The Montfort Group

Taming Academic Anxiety

It’s that time in the academic semester where if your child is struggling in an area in school, anxiety starts to show up, affecting your child’s grades, mood, and motivation. Any student can experience academic anxiety, including those with learning needs, learning disabilities, children that generally feel anxious about school or regular students that have a concern about doing well for whatever reason. Kiddos, prone to perfectionism or who worry about making mistakes, may also experience academic anxiety.

Did you know that anxious feelings can actually help children and adolescents to process and cope with the world around them? 

While it is natural for parents to go into protection mode when your child is feeling anxious, sometimes your efforts to solve their problems or avoid triggers of anxiety and engineer worry-free environments may exacerbate the problem. Anxiety is a normal part of childhood; children and teens experience many fears and worries as they are tasked with learning new skills, meeting new challenges, overcoming fears, and navigating a world that doesn’t always make sense. 

However, too much anxiety has the potential to shut down the brain, compounding the experience of stress and affecting their ability to function. What can we do to help our children and adolescents learn to cope with academic anxiety positively, so they feel confident and perform to the best of their abilities? 

Here are a few academic anxiety basics: 

  • AVOID MINIMIZING your child’s feelings or telling them not to worry. It is healthy to let your child worry, and recognize their feelings are real and necessary for them to navigate to learn coping strategies. Children don’t stop worrying because their parents say “don’t worry!” or “relax!” Those comments actually enhance or exacerbate big feelings. Allow your child to have uninterrupted time each day to vent worries while you brainstorm possible solutions together.
  • AVOID AVOIDANCE: avoiding triggers won’t help your child learn to cope. Take small steps to desensitize your child to triggers (i.e., test-taking anxiety: discuss test-taking environment and expectations of the test, study material together, take sample tests together). 
  • THERAPY is a powerful way to help students facing all forms of academic anxiety because it teaches different ways of thinking, behaving, and reacting to anxiety-producing and fearful objects or situations and provides opportunities for practicing social skills. 
  • ENCOURAGE POSITIVE SELF TALK and help your child learn how to reverse negative self-talk and rehab a sense of themselves as competent learners to bolster self-confidence. Many Children get caught in an internal cycle of “what if’s” and “I cant’s.” In a method called cognitive reframing kiddos boss back anxious thoughts with the following steps: 
  1. State the anxious thought/Name the worry
  2. Talk about why the thought keeps popping up/what is the concern trying to tell you? 
  3. Come up with a reasonable counterstatement/let’s break it down and see if that worry is 100% right
  4. Boss it back/how can we take that worry thought and change it to a positive thought? When the brain tells them something is too hard, teach your child to say things like: “You don’t worry me!! I know how to do this!”

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