How can you help your child overcome the fear of the unknown? This was the question I asked myself when Jonathan was going to start his next school year at a brand new school. Why did we change schools? Well, his first school just wasn’t a good fit for him academically or socially. We didn’t know it at the time, but he was on the autism spectrum and the school just wasn’t geared for those who learned differently. And the students weren’t very accepting of kids who were different.
So we found a wonderful school our unique boy—a safe haven where teachers prioritized students social and emotional needs as highly as their academic needs. We were so excited for him to begin, knowing he would finally engage. But he didn’t. He was still afraid that he’d be bullied or picked on again so he kept to himself and tried to remain invisible.
His teachers, with my permission, set a plan in motion to see if they could break down his barriers and help him feel more comfortable at school. We called it #ProjectHug because every time they encountered him—coming into class, in a hallway, or on the playground—they’d give him a bear hug.
The results were miraculous! Jonathan said it was a turning point in his life. Before #ProjectHug he felt anti-social and anxious. After the ‘horrible hugs’ (as he called them), he felt self-confident, valued, and trusting. He became more active and involved in school activities. He eventually won awards for being a role model and leader.
We decided to turn Jonathan’s true story into one of our Mighty League interactive comic series. The Mighty League, Vol. 2: The Horrible Hug turns our autistic hero into starship captain on a galactic space adventure to an alien planet—a new school. It’s an overwhelming, fear-of-the-unknown experience. But the captain of the U.S.S. Mighty League soon discovers that the alien’s “horrible hugs” are welcoming and a sign of acceptance.
For a limited time, you can get Mighty League 2 for FREE (both the boy and girl versions) when you sign up for our free autism community membership. A membership gives you exclusive access to our autism bundle of resources including e-books, apps, a resource guide, educational tools and more. So sign up now and a Horrible Hug is coming your way!
Now I’m not saying that #ProjectHug is the solution for every child. In fact, hugs might cause even more anxiety in some autistic children. The point is that he had teachers who cared enough about him, who saw his potential, and came up with a creative solution. Their actions set Jonathan on a path towards success at school and beyond.
So what are some other actions you as a parent can take to help your children handle new situations? I asked Natasha Daniels, child therapist, author, and founder of Parenting Anxious Toddlers, to share her best advice:
- Prepare your child ahead of time. Children need and want details. The more you can tell them about what is about to happen – the better. Some details may seem insignificant to you, but it isn’t to your child.
- If your child will be in a new home or a new school – try to visit before the actual move. Touring a neighborhood or a new school can help reduce the “what if’s” and can give your child a visual image of what to expect.
- Role play new social situations. Some kids have a hard time jump starting conversations with new people. Role playing probable scenarios will give your child a social script that will help reduce their anxiety.
- When your child is headed for change – talk about what will remain the same. This may seem counterintuitive, but children can have a hard time with change. When they know what areas of their life won’t change, they are more likely to embrace what is ahead of them.
- Have a dry run. If it is a new school – meet the teacher and visit the classroom beforehand. If it is a new house – tour the house and set up your child’s room first. If it is an extracurricular activity – visit the class with your child before they begin. The more children know what to expect – the lower their anxiety will be.
If you want to know more about #ProjectHug, read my guest post on AnxiousToddlers.com Parenting for All Ages
Read about our first comic, Mighty League, Vol. 1, The Terrible Taunting.