Gemma Gets the Jitters comes out this July. In preparation, Wombats Books interviewed author Katrina Roe.
1. Gemma is very afraid of heights. Have you ever gotten the jitters about something?
Like Gemma, I also had a fear of heights. Growing up in the Riverina, on the Hay plains, I didn't come across mountains or tall buildings until my first trip to the Blue Mountains for a school excision in Year 5. We were all bundled onto the Scenic Railway and the Scenic Skyway, an experience that I found both thrilling and terrifying. Mostly terrifying. Again, on a school camp in Year 9, I remember being forced to climb to the top of an extremely high rope wall. Many frightened tears were shed at the top of that climbing frame, as I was not allowed to come down until I went over the top. I found this experience upsetting and humiliating, and it wasn't until a friend offered to help that I actually made it over. This experience did nothing to cure me of my fear of heights!
2. Marty is very helpful with Gemma’s anxiety. Why do you think it’s important to have supportive family and friends when dealing with anxiety?
For those who live with anxiety, supportive family and friends can make all the difference. Being pushed or forced to do something you don't want to do only increases the feelings of powerlessness and loss of control that come with anxiety. Having someone come alongside you to guide you through a difficult challenge can be very empowering. In my final years of school, I met some adventurous friends who loved to go bushwalking, canyoning and abseiling. I abseiled a number of times with these friends. While I always found it terrifying to go over the top, it was so much easier when I had an calm and reassuring person to guide me through it step by step. I remember being amazed at how much safer, calmer and confident I felt with that supportive presence.
3. How do you think kids can overcome their anxieties?
The first step is to acknowledge your fears and to want to overcome them. Even kids need to understand that they can choose whether they control their fears or whether they will let their fears control them. Parents can help by sharing times that they have overcome their fears, or by modelling positive self-talk. It's amazing how often a small act of support - such as offering a night-light to a child who is scared of the dark - can help children to feel more at ease in a challenging situation. Small repetitive rituals can also provide comfort to kids, such as a bedtime prayer for a child who is scared of nightmares. When an anxiety is more intense, the 'stepladder approach' (outlined by Collett Smart in the Notes section of the book) of taking small steps towards a long-term goal can be helpful.
4. Why do you think this book is important for children to read? Do you think a lot of kids would relate to Gemma’s jitters?
It is pretty normal for small children to experience anxiety in challenging situations. Common childhood fears include things like dogs, heights, big crowds, the dark, having nightmares, being alone in a room, deep water, getting lost, going to the doctor, having vaccinations, scary movies, speaking in public, or losing Mum or Dad. Children are constantly being warned of the dangers around them, whether that be roads, strangers, hot things, or bodies of water. And they are also learning how to behave in various social situations. So it is quite normal for children to experience some anxiety in relation to their environment and their interactions with others. Most children will grow out of these anxieties as they find ways to exert more control over their world.
It's natural for children to try to avoid situations that make them feel anxious. But avoidance won't help them overcome their fears. It's important for children to learn that, with time and practice, they can choose to overcome their fears, rather than allowing their fears to control their behaviour. This book also shows that by being a supportive friend, they can help each other be braver. It's also empowering for kids to see Gemma expressing her creativity through her passion for photography.