Counselling Dilemma: Supporting an Anxious Child
Charlotte is 11. She has been brought along to counselling by her mother, Fran. According to Fran, Charlotte has always been a “quiet and shy” girl. Fran remarks that she is not surprised by this as she too was a reserved and anxious child. In recent weeks however, Fran has noticed that Charlotte has become increasingly withdrawn. Charlotte becomes particularly upset before school and cries that she does not want to go. This is a new behaviour for Charlotte, who previously enjoyed school and excelled in class.
Fran is aware that Charlotte has recently become a part of program at school called, “Out of Our Shells”. This series of classes is designed to build children’s self-confidence. This program encourages participants to engage in activities that they would ordinarily shy away from, such as public speaking, approaching new people and standing up for one’s self. As well-intended as the program may be, Fran is worried that it has pushed Charlotte well beyond her comfort zone and is triggering anxiety.
In counselling you discuss the program with Charlotte and discover Fran’s assumption is correct. Charlotte is so worried about the activities she is expected to do as a part of “Out of Our Shells” that she has become anxious about attending school all together. Fran is eager for Charlotte to work on her self-confidence and assertiveness. Charlotte too indicates she would like help in those areas, but she begs to be excused from the “Out of Our Shells” program.
Charlotte’s father (Bill) is, however, adamant that Charlotte stay in the program. He feels it will be the quickest, most effective way to build her self-confidence. Charlotte’s teacher also highly recommends Charlotte continue with the program. Both Bill and Charlotte’s teacher are of the opinion that in a short amount of time, Charlotte will feel much more comfortable with the activities and enjoy the sense of accomplishment the program will give.
As Charlotte’s counsellor, how would you proceed?
Hi.?I’m Zoe Smith of Chirk, North Wales and I’m about to start my certificate in counselling after completing the basic and intermediate counselling course and this is my opinion on the subject written about…
I feel that although Charlotte may benefit from becoming more assertive, she should not be pushed into something that makes her feel out of control of her own future and more awkward than she already does. I feel that charlotte may benefit from some one-on-one counselling sessions where she could go at her own pace and build up a trusting relationship with her counsellor, where she doesn’t feel that she is being judged and she is free to express herself without condemnation or embarrassment.
I feel that placing Charlotte into a group situation where she feels so uncomfortable could be counter productive, and may result in Charlotte withdrawing altogether from school activities and her friends. There is no quick fix here. Charlotte has indicated she would like to work on the said areas, but objects/feels uncomfortable with the methods offered at school, and this is what has led me to believe she may benefit from person centred counselling.
I agree, Charlotte understands her dilemma and needs to work privately (either with the therapist and at home with her mother) to build up to work in the school programme. I would think however a combination of behaviour / CBT therapy would be appropriate – as Charlotte does have an understanding of where she is, and where she wants to be.
Having run a program in a school myself that is similiar I agree that forcing children into the program is counterproductive. Although the best intentions are there from the school and parents. When children come into a program when they dont want to be involved, their stress levels prevent them from engaging with the content. This then affects not only the child but other children in the program receiving the full benefits of the program. I agree with the previous comments that building on the areas that Charlotte has already identified is certainly a strength to start with and one on one counselling sessions to start with would be beneficial.
Perhaps another option would be to discuss the issues with the “Out of Our Shells” group facilitator. They may be able to take a different approach with Charlotte (ie. ease her into the program rather than push her). We are all our own person and some may require more time than others to settle into things.
I had a similar situation with my son when he started grade one. The best thing we did was be persistant with his attendance. With the teachers support we managed a ‘firm’ but ‘kind’ approach for him and eventually he settled quickly. I think the same approach could work with Charlotte. Lots of encouragement to go to both school and the group, with the parents, teacher, and group facilitator being sensitive to her anxiety.
I believe being consistent is essential (ie. her attendance), however, at the same, she needs to develop at her own pace during school and the “Out of Our Shells” program. Thus, persist with the actual attendance but not force her involvement. Provide her lots of encouragement and let her involve herself in the group in her own time.
