.
A year ago, not long after the gymnastics episode, he really wanted to try soccer. So I took him along to our weekly homeschool sport/soccer group to see what it was like. Because he was so into soccer, I thought there would be no issue. But, when we turned up, no encouragement or comforting help could get him out on the court. Tears, fear, clambering.
This time, even though I definitely felt frustrated and disappointed, I didn’t pressure him or try to wheedle (or, even, guilt) him into going. I said, “That’s okay, Bud. Maybe another time.” 
This year, at six, he wanted to try again. So, along we went. I totally expected the same thing, especially when we got there, and he’s sitting on my knee and pale-faced. 
But, suddenly, when I suggested again after ten minutes or so, if he wanted to join the warm-up game they were playing, he said, “Yes.” He got up, went through the net, and ran out and joined the group.
I almost fell off my chair.
He had done it! Even though he was nervous and anxious, he wanted to go and join, and he felt brave enough (even if that brave feeling was tiny) to go out there. And we’ve been going now for six weeks. No problems, no issues. He loves it and it is the highlight of his week.
When I asked him that first time what made him able to go out there, he said, “I didn’t want to miss out.” He recognised that he really wanted to play and that his fears were stopping him. So he did it.

Take Heart, Mama

I write this, not because we’ve arrived, or that I know heaps about anxiety in children. But as a homeschooling mother – and a mother who went through it herself – I believe so deeply that we can trust our children to find the courage in themselves, at the right time, to do what they are afraid of doing. 
We don’t need to push them before that time. We don’t need to bow down to societal pressure that says keeping them home, or ‘sheltering’ them, will make them wusses. It won’t.
I have made mistakes. I am repentant over the way I have mothered and treated my son. God has been slowly teaching me that it is my relationship with him – how I hear his heart and connect with his fears – that will help him grow into a secure boy. It is not sending him away.
So, be of good cheer, dear Mama. You’re doing the right thing. It is hard, challenging, lonely, and doubt-filled. But it is what will, in the end, help our children face their fears and anxiety, and have the skills and courage to move forward and root deep.

If you have a child that has anxiety, or something else that makes him/her ‘different’, I highly recommend Sally and Nathan Clarkson’s book, Different. It will give you comfort and courage.


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