All behavior is a form of communication. There are many reasons why a child may become disruptive or have a tantrum, and it can be challenging to identify the underlying cause of this behavior. When anxiety is fueling negative behavior, it is particularly complicated to figure out.
The National Institute of Mental Health (2017) reported that anxiety affects 31.9% of adolescents (ages 13-18) in the United States. While anxiety is not formally considered a learning disability, it certainly inhibits a child’s ability to learn. When a child is experiencing anxiety, they have poor regulation skills, limited executive functioning, and develop rigid social thinking that prevents them from taking another person’s perspective.
The key to supporting a child with anxiety is to identify and prevent anxiety triggers and build social-emotional skills to cope when anxiety arises.
Katrina Schwartz, of MindShift, a company investigating and reporting on trends in learning, wrote an excellent article summarizing tips to support children with anxiety in schools (Check out the full article in the link below).
While Schwartz’s article is directed toward teachers, here are 5 great ways to support your child with anxiety at home:
- Take breaks. But make sure they are cognitively-engaging. Breaks are important for a kid with anxiety. But if the break isn’t paired with a cognitive distraction, it may leave the child ‘stuck’ in their negative thought process. Encourage breaks which occupy the mind (e.g., crossword puzzle, sudoku, reading a book for pleasure).
- Avoid countdowns. Counting down doesn’t help the child who feels anxious about finishing. Instead, find a functional stopping point. For example, “Let’s finish the problem you’re working on” or “Finish that paragraph and then join us for dinner”.
- Help your child recognize the signs. Talk your child through a ‘body check’. What does their body feel like when they are getting anxious? Get specific, and write it down. Self-monitoring is important to anticipating moments of anxiety.
- Reward practice. When a child utilizes a skill or self-calming strategy, reward the practice! Even if it didn’t work perfectly, praise him for his attempt to take control.
- Use a dry erase board. Does your child fear they will mess up or write the wrong thing? Try utilizing a dry erase board, where mistakes are easily erased. This may reduce some of that stress during homework time.
For more great tips, visit Katrina Schwartz’s article at: https://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2016/04/21/20-tips-to-help-de-escalate-interactions-with-anxious-or-defiant-students/