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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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