I agree with Charlotte and Louise for the most part. However, rather than withdrawing Charlotte from the program completely I would suggest she remain but as an observer initially, if she felt comfortable with this. I believe a CBT approach would work well given Charlottes’s self-awareness and desire to overcome the anxiety that is triggered by the mere thought of having to do some of the activities. It would be very important for Charlotte to have strong support from her parents and the teacher for this to work. As Charlotte’s counsellor I would also be a support and may accompany Charlotte for a few times to ensure she copes with where she is.
Charlotte is a quiet, shy, anxious, less assertive, and also needs to be self confident. Program from school called ‘out of our shells’ supposed to be a good one.
But somewhere Charlotte is associating it with some other pressures. Means she might be thinking that attending program itself may create some problems for her.
Pressures can be
1. Peergroup pressure– She must be thinking that in her peergroup she will not be accepted if she joins the above said program.
And naturally she dosen’t want to be out of group any way. also when she will join the program other friends may taunt her or speak about her.
2. Extra work pressure— She must be thinking that she will have to work a lot after attending the program. she will have to miss some of the classes for the program.
3. Parent’s pressure— She is under pressure of her parents it seems that she doesn’t want to do things what her parents suggest her.
4. Teacher’s pressure—- she is under teacher’s pressure also.
She must be wondering that why no one is interested in finding out her negative response towards the program.
Sometimes problem facer dosen’t want to participate in the program which are good though , are named on the problem itself.
Especially sensitive people never want to get labalized themselves regarding their problem.
What can be done?
According to me, Charlotte is not comfortable with the program. Exactly what is the problem has to be found out.
and basically she needs one to one counselling for some sessions and then gradually she will become comfortable and will be able to adjust herself in the group can be any group. In one to one counselling she should be given anxiety test. where she can understand her anxiety level.
She should also be given talk out therapy. will creat relaxation in her and also counsellor will understand what exactly happening with her.
She should not be pressurised to attend the program. Either from parents or by teachers. Since she is in her adolesence age she wont like it. That is also the reason why she is not mentally ready.
And more suggessions and pressurization may create negative attitude towards the program.
She will understand what all are talking about her good future only when her anxiety level will be decreased.
These are three main important counselling points can be applied for her. And she will became comfortable and also become mentally ready to attend the program.
Counselling Psychologist – Mumbai.
I think a point to consider is that Charlotte is a shy and withdrawn person as such group settings such as this programn are only going to evoke anxiety due to her issues with self condifence and self esteem. Like most of you said…a one on none couselling sessions will probably be more suitable for her…working through issues of anxiety triggered by such settings that are perceived by her to put her under the “spot light” will be a starting point…CBT is most efective for this…assertive skills training will be beneficail as this will also improve her confidence creating more scope for the therapist to work with…forcing her to partake in a program that actually causes her distress is more likely to trigger a rebellious and resistant behaviour. Theraputic alliance and trust will be very critical.
I was also quiet and shy as a child and I have a daughter who is/was also quiet and shy. This did not affect my ability to form friendships or have a ‘normal’ life.
My thoughts are that it could be quite damaging to Charlotte that these people seem to think that there is something ‘wrong’ with her. I made the mistake of taking my daughter to drama group with the hope that it would bring her out of herself. She got very anxious about attending and I soon realised my mistake and quickly pulled her out. She is now in high school and very happy (always has been) and popular, albeit maybe not as loud as some of the other kids.
Would Charlotte’s school think of starting a group for obnoxious,loud, overly confident kids I wonder, as this can be possibly more limiting in terms of getting along in life.
I think the best approach would be for the parents of quiet, shy children to help build self esteem if this is a problem (it’s not necessarily related) and not react as if this was a failing.
Well done for your comment we have outgoing people and shy and quiet indivduals in the world Im a mother of four who has two outgoing and two quiet children They all have their own personal strengths and weaknesses. The child in question seems to have been forced into a situation by parents and teachers, is it more about how they would like her to be as their need seems greater than the childs
maybe the teacher and parent in question should seek therapy and look at their own stuff
Janelle you read my mind. Why do people think that there is something wrong with a child just because they are shy, like you said do they have workshops for overly confident kids etc.
