I was one of those kids that thinks too much.
No, not in the figuring out math problems or how to put things together.
Mostly, I worried.
I worried especially about things I couldn’t control.
Things like the weather, people passing away in accidents, plane crashes, and the end of the world.
Once, when my parents were away, my brother had a set-to with the woman watching us. It was dead of winter and the wind was whipping off Lake Michigan. He put on his snow pants, boots, hat, gloves, and walked out the back door telling us he was running away.
But nothing penetrated the normal chaos of 5 kids in a 3 bedroom house with one bathroom.
No one else seemed very concerned.
I was sobbing as I begged our sitter to go and look for him.
She smiled and said he would come back when he got hungry.
Frantically, I put on my snow clothes, ran outside with unbuckled boots, and called his name into the wind.
I was sure I would never see him again.
What makes kids feel that kind of anxiety?
Does it ride a gene pool? Is it a learned response?
I can tell you this: it never fully went away. I just got better at hiding it.
I remember two interventions from leaders who saw something dark and brooding within my teenaged self.
One, a staff member at Van Buren Youth Camp, had me go sit in a big chair on the waterfront. He just talked to me about life and how things were going. I looked at him, squint eyed, through my adolescent haze and never let him see the cracks he had created in my façade. I wanted so badly to tell him all my fears, mistakes, feelings of never being good enough…but I stopped myself. I wanted to be a bad ass.
From that week on, I began to hide the things that made me anxious. I didn’t like sleeping in a tent but I did. I wanted to always know I was okay, so I would take over the room, do something I could control.
Look for validation about what I was doing from others.
My biggest fear was disappointing my parents.
Attending Catholic school, I knew I was constantly disappointing God. But He seemed so far away.
My dad was the guy in the car who, after dropping us off at Mass before school, swung back around and caught me, a deer in the headlights, skipping Mass and sneaking across the street to have breakfast with my friend Chris.
Why tell this part of my story?
Because as we look for students who are experiencing obvious trauma and anxiety, we cannot discount the kids that seem to have it together.
Their battles may not be obvious abuse or lack of a home. They may carry them deep inside.
Take the time to get connected to ALL your students.
Ask them specific questions about themselves.
As teachers, we see these students every day. We are life coaches whether we like it or not.
Those reading conferences can have a question or two on wellbeing.
Thanks for listening.