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When your Child is Terrified of Being on Red

When your Child is Terrified of Being on Red

You would think she hates school, but she doesn't.

She loves the routine, the learning, playing with her best friend and getting a new reading book every week.

She has no problem with her attitude, her behaviour or her academic work.

She is helpful, polite and friendly.

Yet she is terrified of the traffic light behaviour management chart her school uses.

She lives in fear of being, 'on red'.

She takes longer than others to hang her coat up, 'just right', to make sure her shoes are on the right feet and to not push into the classroom.

She checks and double checks every morning that she has sharp pencils with her as she is scared to ask to even sharpen a pencil. She panics if she has not done her homework, 'quite right'.

All of this is because she is so scared of the consequences of being 'on red'.

My daughter has autism and anxiety. She struggles to understand that if someone is upset with you one day that this is not a permanent state of affairs.

She is over empathetic and becomes internally very upset for other children when they move from green to amber or red.

The first things she says to me at 3 o'clock every day is who was not on green that day. She asks me if their mummy will be sad with them and if they will be crying.

At the end of each term her school have a party for all the children who have remained on green every day that term.

The party lasts less than an hour but she lives in absolute fear she will somehow not get to go.

It is awful to watch her so scared to even breathe in case a teacher moves her from one colour to another.

She worries about the rules constantly and gets confused when one day a child is moved down a colour for talking while the teacher is talking yet another day a different child is moved down for not completing work.

She is desperately trying to work out in her head all the different reasons why someone could change colour on the chart and as these change she becomes more and more scared that she could one day inadvertently find herself in trouble.

For her the traffic light behaviour management is like a nightmare waiting to happen. It taunts her on the wall terrifying her daily.

She is scared to speak, make a mistake or even become too excited. In other words she is scared to be a child in case that breaks a rule and she goes down to amber or red.

For so many children with autism, or anxiety, these charts can do more harm than good. My daughter tells me every week of children crying because their colour changed for different reasons.

Her class is full of tender, eager to please 7 and 8 year olds who ought to be more concerned with Barbie dolls and football stickers than they should with what colour they are on a school wall.

I reassure my daughter daily that she is pleasing me, I am delighted with her and we all make mistakes.

I explain as much as I can that it is OK to not be perfect.

But while everyday at school her chair faces that terrifying chart her anxiety will be sky high.

She, like so many other children, is scared to be a child. She is scared to relax in case that puts her on red.

I can't wait for the summer holidays where she can be herself and know she is loved unconditionally and accepted and she has no fear of being on that dreaded 'red'.

Red on traffic lights signals, 'stop'.

Perhaps schools should, 'stop', too and realise that for some children a traffic lights behaviour chart makes them more anxious not just for them but for all the rest of the class too.

Firefly Blog

Real life stories, issues and experiences of day to day life by special needs parents and
healthcare professionals.

Miriam Gwynne

Meet Our Blogger

I am 41 and from Scotland. I have nine year old twins who both have complex needs and a husband who has autism, depression and nf1. I read, write, help out in my daughter’s school and have a strong faith. I laugh, cry and over share!

View Miriam’s Profile

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