Have you ever noticed that children seem to behave worse when they come home from school? From tantrums, screaming and crying, to rudeness and defiance.
They seem to have had a good day at school and the teacher hasn’t mentioned any problems or misbehaviour. You can’t see any reason why they’re behaving this way and they can’t give you an answer. The smallest thing, such as the wrong colour cup, has them behaving like a toddler all over again.
This is a common behaviour, which is worse for children with anxiety or SEND children (Special Educational Needs and Disability). But why does it happen?
To help you understand, you need to imagine that your child has a cola bottle and imagine the day from their perspective.
The Cola Bottle
I have a cola bottle it hides inside me and every day when I hide my feelings I give it a shake.
Its morning and mummy comes to wake me and I shake my cola bottle. I don’t want to get up, my tummy hurts, I’m scared. I don’t want to leave mummy, I feel safe with mummy. I have to go to school, I know I have to but I’m scared. What if no one plays with me? What if I get an answer wrong or I don’t understand the work? I shake my cola bottle.
I go downstairs and eat my breakfast but it’s hard because my tummy feels funny, all twisted like someone has tied it in a knot. I put my tablet on and try to make myself stop thinking about my hurting tummy and my worries about school but mummy tells me to hurry up and eat my breakfast or we’ll be late. I brush my teeth but the toothpaste tastes funny and I don’t like it. I shake my cola bottle again.
It’s time to get dressed. I don’t want to get dressed. If I get dressed I have to leave mummy, I have to leave the place where I feel safe and my tummy hurts even more. Mummy helps me get dressed. My t-shirt itches and I don’t like how it feels. The tag itches my neck. I hate the way the socks feel and now I have to put my shoes on. I’m scared, I don’t want to leave mummy. Please don’t make me mummy I cry whilst shaking the bottle of cola. Mummy asks why, why am I scared, why don’t I want to go to school. I can’t say, I don’t know the words to describe all the feelings and fear that I have that have my tummy all twisted like it’s full of snakes. I feel like something is sitting on my chest and I can’t get it off. I shake my cola bottle as I cry. Please, mummy, let me stay with you. I don’t know why but I’m scared something bad will happen to you and I’ll lose you and I’ll never be safe again.
Time to leave. Mummy holds my hand tightly so I can’t run home. I stop crying but I shake the bottle even more. Time to put on my pretend face. If anyone sees that I’m scared they’ll laugh at me and make fun of me. I have to hide. I can’t run away so I’ll hide, I’ll hide in my head where it’s safe. Where I can pretend I’m with mummy. I shake the bottle of cola as we walk to school.
School is long and hard. I don’t want to speak in front of the class I might get it wrong and everyone will laugh and think I’m stupid. (Shake shake shake the cola bottle) I feel like no one likes me and wants to play with me. My best friend is playing with someone else. she isn’t my friend anymore I’ve lost her (shake shake shake the cola bottle)
More work time? I’m tired, I’m hot, I’m hungry, I’m thirsty, it’s too loud, it’s too bright, it’s too busy, it’s too hot. I feel like I can’t breathe. I don’t understand, I need to move, I need to fidget, I need something to chew on. I keep shaking my cola bottle.
I want to go to the toilet but I’m too scared to ask. What if I have an accident? What if my tummy hurting makes me sick or makes me have runny poop and I get all messy. Everyone will know! I shake my cola bottle.
More work. I feel hot, I feel cold, it’s too noisy. Who is scraping their chair? Why does it have to be so loud? The boy sitting next to me laughs because I have my teddy. He doesn’t understand that teddy helps me feel safe like mummy does. He pushes my teddy on the floor and calls me a baby. I want to cry but I don’t want him to see. I shake my bottle as I hide in my head again. The teacher asks me questions but I don’t understand. I can’t think with all this noise and I’m scared. I shake the bottle.
Finally, it’s time to go home. I see mummy. We go home and I finally feel safe. We get in the house and mummy asks me to take my shoes off and hang my coat up.
I don’t want to. I’ve had a long day trying to hide and I’m tired and my tummy is still full of snakes. I shake my bottle of cola and then I realise I’m home. Mummy is here and I feel safe. I can open my bottle of cola.
But it’s too late. I’ve been shaking this bottle of cola all day and when I try to take the lid off it explodes. Just like I do. I can’t hold it in any more. I have to let it out. Just like the bottle of cola.
For more information on raising a child or teenager with anxiety, check out my Childhood Mental Health Page