The Question to Ask to Increases Motivation for Children with ADHD to Complete Homework

Children with ADHD are rewarded by the immediate gratification of getting out of a homework assignment (relief, avoidance, etc), and there is no emotion attached to getting tasks done. Emotions are a powerful motivator and are strongly connected to our self-motivation.

Have the individual ask himself, “What will it feel like when the task is done?”

1. Don’t be surprised if this questions is initially met with silence, because many have not considered that the task can be done. Whatever the emotion is, the individual should consider what it will feel like when he reached his goal (finishing the assignment).
2. Focus on the emotional sensation of “What will it feel like when the task is done?” (pride? sense of accomplishment? self-satisfaction? pleasure from those around?). The individual may currently be focused on the negative emotion of having to do the assignment, and being reinforced by the negative emotion and immediate gratification of getting out of the work. By changing his focus to when the task is complete, we begin to change his reinforcement and delay his gratification.
3. Visualize, verbalize, and feel what it is like getting the mundane assignment or any assignment done. It is a more powerful motivator for most as focusing on the potential positive consequence of getting it done because it can be rejuvenating and inspire feelings you can get by imagining how great it might feel to get to your goal. The individual should practice this for all assignments.
4. Practice self-talk statements that encourage efficacy rather than avoidance. For example, when one thinks, “this is so pointless” he should attempt to make a fair statement like, “I might not like every assignment, and that’s ok. When I am finished, I will feel ______.”
5. Put in place mini 3-5 minute breaks to recharge. Mini breaks can include walking up stairs, wall push-ups, listening to one song, getting a drink of water, etc. Mini-breaks do not include using screens, because hopping on a screen typically takes a lot more time. Save screen time for after homework. Breaks should rejuvenate, not distract..
6. Think of a reward for when all of the work is complete. Some examples include reading a book, going on social media, playing a games, etc. Rewarding oneself helps to increase motivation.

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Family Contracts Help Improve Behavior

A family contract supports purposeful parenting as opposed to emotional reactive parenting. If a parent can recognize what is occurring in the moment, they won’t be as reactive. The family contract provides a framework for expectations and consequences; in effect there is less talking, arguing, and manipulation that occurs.

First, identify patterns of behavior. What behaviors do you want to improve? Keep it simple, state the expected behavior, and limit the behaviors you want to address to no more than five. Second, identify and strategize obstacles to following the family contract. Remember, aligned parenting creates expectations that increase consistency and structure. After behaviors and obstacles have been identified, seek childrens’ input for the types of privileges they would like to earn.

Sample Family Contract:

Expectations
1. Attend School
2. Be ready at 7:00
3. Clean Room
4. Homework
5. Chores

Privileges
Cell phone privilege
Go out on Friday night
Have a friend over
1 hour of screen time
Allowance

With a family contract, things are not taken away, they are earned. Everything is earned.
Have both daily and weekly privileges on the contract to teach both immediate and delayed gratification. There will be times your child does not earn a privilege when your child does not fulfill an expectation.

Strategies for Parents:

The Family Contract is a framework for expectations and privileges. We are increasing self-awareness, while avoiding enabling our children. Not everything or situation can be fixed; during those moments we need to sit with our own discomfort and know that it is okay if we are not able to fix everything. Create a home environment that fosters structure and consistency. Communicate effectively and avoid mixed messages. Recognize patterns that contribute to child’s anxiety. When in doubt of what to say, don’t say anything.

Emotional and Cognitive Development:
Parents should consider emotional development stage when formulating expectations. Where is your child? How do you parent? How do you grow with them emotionally as they age?

Verbal Communication:
Provide child with choices. Use language such as “It is your choice” vs. “You have to.” Use language that is purposeful, and look for opportunities for your child to work through uncomfortable feelings. Use language such as “What do you think you could do,” vs. “You’ll be ok.” Remember, less is more when it comes to verbal communication.

6 Ways Knitting Improves Mental Health

Knitting is a craft that has been enjoyed by many for centuries. The benefits of knitting are far greater than the finished scarf, hat, gloves, blankets, sweaters, etc. Knitters further benefit from the neuroscience behind the bilateral, rhythmic, automatic movements. Knitters also benefit from the combination of physiological, behavioral, psychological, and social benefits experienced by engaging in this creative craft.

  • Knitting teaches key life skills, such as patience, perseverance and communication. Knitting further teaches that mistakes can be undone, that it is not catastrophic to make a mistake, and that goals can be reached despite a few detours along the way.
  • Knitting teaches the skill of letting go. Knitting helps us learn the idea of letting small mistakes go so they become part of the design. As we let go, we are more open to love ourselves for who we are, imperfections and all.
  • Knitting is linked to improving memory. The bilateral movement in knitting could enhance the connectivity between the right and left cerebral hemispheres, which may lead to an improvement in memory. The bilateral movement required in knitting is also found to help people organize their thought process.
  • Knitting can reduce stress. The repetitive movement of yarn and needles induces a state of mindfulness long recognized by meditation adepts as a form of healing therapy. During mindfulness, our focus is brought to the rhythm of the present moment, releasing us from the stress, worries, and pain of daily life. The relaxation response evoked during mindfulness lowers blood pressure, improves sleep and helps individuals manage stress levels.
  • Knitting can help depression. Studies suggest that repetitive movement in activities like knitting enhance the release of serotonin, a natural analgesic and mood enhancer. It is the repetitive movement in knitting that takes knitters into the “zone,” where participating in creative work can do wonders to restore a sense of wholeness and stability.
  • Knitting creates a sense of community. Knitting groups have given women a powerful expression of communal bonding and creates a sense of belonging.

Why Use an Educational Advocate?

If you are like many parents, understanding the special education process is overwhelming. Many parents find it helpful to use an educational advocate to navigate the maze of special education, education law, and reduce the intimidation that parents can feel at school meetings. It is often difficult for parents of children with special needs to advocate for their child in a calm and objective manner for the education and related services their child needs. Parents see an advocate as an individual they can rely on to keep a cool head and apply informed judgement and recommendations throughout the process.

The role of an educational advocate is not to inflame the relationship between the parents and the school; rather to help cultivate a working relationship to make negotiating for special education services and supports easier. The focus is on solving problems and getting an appropriate education for your child to meet your child’s unique needs.

An advocate begins this process by gathering facts and information about your child’s disability and educational history. An advocate will speak with the parents to better understand their concerns. While gathering information, an advocate will review existing documentation include previous evaluations, IEPs, report cards, and any other relevant documentation to understand your child’s educational history.

Advocates inform parents about the special education process so they are aware of the potential costs in time, money, and energy required. Advocates inform families that just because they have independent evaluators and providers does not necessarily mean that the school system will implement the recommendations. In other words, advocates help to keep families expectations reasonable.

Advocates know procedures that parent must follow to protect their rights and their child’s rights. An advocate will provide suggestions on how to approach the school, teachers, and administrators. Furthermore, an advocate will have knowledge of the continuum of services and be able to explain the importance of a steady progress. In addition, advocates educate themselves on the school district to become familiar with the services and programs the school district has for their students.

Advocates are familiar with special education laws and regulations. Advocates are familiar with the governing laws and regulations and with changes in those laws as they are enacted.

Advocates keep written records. They make requests in writing, and document events, discussions, and meetings. The purpose of written records are to serve as reminders of why decisions were made and serve as an accompaniment to all school paperwork. The written records also help to keep all parties accountable.

The role of an advocate in meetings is to ask questions and listen for answers. The advocate carefully balances their approach in meetings and tends to stay away from confrontational approaches or overly chummy approaches. Their reasonable approach helps keep emotions out of the meeting. By not being clouded by emotions, advocates are better able to define problems and use their knowledge to develop strategies and problem solve.

In summary, the educational advocate role is to speak for children with disabilities and special needs who are unable to protect themselves. Educational advocates use their knowledge and expertise to help parents build a healthy working relationship with schools and resolve problems with schools. Through the support of families, educational advocates help to ensure that the school provides your child with a free and appropriate public education.

