parent – child relationship

Beyond “Do your best”: Three Ways to Lessen Your Child’s Anxiety about School

Young girl holding a pencil at her desk
Young girl holding a pencil at her desk

Young girl holding a pencil at her desk

A Guest Post from Dr. Kevin L. Gyoerkoe — a licensed psychologist specializing in anxiety and OCD-related disorders at The Anxiety and OCD Treatment Center in Charlotte, NC.

When I first started working with 12 year-old Sarah*, she was the picture of anxiety. Sticking close to her mom, her hair covering her face, she sat in the waiting room as I came out to say hello. She muttered a “hi”, and we walked back to my office.

We talked for a few minutes about movies, then–knowing her parents had brought her to my office because of her anxiety about grades–I asked her about school.

Sarah burst into tears as she described just how anxious she felt.

“I feel like I have to be perfect; I have to make straight A’s”, she told me. “I don’t know when to stop, I study all the time. It takes me so much longer to finish my homework than my friends. And if I get a B or worse, I freak out.”

Toward the end of our meeting, I asked Sarah’s mom to come into my office. Her mom was calm and relaxed, the exact opposite of Sarah.

She smiled easily and sat comfortably on the couch. She seemed genuinely puzzled by Sarah’s worries about school and anxiety about her grades.

“We don’t know where she gets it”, Sarah’s mom explained. “We never put any pressure on her to get good grades. All that we ask is that she do her best.”

As a psychologist who specializes in treating anxiety, I’ve witnessed this scene play out many times over the past 13 years.

At first, when I met with patients like Sarah, I expected that their parents would be hard-driving, achievement-oriented moms and dads who demanded perfection and straight A’s.

The first few times parents like Sarah’s mom breezed into my office more relaxed and low-key than most, I thought it was a fluke.

Over time, however, a predictable pattern emerged. These relaxed parents, it seemed, often shared the same approach when parenting their children: all we ask is that you just do your best.

As this pattern appeared, I started to wonder: Could the innocent-sounding, low-key, “just do your best” approach actually make a child feel more anxious?

As I considered this paradox, it occurred to me that there were three key reasons why telling someone to do their best could actually increase anxiety.

3 Reasons Why “Do Your Best” Increases a Child’s Anxiety

  1. It creates uncertainty.

    One problem with the well-intentioned do your best is that it’s simply too vague. How do we know when we’ve done our best? There’s no way to measure that goal or track our progress, so we are left in a state of uncertainty.

  2. Uncertainty creates anxiety.

    Uncertainty is a common cause of anxiety. Often, the more unsure we are about something, the more anxious we feel about it.

  3. It can cause us to personalize negative events.

    When negative events occur, it’s natural to try to explain why. If we’re instructed to just do our best on a task, and we don’t do well, we are likely to blame ourselves and conclude that we are inadequate or incompetent in some way. This creates a sense of defeat and hopelessness, which could lead to less effort and resilience in the future.

So if “do your best” might not actually help our children do their best, what can we do instead? The next time your child feels anxious about school, try these three alternatives to “Do Your Best.”

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3 Ways to Help Reduce Your Child’s Anxiety about School

  1. Be specific.

    Instead of the vague “do your best”, help your child set clear, concrete goals to lessen anxiety and develop good work habits.

    For example, you might suggest that your child to take three mock spelling tests before her weekly spelling quiz. Or you could encourage her to practice multiplication flash cards until she can do them with 100% accuracy.

    Being specific on the steps required to do well allows our children to shift their focus away from the outcome and focus on the process instead.

  2. Focus on mastery.

    Paradoxically, you can lessen your child’s anxiety and improve school performance by encouraging focus on mastery of specific aspects of the material.

    For example, if your child struggles in math, it may take a few minutes of practice to master the multiplication tables for the week. If he needs additional support, break it down into even smaller chunks so “mastery” comes with even less effort and pressure.

    Once he’s achieved this goal–or at least made progress toward the goal–consider it mission accomplished and provide lots of encouragement on the effort he put forth to accomplish that goal.

  3. Problem-solve.

    If your child receives a low grade, instead of asking “Did you do your best?” ask “What do you need to do to do better next time?”

    Consider it a learning experience and review the material with your child.

    What does your child need to brush up on? Evaluate study habits as well. Did she practice regularly? Was all the homework complete? Look beyond just the grades themselves and evaluate your child’s work habits. Do they need to improve?

    Remember, all the effort in the world won’t overcome bad habits. By the same token, a few small shifts in work habits can make effort much more efficient.

