It turns out that my daughter has a little thing called "performance anxiety" -- but is that a crime?
Dr. Wendy Walsh: I have a 6-year-old who is nothing like me. If you're familiar with my writing, you know that I am a shameless extrovert. Not my daughter. She is the quintessential wallflower. Even at 6, a sturdy, phonics-mastering first grader, she prefers to hang around mommy's skirts and stay mute much of the time. Eventually she does talk, and she has close friends, but it takes her a long time to warm up. In kindergarten, she didn't utter a word until after Christmas break. Her empathetic kindergarten teacher just kept handing her art projects and letting her communicate through art.
But not this year. First grade is a serious academic time. The make-or-break year for reading skills. And her teacher, a former marine with a reputation for running a no-nonsense first-grade boot camp, has drawn the battle lines. This child will not be allowed to be shy. It started with music class. In admonishing tones, the teacher informed me that my kid wouldn't sing, and followed up with the threat that she might get a failing grade in music. I actually laughed that one off. I couldn't imagine a Harvard entry board denying my smarty pants a place in college because her record showed a bad grade at age six. Then, since I didn't take it seriously, Ms. Drill Sergeant upped the ante. She began to send my kid to the principal's office for lip-synching!
Then the principal and the music teacher colluded in the war against my daughter's shyness. With her troops amassed, Ms. No Nonsense went one step further. When my little sensitive angel went mute in math class, one day the enraged teacher sent her (for the third time) to the principal's office, who in turn corralled her with "the other bad kids" (my daughter's words) and made them pick up trash in the schoolyard during lunch.
I'm taking a deep breath as I write this. Put on your intellectual brain, mama. So I Google the words "performance anxiety in children" and "social phobia." There is much to read. I find that my little one isn't so unique. This is a common stressor in young kids and can be treated with gentle group therapy and individual therapy. Social skills classes can give kids a boost too. And, above all, giving positive rewards rather than punishment is the best route to go.
In all fairness to that dedicated teacher, who has churned hundreds of successful kids through her very efficient mill, sometimes social anxiety can present itself as oppositional-defiant behavior. And when a child refuses to say "please and thank you," it can cause adults to feel offended and disrespected. I didn't say that interacting with my child is a pleasant experience. And when there is a class of 28 students, making special arrangements for one doesn't seem practical. I'll be having a heart-to-heart with the three-star general today. I'll let you know how it goes.
|Dr. Wendy Walsh holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and her area of interest is Attachment Theory, a psychological, evolutionary and ethological theory that provides a descriptive and explanatory framework for understanding interpersonal relationships between human beings. As a psychological assistant registered with the California Board of Psychology, Dr. Walsh has treated individuals, couples and families for a variety of mental health concerns including personality disorders, anger management, eating and substance disorders, and depression. Connect with Dr. Walsh on Facebook.|