Trichotillomania

Trichotillomania is a disorder that causes people to pull out the hair from their scalp, eyelashes, eyebrows, pubic area, underarms, beard, chest, legs or other parts of the body resulting in noticeable bald patches.  While for some trichotillomania is mild and can be stopped with extra awareness, for others the urge is strong and makes thinking of anything else almost impossible.  Hair pulling varies greatly in severity, location on the body, and response to treatment. The impulses to pull are so strong.  The body requires a sensation that is satisfied with the hair pulling.

Trichotillomania is a series of complex behaviors, not always easy to understand.  In order to treat trichotillomania, the treatment plan has to meet the complexity of the behavior to meet the complexity of the pulling.  One may wonder, “Why do people have the urge to pull their hair?”  There are several components that contribute to hair pulling including sensory, motor, environment, emotions, and cognitive.

Sensory
Some people pull their hair because they like the sensation they get from the skin or the scalp.  Some people like the itch or tingle they feel before the pull.   The pull site is not the only sensation individuals feel, as they also have sensations on their fingers.  The physical sensation is not the only sensory fulfillment.  Some individuals enjoy the sound of the snap of their hair the the look of a specific hair that seems out of place from the rest.

Motor
Many people find that they pull their hair automatically, without even thinking about it.  These individuals report that their hands have a mind of their own.  Some are aware of the pulling episode, but they can’t seem to stop.  It is very common for people to experience a combination of both awareness and automatic pulling episodes.

Environment
For some, there are places or rooms that they are more likely to pull.  For others they will pull anytime, anywhere.  Environments can include rooms in the house, school or workplace, and the car to name a few.  There seems to be something about those environments that trigger the pull.

Emotions
At one time, people believe that people engaged in hair pulling behavior because they felt anxious.  It is now known that people pull their hair when they feel a variety of emotions, and those emotion.  Some pull when they are bored, depressed, anxious, hungry, frustrated, relaxed, and excited to name a few.  The pull relieves the tension the individual is feeling.

Cognitive
Every day we have a variety of thoughts.  Our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are all connected.   When pulling, individuals have thoughts before, during, or after an episode.  Hair pulling can lead to frustration, disappointment, humiliation, and shame.  The thoughts related to these feelings play a role in the hair pulling cycle.

Trichotillomania can wax and wane over time.  When working with a trained therapist, individuals with trichotillomania can learn strategies to make it impact their lives less over time.  No two treatment plans are alike for individuals with trichotillomania.  Addressing only one of the components (sensory, motor, environment, emotions, and cognitive) does not help the whole issue.  Individuals need to address the different components simultaneously to meet the complexity of the behavior.

Bullying and Teasing the Adolescent Years

Bullying. It has become a major concern in today’s society. Many of us have been teased, but bullying can be more serious. While teasing can be good­humored, playful, and friendly, it can also be mean spirited and hostile. Bullying is a repetitive conscious attempt to hurt another individual and can be physical, verbal, or relational. This article focuses on the roles of those involved in bullying situations, different forms of bullying, the warning signs and the effects of bullying, and how to help your child.

The Bully. The bully likes to feel strong, and superior. The bully enjoys having power over others and uses their power to hurt other people. In addition, Bullies “rationalize that their supposed superiority entitles them to hurt someone they hold in contempt, when in reality it is an excuse to put someone down so they can feel up.” (Coloroso, The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander). For example, a bully might say, “He had it coming.”

The Bullied. The person who is the target of bullying (aka, victim). Those who are bullied come in all shapes and sizes, and there is not any one type of individual that is more or less likely to be bullied. The individual can be male, female, overweight, underweight, various skin colors, the most popular person, the least popular person, etc. What those who are bullied have in common is that they were targeted by a bully.

The Bystander. The supporting cast who aid and abet the bully through acts of omission and commission. “They can stand idly by or look away,or they can actively encourage the bully and become one of a bunch of bullies” (Coloroso).

Bullying takes on different forms among boys and girls. Among boys, bullying often occurs among friends or acquaintances. During bullying situations, there are often comments made about the bullied’s athletic ability or status, and the teasing comments are often intended to emasculate the individual. Bullying among boys is more likely to have a physical component. Bullying among girls is more likely to appear as Relational Aggression, occurs between friends, and the focus is often on appearance and possessions. Relational aggression is a more subtle form of aggression that uses relationships to damage or manipulate others through exclusion,ignoring, spreading rumors, verbal insults, teasing, eye rolling, taunting, and cyber­bullying.

When intervening with bullying situations, it is important to intervene with all parties involved including the bully, the bullied, and the bystander. Some ways to help the bully include: Reinforce that teasing and bullying are unacceptable; impose consequences for teasing or bullying; assess why the child is engaging in the behavior (for example is it being modeled at home? among peers?; empathy training; promote appreciation of differences; and praise positive behavior changes.

Some ways to help the bullied may include: listen and be empathetic; help the child understand the bully’s motivation; observe school or family interactions; teach your child coping strategies; and practice assertive communication skills. Coping strategies include positive self­talk, imagery, reframing, agree with the teaser, answer with compliment, and ignoring. The largest number of individuals in a bullying situations are bystanders. When helping bystanders: teach assertive communication; empathy training; promote appreciation of differences; praise positive behavior changes, and break the code of silence by encourage the witnesses to come forward when they see bullying.

Bullying has negative effects on a child’s life. It can cause problems with low self­esteem and depression. When dealing with the issue of bullying it is important to know the different warning sgns of bullying so that help and support could be given to a particular child. Warning signs include: frequent crying; unexplained injuries or bruises; lost or destroyed clothing, books, electronics, or jewelry; frequent headaches or stomach aches, feeling sick or faking illness; changes in eating habits, like suddenly skipping meals or binge eating; difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares; declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork, or not wanting to go to school; sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations; a sudden change in the way a child talks about herself or himself; feelings of helplessness or decreased self esteem; and self­destructive behaviors such as running away from home, harming themselves, or talking about suicide.

Kids often don’t tell adults they’re bullied so you may have to voice your concerns. Watch the child’s reactions. Often what a child doesn’t say may be more telling. Tune into your child’s body language. Silence is often powerful. If you suspect bullying and your child won’t talk to you, then arrange a conference with a trusted adult who knows your child. If your child has more than one teacher you may need to meet with each educator or coach. Keep in mind that bullying usually does not happen in all school settings and in all classrooms. Meanwhile, keep an eye on your child. Children who are embarrassed or humiliated about being bullied are unlikely to discuss it with their parents or teachers and generally suffer in silence, withdraw and try to stay away from school. Stress to your child you are always available, are concerned and recognize bullying may be a problem. Emphasize that you believe your child and you are there to help. Please seek the help of a trained mental health professional if the signs continue, intensify, or your gut instinct tells you “something is not right with my child!”

School Refusal

School Refusal may be a child’s response to anxiety over separation from parents, performance anxiety (ie; tests, speeches or presentations), social anxiety, or other situations causing stress at school or at home.

These students show extreme distress about attending school. When your child is refusing to go to school, do not call your child in “sick,” rather let the school know that your child is refusing to attend. When a school is aware that a child is struggling, the school can help intervene and support parents in getting their children to school and support children during their school day.

Some factors that contribute to school refusal or separation anxiety may include the child having difficulty with managing feelings of discomfort, experiencing disappointment, applying conflict resolution skills, and/or communicating needs effectively. When we are anxious or uncomfortable our fight or flight system gets activated by the perception of threat/danger. The perceived fear is greater than the actual threat/danger and everyday occurrences become overwhelming. These behaviors interfere with daily functioning. Maladaptive coping (avoidance) techniques are utilized by the individual, and he/she looks for ways out of the situation, thus he/she does not get to change his/her perception of the situation. Maladaptive coping skills are based on the misappraisal of the threat and the intention is to avoid fear stimulus or the danger it signals. The coping patterns develop as a way to create immediate relief and avoid experience of discomfort. Though these coping patterns provide short term relief, over time the individuals use of avoidance increases, thus making it more difficult for the individual to attend school.

