With fall comes the excitement of a new school year! New things to learn, new skills to master. But going back to school can also bring its share of anxiety, self-doubt and feelings of being overwhelmed, especially for students who struggle with dyslexia or other learning disabilities.
We’ve gathered a collection of tips and links to help your students and children cope with the challenges that arise from learning and the anxiety and pressures that can often go with it. And teachers will also find helpful resources and links for further reading.
A 2005 study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15845132) found that students with reading difficulties might be at a higher risk for also developing clinically significant levels of anxiety and depression. At the same time, anxiety itself can have a negative impact on students’ ability to read, focus and perform optimally on tests. The study also acknowledges that much more research is required to hone in on how, exactly, reading difficulties and mood disorders are linked.
While researchers continue to tackle these issues, here are some practical tips teachers and parents can use when students are feeling the pressure:
1. Recognize the signs of stress
Stress can manifest in different ways, for different people, at different developmental stages. Experts say the key is staying in touch with how children are feeling—while maintaining lines of open and honest communication.
Below are just some of the possible signs of stress:
- Excessive worry and anxiety about a variety of matters
- An inability to explain the worries. Children may not understand why they are so anxious.
- Inability to stop the worry. Despite adult reassurance, the worries continue.
- Difficulty transitioning from home to school. Children may develop difficulty entering school in the morning if they associate more worries with school. This may lead to late arrival times, long and tearful morning drop-offs, or tearful episodes at school.
- Refusal or reluctance to attend school. Anxiety may lead a child to insist on staying at home.
2. Find proactive ways of coping with stress at home and at school
- Listen to the child’s feelings. Isolation can foster low self-esteem and depression in children struggling with anxiety. The simple experience of being listened to empathically, without receiving advice, may have a powerful and helpful effect.
- Keep calm when a child becomes anxious about an event or matter. If a child sees a parent is able to remain calm, the child can model the parent’s attitude.
- Reassure the child and gently note that he or she survived prior situations that caused anxiety.
- Teach relaxation techniques, including deep breathing, counting to 10, or visualizing a soothing place. Teaching children how to relax can empower them to develop mastery over symptoms and improve a sense of control over their body.
3. Develop tools to help children de-stress
In addition to deep breathing, children can use some of the following tools to help shake off feelings of stress.
- Exercise can help increase endorphins and channel our physical responses to stress in a healthy, positive way.
- Music is often a good way to introduce a soothing atmosphere when things are especially tense.
- Journaling about the things that stress us out can be helpful in both recognizing the onset of stress and in helping to better manage our responses to it. The more parents and teachers can get children talking about what stressors they face, the more they will be able to help children through it.
For more tips on how to manage stress for students and parents, check out:
4. Recognize that feeling anxious is normal…but know when to seek out additional help
If your child or student’s anxiety begins to negatively impact his or her home and school life, then it may be time to seek out professional help. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America have a number of online screening tools that can help determine if more help is needed: http://www.adaa.org/screening-generalized-anxiety-disorder-gad
According to a 2013 study by the National Institute of Health, “Teacher stress and burnout have been an ongoing challenge in education. Providing resources to increase teachers’ sense of personal efficacy and ability to manage stress may reduce burnout. Reducing and managing teacher stress is part of a formula for promoting a healthy classroom environment.”
The National Education Association offers a number of tips for both recognizing and dealing with stress:
- Eat healthy foods to give your body needed nutrition
- Take breaks when possible
- Practice relaxation exercises, deep breathing, or meditation
- Take time for yourself – you deserve it!
- Talk to your family and friends for emotional support
- Work with your local and colleagues to change the conditions causing stress
For more reading on stress in the classroom, check out: