Reducing Academic Anxiety
Managing daily life, extracurricular activities and academic pressure in this instant access, technology-driven information age is tough for many students. Although some stress can motivate students, too much pressure can lead to general anxiety, depression, rebellion, alcohol abuse, academic disinterest and cheating. This pressure to be brilliant academically is now being felt in young children, and parents should consider these strategies to reduce academic anxiety:
- Nurture Strengths Focus on your child's strengths throughout the day, rather than how they did on one test in school. Strengths might include effort, patience, compassion, humor or other qualities. Your child might be fantastic at dancing, cooking or drawing. They may also be an excellent listener, a loyal friend and a persistent problem solver. The goal is to recognize the strengths that will help your child to be happy and successful in life, rather than focusing too much on standardized test scores.
- Emotional Support Network All children need a social support network that they can turn to when they feel stressed. This network might include family, church members, sports teammates, neighbors, teachers, counselors and peers. Students need to know who they can turn to for advice, reassurance and genuine praise. Pets can also be a great source of emotional support for children, and they care very little about test scores.
- Accept Imperfection In a quest to help a child succeed in school, a parent may inadvertently communicate an unrealistic desire for perfection. A child does not need meticulous editing of every paper, countless hours of adult planning for a science project or a tutor for each academic subject. Parents should recognize when a child has worked hard enough and needs to let it go, relax, watch some TV or go to bed. Parents also need to be open about their own mistakes and imperfections to model self-acceptance.
- Negative Thoughts Some students become stuck on negative thoughts about failure, rejection and humiliation. They may worry that a teacher will be angry if they make a mistake or that peers will notice an error. These negative thoughts can block problem solving and lead to test anxiety. Children need to be taught to take a break, shift their focus on to something more cheerful, listen to music, take a deep breath, go for a walk, take a bath or do some other fun activity. They can be taught to visualize a peaceful place or repeat a key word that helps them to center their thoughts and feelings.
- Time Management Academic pressure is often exacerbated by ineffective time management. Assignments are generally more stressful when they are completed at the last minute, and tests are more daunting when a child has not yet read the chapter. Help your child to divide larger projects into manageable pieces and keep track of progress over time. Map out the following two weeks to ensure that they are on track for long-term projects and exams, and use a master calendar to avoid scheduling family events that might conflict with high stress periods at school.
- Take Breaks Emphasize the importance of having scheduled brief breaks during homework time. A fifteen minutes activity such as riding a bike, running, dancing or pillow fighting can help your child to feel refreshed and focused. Make sure that they start working early enough that they have time for breaks and time to relax afterward.
- Validate Feelings If your child shares their fears and anxieties about academic pressure, it is important to listen carefully and show your love and support. You can also share how proud you are of them and how much faith you have in their future success and happiness. No one test score determines how a child will do in life, but it can certainly feel that way at the time. Help them to see that everyone is anxious at times, everyone experiences failures and they can be successful in the long run if they keep at it.
- Healthy Habits There are many things we can do to increase our overall health and emotional resilience. Healthy meal choices, adequate sleep, exercise and vacations can all lower our stress level. A healthy body is better able to successfully adapt to stress, set priorities, and solve problems. Model and encourage self-care to your child by taking time to enjoy life with your family.