To manage feelings of discomfort, the child should work on distress tolerance. Society has created situations in which every child wins, and with the lack of the “win­lose” in games, kids are not learning to tolerate loss. As a result, children lack crisis survival strategies, have underdeveloped skills to manage feelings such as disappointment, anger, and sadness, and have difficulty applying coping strategies to stressors. When children experience difficulty with emotional regulation, they have difficulty managing emotions, lack self soothing techniques, and have poor impulse control.

Common characteristics or functions of school refusal behavior include: avoidance of negative affect including somatic complaints, depression, and general anxiety; escape from evaluative or social situations including social phobia, OCD, and perfectionism; attention seeking behaviors like separation anxiety or sympathy from family; and a pursuit of tangible reinforcers like video games, internet, and sleep. What might a parent notice with the various functions of school refusal behavior? When a child is avoiding negative affect traits he will exhibit anxiety symptoms, have difficulty advocating for himself, and have an inability to self sooth. Also present are depressive symptoms and low tolerance for managing distress, which commonly presents with a lot of somatic complaints like migraines and stomach aches. If you recognize your child is avoiding negative affect, your response to a child with somatic complaints could be, “Yes, you might be sick, but let’s practice your ways to manage the physical symptoms.” The focus is not on whether or not your child is actually sick, but rather how they can manage those feelings.

When the function of the school refusal is escaping from evaluative or social situations, you will notice your child isolating himself and/or decreasing the number of social activities, as this child will have difficulty managing social situations. Perfectionism and fear of failure occur, and your child will struggle such things as earning a B on a test. In addition, this child will demonstrate absolute or black and white thinking. Furthermore, the child who is escaping evaluative or social situations will perseverate and experience obsessive thoughts.

The child who exhibits attention seeking behavior traits as a function of school refusal is often seeking reassurance from parent(s). Often these children experience separation anxiety. Your role as a parent is not to take on the performance for your child, nor do you need to talk about everything. When you do, then things can get worse for the child. Your response to your child is that they can manage school. The best interventions include structure and routine, clear expectations, altered use of language with the child, and making school attendance not optional. This is a time for purposeful parenting. Purposeful parenting is reactive attachment. We all get emotionally reactive at times, but know that purposeful parenting needs to be the focus. The goal for the child is to be independent, and this is how the parent can help the child be independent and manage. Rather than reassuring your child that everything is going to be ok, it is better to say to your child, “Your day may not be ok, but you can manage it.” The goal is not for your child to be happy, rather to be healthy.

The pursuit of tangible reinforcers is another function of school refusal. Students who exhibit these traits often demonstrate poor sleep patterns; they stay u late and sleep during the day. These individuals have access to privileges without meeting home or schoo expectations. In addition, these students lack motivation to attend school, struggle with limits and resist authority. Furthermore, these individuals possibly abuse substances and or internet/gaming addictions. The parental response is that everything is earned, and everybody in the family has a responsibility. Note, though, that when limits are set, behavior escalates very rapidly because the child may not have had limits or the ability to develop these skills.

Depending on the individual, school refusal may involve significant levels of anxiety and depression that will need to be assessed by a mental health professional who will tailor interventions based on your child’s needs. The goal of therapy is to help the student restructure his thoughts and actions into an adaptive framework to allow for a rapid return to school.

Performance Anxiety (Part 2)

During my last article I described performance anxiety, the impact of performance anxiety on an individual, preventative skills to decrease the likelihood of experiencing performance anxiety, and how parents can support their child experiencing performance anxiety. In this article I will describe tools and strategies individuals can use to build emotional resiliency.

The result of stressful emotions like anxiety can inhibit a student’s ability to absorb, retain and recall information. Anxiety creates a kind of “noise” or “mental static” in the brain that blocks our ability to retrieve what’s stored in memory and also greatly impairs our ability to comprehend and reason. Research has shown that providing students with tools and strategies that build both emotional skills and healthy physical habits when preparing for a test can help them overcome test anxiety and the associated symptoms, while improving their ability to prepare for and perform on critical testing. Cognitive tools include, but are not limited to identifying thoughts that lead to anxiety, challenging anxious thinking, identifying thinking traps, practicing realistic thinking skills, and reducing physical tension. Following is a description of each tool.

