“When Anxiety Affects Education”

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Our children are anxious. We are experiencing more and more anxiety in our homes and schools, we are reading reports and seeing ever increasing statistics in magazines and newspapers, but what we aren’t hearing or understanding is that anxiety is real, serious, but treatable. This is the powerful message that Dr. Dalton and Dr. Reynolds shared in The StudyPro’s September Lunch and Learn.

Dedicated to the importance of public outreach and awareness, Drs. Dalton and Reynolds taught us that there is so much that can be done to stop the suffering of anxious children when the problem is correctly approached with evidence-based treatments. They began their discussion by pointing out that children who are intelligent, creative, and compassionate are often susceptible to anxiety but, with the correct intervention, can learn to overcome their anxious impulses and pursue their values by overruling fear as a decision-making tool.

A major component of being a child is also being a student. Anxiety does impact education, particularly in students who have executive disfunction, but we need to approach education by helping students understand what is right with them rather than what is wrong. When we consider anxiety as a skill deficit for schooling, we can develop a better understanding of what can be done to help the child. According to scientific research, parents underestimate the anxiety/ stress that their kids are experiencing by half.

The national data says that 32% of children will have an anxiety disorder before their 18th birthday with girls being more susceptible than boys. The hard statistic is that less than 1 in 5 students with an anxiety disorder receives treatment when that treatment can be tremendously effective. Further, only a small fraction of children who need to receive treatment for anxiety are receiving the correct, evidence-based treatments that are “very effective in the vast majority of cases but are not used nearly enough.”

Teens are more stressed today than we, their parents are; they are more stressed that the children of the Great Depression and WWII. When our speakers consider why, the conclusion seems to go back to the fact that today’s parents have more resources to remove a child’s struggles. But struggle is the basis of evolution and the necessary component to learning and resilience. We want anxiety blisters to turn to calluses, the calluses being tolerance for stress. Avoidance is the life blood to an anxiety disorder. The doctors don’t treat anxiety at the Center for Anxiety and Behavioral Change because anxiety is temporary and harmless. They treat the avoidance that causes children to turn away from learning.

Parents can help their children by allowing them to experience stress and not employ an anxiety-based parenting style. Parents need to remember that anxiety is a good thing that helps us from repeating mistakes and should not be completely eliminated from our children’s lives. Evolution wants us to understand what makes us sick, scared, or feel something is hard. We need to understand that fear is real but the danger is not when anxiety is related to school. Student’s need to be taught that their anxious thoughts are not as important as they appear. They need to understand that they are not the thoughts in their head, but the observer of the thoughts in their head. Thoughts are not evidence and feelings are not facts. Teaching our children flexibility will lessen anxiety. Knowing there is more than one way out of most situations is important for parents to teach from childhood. The more flexible we can teach our children to be, they more they will remain in a growth mindset. “Palm tree thinking” is a concept that can be used. Palm trees don’t blow over in a hurricane because they are flexible; they don’t fight against the wind. Flexibility is strength.

Parents need to remember that there is no grade that is more important than their relationship with their child. Instead of becoming upset that they have avoided, ask them to consider the multiple possibilities for their action or inaction. Modeling is important for parents to use. Anxiety is contagious but so is calm. Show them how to respond, don’t just tell them. Practice reduces frustration with school work. School avoidance needs to be seen as the leaves and branches of a tree and our job of helping our children approach what they are fearfully avoiding is the trunk. Teaching them how to take care of the “future you” is more important than feeling good in the immediate. School disabilities increase anxiety in our children but we can break down their work and needed skills to decrease their vulnerability. Parents can help their children think differently about their personal school alarms. We can change our words to change their anxious arousal. We do not want to become involved in their reassurance seeking questions. Instead, we validate the anxiety, but practice coping by redirecting the reassurance seeking.

The take-aways that we learned are that parents need to avoid anxiety-based parenting, allow our children to experience stress, model that stress is good and a part of everyone’s lives, recognize that avoidance is the component of stress that is damaging, help our children understand that we are not our thoughts, and find therapists who can help with evidence-based treatments and exposure therapy, when the stress is becoming more than our child can handle. We want to water the seeds not the weeds.

 

As Lindsey Thoms puts it, “It’s hard to ignore the positive impact of organization, routines, schedules, visuals, timers, clear expectations, and planning.”  This is what led Lindsey to supporting students’ executive functions.  She quickly realized that it not only helped her students, but also made her job as a teacher easier.

Having been with The StudyPro for almost four years, Lindsey is the Senior Director of Development and Operations.  She brings both her coaching knowledge and technology skills to the center in her work with children and business operations.  Lindsey holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology and a Masters of Special Education and Human Development for students with emotional and behavioral disabilities.  In the other half of her professional life, she is an assistive technology teacher for Fairfax County Public Schools.

Lindsey understands that students need assistance and “scaffolding” with their skills until their Executive Function skills fully mature and has toolbox of strategies to help bridge the gap.  She is also dedicated to “spreading the word” amongst professionals through delivery of monthly “Executive Function training for Professionals”.  Loving to present, Lindsey is equally dynamic with students and adults and is dedicated to everyone leaving with the tools that will increase success and the belief that they “can,”  whether that “can” is referring to the child’s feeling of control and success or the adult’s feeling of relief knowing they have found help and gotten student buy-in.

Lindsey presents at The StudyPro’s  Lunch & Learns on Executive Function and demonstrates many of the study skills that she shares with students and professionals in her coaching and teacher training.  Parents who would like to have usable take homes for helping their children overcome their EF roadblocks should definitely join Lindsey at the October Lunch & Learn at The StudyPro.

 

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