With the end of the school year upon us, we recognize that anxiety is a predictable and expected part of a student’s daily life. Deadlines are looming, examinations are approaching, and the light at the end of the tunnel is dim.
While optimal levels of stress produce adaptive and motivating responses, heightened feelings of tension, nervousness, and irritability serve to diminish a student’s capacity to perform in a manner aligned with his or her true potential.
As parents and supportive adults, what should we consider about our own thoughts and actions that may be exacerbating the problem? Here are five ways parents unintentionally increase a student’s anxiety:
Anxiety as a contagion.
First, let’s acknowledge the crossover effect of feelings. We’ve all been in the presence of someone who carries worry into a room. This phenomenon, known as stress contagion, ensures that troublesome energy can spread like the plague. Ask yourself if your own concern about a student’s performance is creeping into your interactions and conversations about schoolwork.
All work and no play.
Many of us have come to associate work and play as opposites, and that one isn’t to be engaged in until the other is satisfied. However, conceptually, the absence of play more closely mirrors depression. During high-stress times, do we neglect the activities that will ultimately facilitate productivity? Encouraging students to focus solely on schoolwork and responsibilities is often at the expense of all actions that provide balance and positive emotions. We are primed for optimal problem-solving and learning when in a positive state compared to feeling negative, neutral, or stressed; so our tendency to hyper-focus upon work can reduce the quality of our output.
The all-mighty all-nighters.
Towards that end, neglecting self-care is another pitfall to avoid as the end of the school year approaches. We’ve all been under circumstances where staying up a bit later or opting for a fast snack is favored, but caution against making habits out of exceptions is necessary to model positive routines.
The blame game.
As we observe students who may fall prey to procrastination or poor organization of priorities, it is tempting to offer statements of “I told you to…..” or “If only you would have….” Receiving feedback during times when emotions are running high is difficult, consider whether pointing out how a student could have entered into the final stretch of the school year is beneficial at the moment, or if it is best saved for another time.
Adolescents’ brains are wired for short-term goals and gains that are easily within their view. Thus, introducing the impact that their behavior will have upon long-term consequences is both difficult for them to appreciate and causes them to focus their thoughts in areas where they have little power of influence. Avoid orienting an adolescent’s attention too far into the future in order to keep their efforts in areas where they can connect their behavior to more present outcomes.
Avoiding these common pitfalls can go a long way to reducing your child’s anxiety over end-of-school-year tests and projects. In Part 2 of our Anxiety and Finals series, we will continue with some thoughts on proactive ways that your child can approach testing situations.