The ‘What If’ monster

This visitor decided to join our family recently and was a very unwelcome guest, who bought chaos and unhappiness.

It started about two months ago, when Oscar brought a letter home from school about options night, GCSE options ! Seriously, it feels too soon, where’s my baby gone. The letter explained that we would have a talk from the head of year about how the system worked and then would have the opportunity to chat to subject leaders to make an informed decision.

Oscar said he had already decided, with the compulsory subjects he was doing I.T,  geography and either art/music (or both). I was happy to support these choices. And then the monster appeared.

The closer we go to the school meeting the more we heard ‘What if’ ….

‘What if they don’t let me do the subjects I want ?’

‘What if they make me do subjects I don’t like or need for the job I want in future?’

At first I didn’t ignore the questions as such, but didn’t take the questions are seriously as I would a few weeks later. ‘They will’ ‘don’t worry about it’ etc, I didn’t realise how much he was worrying about and after a few weeks it was becoming unbearable because everything came with a ‘what if’ to the point that Oscar had started doubting and questioning every part of his life and even if it was worth living at all. He was refusing to do anything, go anywhere, other than school and home. He was struggling with everything, even sleeping and eating.

Once I realised how bad it was getting I needed proper help and spoke to a work friend, who is a trained counsellor, I explained what was happening, his behaviour and how he was coping. I had no choice but to acknowledge the fears and how great these where. So when he questioned ‘but what if’ I had to sit him down and show him I was taking it seriously and answer as fully as possible and discuss options for dealing with these fears. It wasn’t easy but over a few days he responded. It gave him security that the fears are serious and the options gave him choices, this put power back with him and slowly started building his confidence.

However the day of the meeting, and his fears hit a new high and panic set in, he got himself in such a state before we left that he had a panic attack. Thankfully I was able to talk him down and calm him, but he looked dreadful when we got to school. He couldn’t even make eye contact with friends and struggled to speak to his form teacher (who I emailed an explanation to later).

We listened to the talk, and looked through the information booklet and slowly he became more ‘Oscar’ again. He wanted to look at his chosen subjects to check they were correct for him. First was geography, one of his favourite teachers, but the subject matter for the exams didn’t appeal. However overhearing the history teacher chatting to another child/parent, he was suddenly interested. The first change of the night. Next we went to look at art (I didn’t want him to do this, but kept that to myself) again he said he wasn’t sure. Off we went, IT next, a no-brainer, always was going to be first choice and still was. But then P.E took his attention, and he started asking the teacher lots of questions, he was really interested. I’m not sure where it came from but he decided there and then, history, PE and IT, with music as an extra.

So after weeks of ‘what if they don’t let me do the subject I want to do ?’ he changed all but one of his subjects. I have used this to show him how fears can build and stop us doing things, or alter our opinions before we have all facts and information to make the right choices. Also life is flexible, and so are decisions, they can change often and that is a good thing. A choice made today could change tomorrow because circumstances change.

He is still doubting himself occasionally, but now he understands everybody does this, it is a normal thing, but not to focus on something going wrong beforehand, but deal with it afterwards, if it does and it probably won’t.

We won’t find out until later in the year if he will be given his chosen subjects, but there’s no reason he won’t and we will deal with whatever happens.

Life is very complicated and sometimes the pressure on kids is tough, but the pressure they put on themselves can be worse. Kids fears need to be taken seriously and as parents we need them to feel secure enough to tell us and be strong enough to help them deal with these, or find others who can help.

The biggest thing I have learned from this, TALK !

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