Fall brings with it a return to the work world for adults and to school for children. Whether it’s kindergarten, grade school, high school or college, school has its challenges and so does work. The US Government recognized that school was actually children’s “work” when it permitted Disability allowances for children who couldn’t perform adequately at school. How children perform in school isn’t only a function of their individual abilities, but a part of the equation where parents and community play a major role.
The number of children who will be diagnosed as having anxiety disorders or depression is sufficient for us to recognize that it’s a very real problem that has life-long consequences. I’ve seen estimates of 19 million children diagnosed with anxiety.
An anxious child cannot concentrate sufficiently to absorb what is taught in the classroom and, therefore, that child is at a disadvantage academically. If this goes on for a few years, the child falls farther and farther behind his/her peers and the problems associated with going to school mount as do the behavioral problems associated with poor performance in school. It was once called ‘school phobia,’ but it is more appropriately recognized as much more than one single problem. The anxiety these children feel stems from their social interactions, the school requirements, their preparation for school and the home to which they go each afternoon. All of it must mesh in order for this child to succeed to the best of their abilities.
New Golden Rules
My golden rules for school include:
- Read to your young child each evening, if you can and help them to discover the wonder of reading. Reading is probably your child’s most valuable key to learning. If they can’t read well, it is like putting a huge bolder on the road before them and giving them no tools to move it. Reading builds vocabulary and this is one central element in all testing.
- Help your child “grow” their vocabulary. If possible, encourage participation in word games or even word-find puzzles. Words can be the key to opening an interest in history and social studies, so use the origin of words to broad their interests.
- Teach your child how to organize their activities and their study materials. Anxiety is compounded by not being able to find materials and when deadlines are put off until the last minute. Here we have the beginning of the ‘the dog ate my homework’ scenario.
- Set up a schedule for school-related activities and those your child enjoys with friends or family. Remember the saying “all work and no play makes Jack/Jill a dull boy/girl?” Don’t make your child’s day an endless series of “must do” activities.
- Remember that later in their school experience critical thinking will be invaluable and it’s in the beginning years of school that you help shape this ability. “Why” questions are a way children begin this search for meaning in their world. Direct them to something that will provide answers they can understand and enjoyment at the same time.
- Relaxing is just as an important part of your child’s day as working. How many children are taught how to relax? I don’t think people realize their children may need some help in learning to relax because they still think that a child’s world is one devoid of problems and just packed with fun. If it were, how come so many kids are anxious? What about relaxation breathing that can be done at home or in school when they become tense?
- Plan family activities and give your children something to look forward to other than summer vacation. It’s good for them and it’s good for you.
- Begin to help them develop problem-solving skills and help them understand that some things take thought and planning and can’t be solved immediately. Build up their ability to control their impulsivity. It’s wonderful to want to do things NOW, but it’s not always the best route. Maze games make this point beautifully.
- Encourage skill development in some sport or activity. This helps build self-confidence and acceptance that sometimes mistakes are a part of learning. Whoever shot a hole-in-one the first time they went on the golf course? Why should you expect your child to do something like this the first time they try something? First times are beginnings and you want to let them have as many beginnings as they want or need.
- Offer a helping hand, a soft shoulder and a ready ear and you will be giving your child one of the greatest gifts they will ever receive.