5 Ways Anxiety Harms Learning and 8 Things Parents Can Do to Help

There is an ‘epidemic of anxiety’ among Australian children.

And many experts are attributing this to increasing pressure at school.

But when it comes to school and anxiety – it can be a case of:

What came first, the chicken or the egg?

How and why childhood anxiety develops is not the most important issue at hand, though.

What’s important is that it’s identified and addressed as soon as possible.

Because anxiety doesn’t discriminate.

Anyone can experience anxiety, and any number of things — or combination of things — can cause or trigger it.

And childhood anxiety can affect all areas of a child’s life.

It can have negative effects on social, physical, emotional, AND learning performance.

In 2015, research showed that 6.8% of Australia children suffered from an anxiety disorder.

And all signs point to these numbers growing.

So how does anxiety affect learning?

1. Anxiety may make a child uncomfortable in the school environment.

This discomfort is distracting…

It gets in the way of their concentration, and their ability to learn.

2. Anxiety affects working memory — our ability to hold information in our minds for short periods, in order to do something with it.

Think about it: if we can’t remember the passage we’ve just read, how can we respond to it?

3. Anxiety makes thought processing less efficient.

Again, it makes sense: if we’re distracted by being anxious, how can we concentrate?

This can lead to a student falling behind in class…

And their anxiety often stops them from asking for the help they need to catch up.

4. Anxiety can be hard to detect.

Particularly in the early stages, a child may be very anxious one day and not at all the next.

Unlike other issues that affect learning, this inconsistency makes it hard for teachers and parents to figure out what’s getting in the way of learning.

5. Anxiety can lead to avoidance — of school or homework.

This leads to falling behind in class, and makes the anxiety about school even worse.

So if school is making kids anxious, and their anxiety is making them perform worse at school…

How can parents help?

Anxiety is not a life sentence.

It can come and go, and it can be treated.

But early intervention is vital to stopping anxiety from getting worse…

And this means giving kids the tools and strategies they need to deal with anxiety and stress – now and in the future.

So be on the lookout for the warning signs of anxiety.

Start at home:

1. Develop a solid, consistent and productive family routine. 

This offers familiarity and dependability, which makes kids feel safe and secure.

2. Talk to your kids about school (and everything), often.

This will help you to suss out when they may be struggling…

And it will make them feel comfortable to talk about it with you when they are.

3. Practice mindfulness.

Even for just a few moments a day.

Switching off from the world (and from screens, in particular), gives people of all ages some time to just ‘be’.

And with a little practice, it becomes a life skill that can be used anywhere, anytime, particularly in panicked moments (like exams).

4. On that note, limit screen time.

Many researchers are finding links between social media use and childhood mental health issues.

You can’t stop your kids from using social media, but you can encourage healthy habits.

Start with ‘no screen zones’, like during meals or in the car.

5. Make sure they are getting enough sleep.

A lack of sleep exacerbates anxiety…

And it inhibits kids’ ability to concentrate the next day at school.

This is another good reason to introduce no screen zones — phones keep kids awake and alert for longer.

6. Be engaged with their schooling.

With so many kids in each class, it can be easy for problems to slip through the cracks.

Don’t expect their teacher to be able to pick up everything, whether it’s an anxiety issue or a learning difficulty.

Reading with your kids, watching them with their homework, asking about their day at school…

All these things will help you to know if there’s a problem, or if they need some extra help.

7. Praise effort, not results. 

Kids put enough pressure on themselves when it comes to grades.

Help to ease their anxiety about marks by taking the pressure of final results, and instead encourage and support the process that goes towards getting them.

This will ease their anxiety AND help them to become more resilient and motivated in the face of failure or setbacks.

8. Seek help if they — or you — need it.

Tackling these challenges alone can be hard, especially with multiple kids…

And the reality is you don’t have to solve every problem by yourself.

Consider having a chat with an independent expert, such as a child psychologist with postgraduate training in Educational & Developmental Psychology.

The right psychologist can not only help a child through difficult times…

They will empower them with the tools and “life skills” they need to help themselves.

So if you think your child might benefit from some extra help outside of the school environment?

Please feel free to get in touch.


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