Identify Thoughts That Lead to Anxiety. When you notice increased anxiety, that is the time to ask: What am I thinking right now? What is making me feel anxious? What am I worried will happen? What bad thing do I expect to happen? It is important to pay attention to our self-talk because our self-talk or thoughts impact our feelings. Self-Talk, or thoughts, are the things that we say to ourselves without speaking out loud. Often we are unaware of our thoughts, but because they have such a big impact on how we feel and behave, it is important to start paying attention to what we are saying to ourselves. For Example, imagine you have a test in math class. If you think you are going to fail, you will feel scared and anxious; however,if you think you can pass, you will feel calm. Hence, our thoughts, feelings, and performance/behavior are connected.

Challenge Anxious Thinking. Just because you think something doesn’t make it true! A thought is just a thought! For example, thinking that you will fail a test doesn’t mean you will actually fail. Often, our thoughts are just guesses and not actual facts. Individuals should challenge anxious thoughts because they can make one feel like something bad will definitely happen, even when it is highly unlikely.

Thinking Traps=Anxiety. Thinking traps are unfair or overly negative ways of seeing things. Thinking traps include:
Catastrophizing: The mind tells an individual the worst possible case scenario is bound to occur
Labeling: At times, this includes calling oneself names like stupid
Fortune Telling: Predicting the outcome of the test before even taking the test
Mind Reading: Claiming to know what everyone else will think of the individual
Should Statements: Statements that identify that an event “Should” happen
Overgeneralizing: Statements that make one grade dictate a semester grade

So how can an individual begin to Identify his/her thinking traps? The individual can ask himself/herself questions like:
-Am I falling into a thinking trap (for example, catastrophizing or mind-reading)?
-What is the evidence that this thought is true? What is the evidence that this thought is not true?
-What would I tell a friend if he or she had that thought?
-Am I confusing a “possibility” with a “probability”? It may be possible, but is it likely?
-Am I 100% sure that ________________ will happen?
-How many times has ________________ happened before?
-Is ________________ really so important that my future depends upon it?
-What is the worst that could happen?
-Is this a hassle or a horror?
-If it did happen, what can I do to cope or handle it?

Once an individual has identified his/her anxious self-talk and thinking traps, the next step is to replace these thoughts with realistic thinking. Realistic thinking means looking at yourself, others, and the world in a balanced and fair way by looking at all aspects of a situation before making conclusions. Some helpful realistic thinking tips include coping statements, positive self-statements, and alternative balance statements based on challenging negative thoughts.
Coping statements are statements that remind you how you can cope with or tolerate a situation. For example, “Even if I did poorly on this test, I know that I tried by best. I might feel disappointed, but I can tolerate feelings of disappointment.” Positive self-statements are regularly practiced saying kind and positive things to yourself, rather than being overly self-critical. For example, “I may feel nervous before test, but feeling nervous is normal. Just because I feel nervous does not mean I am not prepared for the test or that I am not intelligent. Feeling nervous is my body’s way of telling me that I care about my performance.” Alternative balanced statements are based on challenging negative thoughts look at the evidence and recognized that you’ve fallen into a thinking trap; individuals then come up with a more balanced thought based on facts, not feelings.

Another tool that helps individuals cope with performance anxiety is regular practice of reducing physical tension. Reducing physical tension can help an individual relax his/her body and boost energy levels. Examples include focal breathing, body check exercise identifying areas of tension, and aerobic exercise. Exercise is a wonderful way to reduce stress. Focal breathing includes diaphragm breathing, square breathing, and belly breathing. While some may just practice breathing, others might use meditation or yoga to practice focal breathing. Body check exercises not only involve identifying areas of tension, but purposefully tensing and relaxing those muscle groups in your body. Using any one of physical tools or a combination of these tools in conjunction with the cognitive strategies described can help an individual to better manage the stressors in their lives.

