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When a student is experiencing greater than usual fear, worry or anxiety, what can a parent do? 

The first thing you can do is listen. Ask open ended questions such as, “How was math today? I know you have been concerned.” Or, “What is going on that you don’t want to go to your friend’s house?” Or, “How did you feel about the test?” You can listen to the responses without trying to solve whatever is happening. You can reflect back the student’s feelings by saying something like “It can be confusing and hurtful when a friend seems to be ignoring you.” 

Take the student’s concerns seriously. Don’t try to talk her out of it. Saying, “That really isn’t anything to be upset about,” can cause the student to escalate or feel isolated. This isn’t the time to share that you had a horrible experience with a teacher too, but it turned out okay. Focus on the events from the child’s perspective. Something like, “I see why you would be upset, you did not expect that grade.” Or, “It sounds like your boss was having a really bad day, and that was hard for you.”

Avoidance is not an adaptive coping strategy. Refusing to eat dinner with the family, or go to Math class due to anger, does not help. Have the student come up with small steps to move beyond feeling so anxious and worried. Suggest sitting with the family for 15 minutes for dinner, and make sure the conversation is positive. The student could talk with the school counselor first thing tomorrow morning about Math class. What will he say to the counselor about the class? Help him develop a plan. 

Express confidence in her ability to cope with the situation. Now is the time to recall instances in the past when the student successfully found her way through something that was very hard. Recalling when she did not make the swim team but discovered a love for tennis. Or, when a friend suddenly stopped inviting her places and the student discovered that the friend was having problems at home and it had nothing to do with their relationship. 

Encourage your child to come up with a coping “self statement.” Something like, “A C in Algebra won’t keep me out of college.” Or, “Sometimes the world is not fair, but I don’t have to let it get me down.” “Anyone can have a bad week; this week is my turn.” Encourage him to follow his plan and reward himself when he has that tough conversation with a teacher and stays calm.

Next: how and when to seek professional help.  

Blogger Mary Ann Mulcahey, PhD, shares her expertise in assessment and diagnosis of learning disabilities and ADHD, and the social/emotional adjustment to those issues. If you have questions, please contact Mary Ann at mmulcahey@springer-ld.org

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