Your child may struggle with anxiety and that’s enough to have to deal with. For them and you.
As if it’s not enough that you have to convince your little one that he or she is OK and SAFE to sleep in their bed at night. That the monsters are NOT going to get them. Or that you WILL be there to pick them up after school. And—that it’s OK to be nervous when raising your hand in class (but try anyway). You tell them that it’s OK to feel nervous. Everyone gets scared sometimes.
And now just when you thought you had this. You’ve imparted this information skillfully and carefully so that they feel more comfortable going to school and finally, FINALLY you’re getting the high five from the school nurse that your kid has been removed from the frequent visitor list. YAY—you got through it!
But then…the anxiety begins creeping up…. again….Tears and confusion all over again. Where did you go wrong? You wonder if you just stink as a parent.
Your child comes home with slipping grades because they start to freeze at tests, are afraid of the more strict teachers, and holy dear lord…they have to do a PRESENTATION! The WORLD stops. You go back to your old bag of tricks ensuring them that its really fine that everyone gets scared…it’s OK to feel scared..yada yada. But this—time nothing seems to work. They are like a deer in headlights and IT IS JUST— NOT happening. They have to do it or they take the F. And that’s that. These days more and more student’s grades are weighted more heavily on things like participation, group projects and presentations. This is a problem for our anxious kiddos.
But you already know that. So what do you do? You don’t really want to make a big deal of it since they were doing so well for so long. And even if you wanted to get them help where would you go or say or do? I mean everyone gets nervous sometimes, right?
Here’s the thing.
When the anxiety begins interfering with school academics and you feel that due to the anxiety your child may not be performing up to their potential that’s when it’s time to take steps on your child’s behalf.
For example, if they don’t want to go to school anymore, can’t stay in class for long without needing to visit the nurse or office or if their grades are being affected by the anxiety, seek help.
If you feel you child needs to be referred for an evaluation check with your Special Services Department within your school district and ask how to submit a request for an evaluation. Most schools need the request in writing. If you submit a request don’t forget to sign, date and keep a copy for your records. At the same time you should make an appointment for your child to be seen by his or her pediatrician.
In the meantime here are some handy dandy pointers that will help your anxious child to better handle their school day:
- Routine. Kids like these like routine. Set a bedtime and morning schedule and stick to it. Anxious kids have a need to feel in control over their daily routine.
- Allow extra time on tests.
- Preferential seating near the door for needed breaks.
- Teacher or another student’s notes for times when they are not able to focus and concentrate.
- Alternate form exams that will ensure tests are valid with respect to anxiety.
- Additional exams if necessary.
- Advance notice of assignments.
- Written assignments in lieu of presentations.
- Keep hydrated and eat regular meals not loaded up with sugar.
- Good sleep hygiene is a big deal.
- Daily exercise helps to reduce anxious feelings.
- Assign a lunch and recess buddy.
- Allowing older students to transition from class to class in quiet hallway by allowing student to leave a few minutes before the bell. Loud hallways and lunchrooms can be a trigger for anxiety
- If the lunchroom is too much, allow child to sit in with another child (have them pick a special friend each day) to eat quietly in the library.
- Turn those stinkin’ florescent lights off in the classroom if at all possible. These lights are a huge trigger for anxious little guys.
- Ask for stress ball or water bottle in classroom. This should be further discussed with a behaviorist or School Psychologist.
- Movement is good. It allows for the release of anxious energy. If you can work it into the classroom routine that would be very helpful for your anxious students.
While accommodations are a great way to help anxious children to perform better in school— it is important to get counseling and work with a behaviorist who specializes in treating children with anxiety—so that they may learn little by little how to reduce their need for accommodations.
Furthermore, and this is the huge take away—we now have tools for children to not only cope with and manage anxiety but to teach kids how to eliminate debilitating anxiety all together. One of these techniques is called the Magic Finger Countdown found in Scaredies Away, written by myself and Barry McDonagh, author of Dare and Panic Away. Be sure you are working with a practitioner that is working towards elimination of debilitating anxiety and not just managing anxiety.
For now, I hope this helps you to find comfort in knowing that there is help out there for you and your anxious child. It takes a very special person to parent (and parent well) an anxious child. It can be tough. I know there is so much uncertainty and unease about anxiety. But boy oh boy— when you see them overcome a fear—there is nothing better! That, I can tell you.
Stacy Fiorile, MA, CAGS, NJCSP, NCSP
School Psychologist & Best Selling Author of Scaredies Away! A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Worry & Anxiety (made simple)
PS. - Here are some links for more free information, blogs and resources:
Barry McDonagh's Dare Book
Barry's Dare Book Website