While most children experience some anxiety when it comes to their studies, particularly when it comes to assessments, some children are more prone to severe or chronic anxiety than others. Often this anxiety can be quite debilitating, for both the child and the parent. It seems obvious, but a child who is overwhelmed by anxiety is not going to be able to concentrate or absorb any information. Therefore, a child’s anxiety must be managed appropriately for them to be productive and, more importantly, feel safe and secure. Below are some tips on how to manage your child’s academic anxiety.
Learn about anxiety
It is essential for both the parent and the child to understand anxiety – if you do not understand it, you cannot manage it. For the parent, it will be useful to look into anxiety from a clinical perspective, particularly to understand the physiology of anxiety. For a student, learning about anxiety should be focused on learning about their particular anxiety. A helpful way to do this is to identify your child’s triggers. There are a few ways for you to do this:
- For older children, you can identify your child’s triggers by starting a conversation about your child’s thoughts and feelings. Help them understand that what they are feeling is valid, that anxiety is an emotion everyone experiences, and that it is important for them to be able to identify their feelings so the two of you can work through it.
- For younger children, who are not yet able to verbalise their thoughts and feelings very well, you can ask them to illustrate what they are feeling. Often, children find it easier to express themselves visually through drawing, rather than articulating their emotions through spoken language.
Once a child can recognise when they are feeling anxious and are able to communicate this, managing the anxiety can begin.
Once the anxiety has been identified, the first step in managing it is to calm down. We are not particularly well-adapted to react to stressors appropriately if we are in a state of panic. Regardless of how pressured you, as a parent, feel to get through your child’s learning material, it is essential to stop teaching at once if your child verbalises their anxiety or you see symptoms of it.
There are a few strategies you can use to help your child calm down:
- Try a simple breathing exercise – inhale through the nose, hold for five counts, and exhale through the mouth. Repeat this ten times. By slowing down our breathing, we slow down our heart rate and mitigate physical manifestations of anxiety, calming both our bodies and our minds.
- ‘Grounding exercises’ are also useful – these are techniques that make use of our senses to help us calm down. The ‘54321’ exercise works particularly well as it forces the mind to focus on the external environment, rather than getting caught up in our thoughts. Have your child name five things they can see in the room, four things they can physically feel or touch, three things they can hear, two things they can smell, and one thing they can taste.
Focus on strengths
Often, anxiety occurs when a child is struggling with a task. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses – talk to your child to find out what their academic strengths are. Some children are stronger in mathematics, others in languages, and so on.
Tip: Take a break from the subject or task with which your child is struggling and switch over to one in which they feel more confident.
By switching to a task your child is good at, will help your child build up a sense of confidence that they can then carry through to other subjects or tasks with which they struggle. Remind them that they are strong, smart, and capable – remind them that they are not failures if they struggle and that everyone struggles with something! Helping them understand this will prevent a tendency to avoid a difficult task or subject.
Let it go
Sometimes a child is struggling too much and simply cannot calm down or redirect their focus elsewhere. In these cases, it is sometimes best to leave the task or subject entirely. The beauty of homeschooling is that you have the flexibility to choose what and when to study. Yes, schedules and learning milestones are important, but your child’s mental health is arguably more important.
If you can tell your child just needs a break, or if they say as much, give them that break. It might be frustrating to have to shift your goals by a day or two, but no learning is going to take place if your child is stressed. Reschedule what you had planned for the day – you will get around to it eventually. Do something with your child that they enjoy, whether that be baking or watching a movie, and try again tomorrow.
If you find that your child struggles with anxiety, it might be prudent to seek out professional help from a psychiatrist or psychologist.
Disclaimer: The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your doctor or other qualified health providers.
By Jacqui Smit