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From Distress to De-Stress: helping anxious, worried kids (Part 2 of 2)

Last week, in this article’s first part, we dis­cussed the impor­tance of actu­ally teach­ing chil­dren how to get them­selves into a phys­i­cal state of being relaxed, explored sev­eral sug­ges­tions I hope you found useful.

Let’s con­tinue.

Teach­ers can help stu­dent over­come stress by teach­ing them to iden­tify the imped­i­ments they might encounter in doing a cer­tain task.

The teacher can ask:

What’s going to get in the way of you doing this work?
He or she may have to jump-start the stu­dents think­ing by sug­gest­ing such things as:
– com­pet­ing events (fam­ily activ­i­ties, friends call, IM-ing, new video game, etc.)
– lack of ade­quate place to study
– inad­e­quate prior prepa­ra­tion or skills
– a neg­a­tive atti­tude (this is not nec­es­sary, I can’t do math, I’ll never need to know this, etc).
– health fac­tors (I’m sick; I’m tired)

Con­versely, teach­ers have to teach stu­dents to iden­tify the enhancers; What’s going to make it more likely that you will do this, and do this well?
– I have con­fi­dence in my abil­ity
– I feel com­pe­tent in this skill
– I am com­mit­ted to learn­ing this because: I have the nec­es­sary resources to com­plete this task, such as mate­ri­als, sources of infor­ma­tion, peo­ple sup­ports; par­ents, tutor, other kids

Teach­ers can turn dis­tress into de-stress by using the Lan­guage of Success

The key is to de-emphasize PRAISE and empha­size SELF-APPRAISAL.

Teach­ers can encour­age self-evaluation by ask­ing:

- How do you think you did?
– Are you sat­is­fied with this?
– What goal were you work­ing on?
– Did you achieve your goal?

Con­sider use of sim­ple rat­ing scales for stu­dents who lack lan­guage of self-appraisal (and then pro­vide the lan­guage to go with their num­ber rat­ing, as in:

1 = not the best work you can do
2 = work that’s OK, but not great
3 = about the best you can do

For younger kids, smi­ley faces might replace the numer­i­cal rat­ing system.

When a stu­dent turns in work that is sub­stan­dard (for him/her) and says: I think this is great, you say: I have seen great work from you, and I have to dis­agree with you–this is not great work. (focus is on com­par­isons with self; per­sonal best is the standard.)

If a stu­dent turns in work that is accept­able and deval­ues it, (This stinks!)

You say: “I’m sorry that you feel this way Sean; I’ve been teach­ing for a long time, and what you did here def­i­nitely does not stink–I can show you some exam­ples of lousy work if you want, but this is not it…”

This com­mu­ni­ca­tion estab­lishes the teacher as an impar­tial judge, giver of hon­est feedback.

Teach­ers should encour­age stu­dents to keep an elec­tronic or paper port­fo­lio of work samples.

Hav­ing this evi­dence allows the teacher to say: “Here’s what you did in Octo­ber. Now com­pare that with what you just did. (And here, resist the temp­ta­tion to eval­u­ate). Instead ask: How would you say these are different?

Focus on the process more than the product:

When a child turns in work, you say:

This looks good (it’s still OK to praise — kids expect it), but also ask:
How did you do this? What did you do to make/write/construct this?

If the stu­dent can’t say, give her suggestions:

Ex: I see that you used a word proces­sor. Did that help you get your words down on paper with­out hav­ing to worry about handwriting?

Or: You folded your paper into fourths; it looks like the sec­tions helped you orga­nize your work—and helped to keep this math prob­lem from run­ning into this one.

And get con­fir­ma­tion: “Would you agree?”

The goal here is to get the stu­dent to self-appraise and be able to iden­tify the behav­iors or strate­gies that have allowed him/her to be suc­cess­ful. This leads to a feel­ing of com­pe­tence and con­fi­dence that helps keep stress in check.

Sum­mary: This is a sam­ple of activ­i­ties and strate­gies that par­ents, teach­ers and other pro­fes­sion­als can use to make learn­ing a safer, more sat­is­fy­ing expe­ri­ence for stu­dents. These strate­gies should help to make learn­ing less stress­ful, lessen anx­i­ety, and build com­pe­tence and con­fi­dence. Please add to this list and pass it on to oth­ers; I invite you to share your ideas and com­ments below.

Jerome SchultzJerome J. Schultz, Ph.D., is a clin­i­cal neu­ropsy­chol­o­gist and is on the fac­ulty of Har­vard Med­ical School in the Depart­ment of Psy­chi­a­try. He served until recently as the Co-Director of the Cen­ter for Child and Ado­les­cent Devel­op­ment, CCAD, a multi-disciplinary diag­nos­tic and treat­ment clinic which is a ser­vice of the Cam­bridge Health Alliance, a Har­vard Teach­ing Hos­pi­tal. Dr. Schultz is the Con­sult­ing Neu­ropsy­chol­o­gist to the New­ton, MA, Pub­lic Schools and the Bin­na­cle Tech Foun­da­tion. He serves on the Edi­to­r­ial Advi­sory Board of Aca­d­e­mic Psy­chi­a­try, and The Pro­fes­sional Advi­sory Board of The Learn­ing Dis­abil­ity Asso­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica. Dr. Schultz lec­tures exten­sively on the rela­tion­ship between stress and learn­ing, espe­cially in youth with spe­cial needs.

Related arti­cles:

- Stress and Neural Wreck­age: Part of the Brain Plas­tic­ity Puz­zle
- Mind­ful­ness and Med­i­ta­tion in Schools for Stress Management

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