Q: I feel like my fourth grader is becoming too anxious over school work and grades. How do I help her calm down?
A: Anxiety is a common problem in children today. They often feel the pressure of doing well in school very early on. It doesn’t help to tell her not to worry. Rather, help her identify what she is feeling. If she can acknowledge the feeling, you can work on the specifics. Listen to what is bothering her. What is the source of her stress? Is she afraid to fail, worried she will disappoint you, feeling competitive with other children, wanting to please a teacher, etc.? Whatever is at the core, help her think more positively about the issue. For example, “I can’t always get a perfect grade but I can do my best.” ‘Not every teacher will love me but that is OK.” Teach her some ways to relax and distract herself from the constant thoughts of schoolwork. Exercise of any kind helps with stress and anxiety. Make sure she is eating well (getting a good breakfast) and getting enough sleep because poor nutrition and sleep deprivation can contribute to anxious feelings. Also, make sure you are not unconsciously pressuring her. Sometimes the way parents talk about school and expectations can bring on stress. Most of all, be a calm example. She will pick up on your anxious feelings if you are also worried about doing well and getting things done. So model handling stress in ways that can help her as well.
Resource: Helping Children to Cope with Change, Stress and Anxiety: A Photocopiable Activities Book by Deborah M. Plummer (Author), Alice Harper (Illustrator), Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2010)