“OK kid, it’s time to choose your color.” My daughter Charley manages an epic eye roll. At seven she’s already mastered the sass of a teenager. Still, she abandons her tablet without complaint and joins me. It’s Sunday, her brother is napping, and it’s time for us to prepare for the week ahead. I have everything we need ready: her weekly planner, pens (colored and scented), her homework assignments, and party or other event invitations. I have it in my calendar already but it’s important for her to see them.
She snuggles close and rests her head on me as she surveys the colors. This week is blue and green. I’m not a fan of the two color method, although it’s better than three, but it’s her choice. Together, we go through each day of the coming week. First, we add the “non-negotiables” (piano Wednesday, swim Thursday, birthday party Friday). Then we look at what remains and, together, make a plan.
Scheduling to Manage Anxiety
Charley struggles with anxiety, sensory issues, and panic attacks. At the tender age of four, when we thought she was just dramatic, they began to surface. By the time she was six, they were near crippling. After a year of therapy, we’ve developed tools to help her manage. Her weekly planner is one of the most powerful. The planner is hers. She chooses the colors. She chooses if she is going to skip piano practice on a day she does extra math. She chooses her off days and times. I hint that by Thursday she’s tired and might want a light evening but doing so means more homework on Wednesday. She chooses. If she comes home one day exhausted or with a surprise assignment she chooses how to adjust the plan.
Breaking Large Tasks Into Small Accomplishments
Initially, sitting with a list of requirements is overwhelming. So we created this planner that allows her to break “all the things” into smaller, manageable pieces. If I tell her “you have a math test on Friday” she will get lost in panic. In contrast, she can handle “how can we be prepared to answer timed math questions by Friday?” because she knows she can develop a plan.
Gently Shifting Responsibility
At the start of the last school year, I was solving all of her problems, and she was developing a dependence that was exhausting and difficult for us both. It was time for her to become an active participant in managing her anxiety. We ease into situations when possible, however, if life throws obstacles her way, her ability to face new scenarios is crucial. The more confident she is, the better she manages. The more control we give her, the more confidence she gains.
Developing, Adjusting and Following a Plan
The ability to plan and organize responsibilities is a vital life skill. The confidence gained in lieu of reliance on being told where to go and what to do will guide a child through adulthood. Even the consistency of the act bolsters confidence – kids thrive in routine!
Each evening we review the planner. The next morning we review it again to prepare for our day. The best part? She gets to take those beautiful colors and check off completed items. BOOM! Instant empowerment.
Preparing for the Unexpected
“OK little one, let’s practice.”
The planner is done, but there will always be surprises, so we practice grounding. The folks over at GoZen have a great list of calming techniques. Our favorite is recognizing the Five Senses. We practice at home, in a calm and safe environment. When the inevitable occurs she can rely on this familiar tool to quickly regain her footing.
Then I tickle her, just to hear her laugh. She feels good, as if just creating a plan is an accomplishment (it is). I remind her she can be proud of her bravery and choices. Then I hold on to her as long as she will let me, before letting her pull away.
Beautifully written Jen! And from one planner to another, this is great advice for everyone!
Great article, Jen! This sounds like an effective strategy – for all ages.