For some they are able to learn and practicing these tools indepently; for others, it may be time to seek the help from a mental health professional. When the signs and symptoms suggest that anxiety may have been present for a prolonged period (more than a few days) and appear to be getting worse rapidly or over time, it may suggest it is time to seek help.

Performance Anxiety (Part 1)

HTS test anxiety 2How common is performance anxiety? Almost everyone feels nervous or experiences some anxiety when faced with a test or an exam. In fact, it is unusual to find a student who doesn’t approach a big test without a degree of anxiety. Many students experience some nervousness or apprehension before, during, or even after an exam.

Too much anxiety about a test is commonly referred to as test anxiety. Test anxiety (a form of performance anxiety) is very common among students. It can interfere with studying, and may cause difficulty learning and remembering needed information for a test. In order to perform well in a challenging situation, you must be psychologically and physically alert. Some degree of arousal is essential for optimal performance: Psyching up can enhance performance. However, when Arousal gets too high (psyching out), we feel nervous and tense, and experience anxiety, which becomes distracting. Psyching Out can cause performance to decline. Further, too much anxiety may block performance and cause difficulty demonstrating student knowledge during the test.

Students with Test Anxiety Report:

  • feelings like “going blank”
  • becoming frustrated
  • thinking “I can’t do this” or “I’m stupid”
  • feeling like the room is closing in
  • heart racing or find it difficult to breathe
  • suddenly “knowing” the answers after turning in the test
  • score much lower than on homework or papers

And, while performing:

  • becoming distracted
  • feeling overwhelmed
  • missing important cues from your surroundings
  • “going blank” and forgetting directions
  • distracting thoughts of failure or of poor performance
  • performing more poorly than in practice

Performance anxiety manifests in physical, emotional, behavioral, and cognitive symptoms. Physical symptoms include headaches, nausea or diarrhea, extreme body temperature changes, excessive sweating, shortness of breath, lightheadedness or fainting, rapid heartbeat, and/or dry mouth. Emotional symptoms include excessive feelings of fear, disappointment, anger, depression, uncontrollable crying or laughing, and feelings of helplessness. Behavioral symptoms include fidgeting, pacing, substance abuse, and avoidance. Lastly, the cognitive symptoms include racing thoughts, ‘going blank’, difficulty concentrating, negative self-talk,feelings of dread, comparing self to others, and difficulty organizing thoughts. Not everyone exhibits the same symptoms, and for many it is not uncommon for the symptoms to be stronger in one area over another.

Students can practice preventative skills to decrease the likelihood of experiencing performance anxiety. The following are a list of Do’s and Don’ts when studying for a test.

Dont’s

  • Don’t cram the night before. The amount you learn won’t be worth the stress.
  • Spread out your studying.
  • Don’t think of yourself or the test in a negative sense.
  • Don’t stay up late studying the night before. You need the sleep.
  • Don’t take those last few moments before the test for last minute cramming.

Do’s

  • Do remind yourself that the test is only a test
  • Do focus on integrating details into main ideas
  • Do reward yourself after the test
  • Do something relaxing before the test
  • Do tell yourself that you will do your best on the test, and that will be enough!

Often parents ask what they can do to support their child experiencing performance anxiety. There are two things that parents often do to help their child who is scared of something, give reassurance and allow their child to avoid the situation. Unfortunately, these two behaviors of reassurance and avoidance maintain anxiety. When a parent gives reassurance, it keeps the child asking for more. Reassurance is positive attention, which rewards anxiety. Instead, name the anxious behavior for your child, and ask what tools they will use to manage the behavior. When we allow children to avoid negative stimuli, the child becomes less likely to overcome their ability to face and cope with the anxiety. Instead, push your child to a certain degree so they start to do things that are slightly difficult, learn to tolerate the uncomfortable feeling, and learn to realize they can cope with the anxiety.

What if the performance anxiety has a great impact on your child’s social and emotional functioning? Then it may be time to seek the help from a mental health professional.