The next time your child is struggling with anxiety about school, instead of offering a “just do your best” consider using the steps above to reduce anxiety, build self-confidence, and develop invaluable skills for the future. Your child will build concrete tools to ensure life-long success and feel less anxious in the process.

Final Thoughts from Amy

We are so grateful to learn from Dr. Goerkoe and know that anxiety plagues even the most devoted Positive Parenting Solutions homes.

One of the most important things families can do to ward off anxious feelings is to maintain a calm, consistent, and compassionate home.

But trust me, if you’re like the thousands of parents I’ve worked with, it’s incredibly difficult to create this type of environment when you’re inundated with sibling rivalry battles and other frustrating behaviors.

If you feel like you’ve exhausted all discipline options without much success, I’d love for you to JOIN ME FOR A FREE ONLINE CLASS.

In one hour, I’ll teach you how to get your kids to listen without nagging, yelling, or losing control.

Will you join me?!

 

*Sarah is a fictional patient created to represent a composite of many children with similar problems.

About the Author

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Dr. Kevin L. Gyoerkoe is a licensed psychologist specializing in anxiety and OCD-related disorders at the The Anxiety and OCD Treatment Center in Charlotte, NC. To learn more about helping your child overcome anxiety, visit www.anxietyandocdtreatmentcenter.com.

When Parents Disagree on Discipline: 8 Steps to Harmonious Parenting

Little Girl with Parents Fighting
Little Girl with Parents Fighting

Little Girl with Parents Fighting

You vowed to be together for better or for worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, but now you’re in a parenting standoff and can’t seem to agree on A.N.Y.T.H.I.N.G.

You’re tired of yelling at your kids. Your partner is tired of their disrespect. You try to implement consequences. Your partner insists on sending them to time out. You dread mealtime. Your partner dreads bathtime.

The tension is palpable and your kids notice. They know you’re the strict one and your partner is more lenient. They know who will cave under pressure and whose fuse will blow first.

If there is one thing you can ALL agree on, it’s this: Something has to change.

The standoff can’t continue.

Your kids are too important. Your marriage is too important. Your family is way too important to let discipline differences wear everyone down.

So what should you do about it?

First, take a deep breath. Like a REALLY deep breath.

There is hope for you and your family, my friend. Lots of hope.

I’m here to suggest there are 8 tangible steps you and your partner can take TODAY to set a new foundation in your home – a foundation that you can both feel comfortable standing on as you continue your parenting journey.
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5 Tips to Help Kids Develop The Kindness Advantage

A Guest Post from Amanda Salzhauer & Dr. Dale Atkins

Do you ever remember hearing a friend or relative complain that their kids are too kind? 

No, neither do we.

Kindness is one of those qualities that we can never have enough of.

There are so many reasons that kindness is important. At its essence, kindness allows us to develop awareness of and sensitivity to others. Having concern for others and being able to show that concern through our thoughts and actions helps us feel connected to the people and world around us.

When we use the word kindness, we are referring to several, specific behaviors. Let’s think of them as the “kindness-ecities”: 
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Playing to Prevent Power Struggles

Kids playing independently!  Parents celebrate when kids will finally play on their own or with a sibling.  Finally – a few minutes of breathing room for mom and dad to get some things done around the house! Independent play is important for your child’s development and should be encouraged, however, playing WITH your kids on a daily basis will do you and your kids a world of good.  It will even fend off some of the most frustrating power struggles.

Playing WITH your kids doesn’t have to be elaborate or take a lot of time. It can be as simple as throwing a ball or role-playing with dolls or action figures.  “Playing” with a teenager can be a game of backgammon, UNO, or a round of Wii Golf.  “Playing” is what ever your CHILD likes to do for fun. Read More

Kids Clamming Up? Try These 3 Strategies

girl in pink dress, clasping hand behind her.
girl in pink dress, clasping hand behind her.

girl in pink dress, clasping hand behind her.

Sometimes it’s like pulling teeth to get my kids to share ANYTHING! I’ll ask a question and get one word answers or their body language will tell me they’re not at all interested in discussing whatever I’m asking. Sometimes they’re tired or hungry or cranky and just don’t feel like talking. But there are other times when I recognize that my communication style is actually causing them to clam up.

I’ve found that I’m more successful in getting my kids to open up and have a real conversation if I use the following 3 strategies: 

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Simple Words to Avoid Power Struggles

avoid power strugglesDid you know the average child hears 432 negative comments or words per day versus 32 positive ones? (Source: K. Kvols, Redirecting Children’s Behavior)

If there were a hidden camera in your house, how many times per day would you catch yourself saying “No” or “Don’t” to your kids?

NO or DON’T commands create several problems, especially for young kids… Read More