I completely agree with Karens sensible answer that Charlotte simply attends to observe the sessions, letting her feel in control of herself and the situation without the fear factor of having to do something that at that present time is out of her comfort zone.
We should not be moulding our young people into all being as “expected”, they should be encouraged to simply mould themselves.
In recognition of a partnerships counselling approach , I would ask Charlette how the ‘Out of your Shell’ program might look for her in way that is comfortable, encouraging brain storming ideas, and therefore, Charlette to resolve her own problem. Perhaps the idea of just observing would come up, and this would then be Charlette’s answer. Working from this perspective, Charlette would be building the self confidence that comes with resolving one’s own problems – which could be where both Charlette’s and her parent’s concerns are stemming from. One on one counselling would also be beneficial as Charlette works through some of the challenges presented in the group situation.
Charlotte is 11 years old, by now she would be aware about almost everything around her; it seems harsh for the parents to seek counseling at this stage.
I suggest that the parents work throw her shyness in a different area away from the school.
Simple tasks, like buying something over the counter and baying for it herself.
Another word work throws this issue away from the school.
If all fails then seek a counsellor help.
There are some very sensible comments to this case study, essentially what’s the rush? An 11 year old who is excelling at school and enjoys attending suggests a bright future ahead. To be acheiving in this way she must be a confident communicator when it matters … so what if she doesn’t take up public speaking or other overt type 1 personality behaviours … who develops a program that puts all the participants into one artificial category of learning style and facilitator directed outcome?. As some people suggested, work with the teachers and the program facilitators to make it inclusive to all children and responsive to their preferences on activities. Then many will hopefully benefit in ways which empower them rather than isolate them.
There is nothing wrong with Charlotte. Until everyone decided to make her ?get with the program? she enjoyed school and was doing well. I?m disturbed that there?s such a rush to diagnose and pathologise her but since that seems to be the way counselling is heading, perhaps Charlottes father and teacher should have enforced therapy to work on their need to conform and their abusive characteristics. Charlotte?s mother might need assertiveness training, whether she likes it or not, just as we are keen to make Charlotte do things she does not want to.
Meanwhile, Charlotte?s aunt might want to take Charlotte out of school for tea and cakes while this attempt to enforce artificial confidence is taking place or (I know this is a shocking suggestion) Charlotte could be given tutorials in a subject she enjoys with a teacher she likes. Charlotte is just fine.
Clare Slaney MA Counselling Psychotherapy, BACP accredited.
Is the real issue here, that Fran finds it hard to advocate both for her daughter and herself. Maybe Fran would like to learn some assertiveness skills, and this would rub off on Charlotte. Neither of the females views are taken seriously. Bill might be used to rail roading. The teacher thinks in terms of groups and not individuals needs. Bill is coming from the quick fix standpoint. Fran is coming from the horses for courses standpoint. Charlotte needs less threatening steps towards confidence building first, perhaps less people. The program could be asked to modify some of its activities to lower sub-groups which Charlotte might want to attend, or an alternative tamer one could be found. Bill could be bought in, to take a turn at listening as both his wife, and daughter speak of their needs. As a counsellor you could role model assertiveness with Bill, as well as finding out the more intricate feelings of Fran and her daughter.
Charlotte, to me appears to be a sensitive child,such kids tend to become more intrusive if pushed beyond their boundaries. The program might be beneficial for a lot many kids in the school but is drawing Charlotte into her cocoon, therefore as her counsellor , I would firstly explore about the program in detail with her, and ask her what aspect of the program,she is not comfortable with, thus viewing things from Charlotte point of view will help in analysing her situation well..
Every child and every adult learns skills in different ways. We’re assuming that Charlotte has low self esteem – why? Maybe Charlotte is simply uncomfortable with activities around public speaking. That’s ok isn’t it? How many people truly enjoy getting up in front of numerous others to speak? I would be far more inclined to work with Charlotte and Fran work on strategies that promote self confidence and assertiveness. I would certainly be speaking to Charlotte’s teacher and her father about working to Charlotte’s strengths.