It’s not an age-old secret that anxiety impacts the lives of children especially when it comes to school. In fact, symptoms of anxiety are extremely common in childhood and adolescence, which can negatively interfere with general well-being, social life, academic performance, and development of social skills (Mazzone et al., 2007). Today I’d like to focus on the academic piece of adolescent anxiety.

When we look at adolescent anxiety closely, we see issues with memory and cognitive functioning which could lead to poor academic performance such as bad grades, inattentiveness in class, and inability to complete assignments. School failure is more common in girls whereas boys show a more behavioral disruption in their school environment.

  1. It’s hard to watch your child struggle when they should be enjoying themselves and learning new things! However, what is absolutely vital to your child and their functioning, is having conversations with them and opening a door for you to not only strengthen the bond with your child, but it will allow them to share their experiences without fear of judgment, rebuttal, or negligence. It will be tough learning new things about your child that causes them distress, but this is part of the therapeutic process, and it allows you to grow and learn with them!

For example: Let’s say your adolescent has been having consistent stomach aches, headaches, nausea, or general discomfort when they talk about school or when they attend school. Allow them to share what they are feeling because adolescents associate anxiety with physical symptoms, not so much mental as they have not developed those tools just yet depending on their age! Ask questions about how they feel, talk about when they get those feelings, and how long they have been feeling that way. They will feel heard, and you will get more information on how to support your adolescent.

2. Another important element with helping your adolescent succeed would be to do your homework, not theirs! What I mean is for you to take the reins and do your research to understand what your adolescent is going through. Anxiety is a broad horizon that is riddled different subgroups or categories that may pertain to your child.

For example: Have you ever had any difficulty with dropping your child off at school so much so that they begin to act out behaviorally (i.e., scream, cry, throw tantrums)? If this has been going on for well over 4-6 months, there may be a concern with separation anxiety. Another example would be if a child does not participate in class (i.e., not raising their hand to answer questions, difficulty speaking with other students or the teacher), they could be experiencing social anxiety.

Anxiety comes in many different forms! It’s our job as the parents to find out what struggles the adolescent has been having and consult with the teacher(s), school nurse, or guidance counselor to gain more insight.

3. If you notice your adolescent is getting exceptionally overwhelmed, allow them time to take breaks during their work. As adults, we need time to step away from our work and allow ourselves to cool off or decompress, so why shouldn’t we do the same for our children? They go to school (whether it be virtual or in-person), they are assigned homework to complete for the next day, they eat dinner, and off to bed. When do they get time to be a kid? It’s critical to add this to their daily routine so that way they are able to decompress after a long day of school. This will help alleviate some of those anxious feelings that they have.

For example: Your child is working on a math assignment, and they become upset. They may become tearful, agitated, and seem almost unable to complete their work. Their minds are elsewhere, and the side of the brain that allows them to complete these tasks is stifled or turned off because it has become swarmed with the feelings of anxiety. Commend them for the work that they have already completed and allow them to take a break to cool off before they come back to work on it.

These are just a few ways to help support your adolescent school their own anxiety. If the anxiety continues to persist, a healthy option is to have your child meet with a therapist so that they may learn the tools and techniques that they need in order to further school their anxiety. If the anxiety continues to persist after meeting with a therapist, you may also turn to consulting your pediatrician for further recommendations.

I hope this blog helps you in understanding your adolescent a little bit more, and I hope that you continue to communicate with them, cheer them on, and, most importantly, love them!

Thank you, and take care 😊

Jill M.
Graduate Counseling Intern