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How parents can help children who are anxious

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What are some ways within the home and family that parents can help a child manage anxiety?

Roberta Goldberg: One of the things parents need to do, especially in the 2nd to 6th grade period, is take care of themselves. They've got to have respite. This is a good time to get some counseling for parents and children, to help them navigate this time, so that they can respond to their children's frustrations, struggle through a couple of hours of homework, yet still have the strength to get dinner on the table.

It's important to introduce "strengths and weaknesses" into the family vocabulary-the idea that everybody in this family has some things they're very good at and things they aren't so good at. So, the youngster who's got learning disabilities-who's got, say, serious weaknesses in reading comprehension-also has some strengths in soccer or piano playing or packing the car for the camping trip. With this approach, this child doesn't stick out as the only one in the family who doesn't do well.

Bruce Hirsch: Most importantly, parents can do something that I never do with clients and that is to hug and cuddle their kids. I think physical touch is extremely important for soothing anxiety. One of the first questions I talk about with parents is how their child accepts physical touch. We do have some kids who, for whatever reason, shy away from too much physical touch, but that's really a minority. I think as touch gets internalized, it feeds into self-soothing, which is such an important part of dealing with anxiety.

Roberta Goldberg: When kids with learning disabilities start middle school, I think we need to scaffold them. A lot of parents think, "They're in middle school; they ought to be able to take care of all this." Well, often they aren't taking care of all of this and they're failing. So I help parents to realize that, although they wish their youngster was an independent learner, they are not yet. And if we don't provide them with some of the scaffolding - like helping them plan and organize - we're deluding ourselves.

I am not opposed to parents typing for children, with the teacher's knowledge. But they have to type exactly what the child has written. It has to be thought of as an accommodation. This is a controversial opinion, but I think the parents' job at this stage is to do everything they can to help children develop the compensatory skills required to show what they know.

Parents should also keep a keen eye on a young adolescent's social interactions. One of the primary anxieties reported to us in our longitudinal study for middle school was social anxiety. And that is the fear that their learning disability will be discovered by their friends and that they will not be considered cool. Parents need to shift the balance more toward "private," clandestine remediation, and away from noticeable, or "public," remediation.

Comments from readers

"This article was awesome. I have an 8 yr. old child who was diagnosed with having ADHD. She has overcome so many obstacles in the last 3 years and continues to improve. I am absolutley proud of her. I will admit that the frustration of wanting her to comprehend whats being taught, test grades, assessment tests and being successful in all her endeavors was enough to drive both of us mad. But the pivotal point for both of us was when we sat back and looked at all the progress she has made. It made her feel like...'hey...I can do this,' and it made me feel like...'its not so bad -relax and just breathe.'"
"My son is in the 9th grade we have struggled with his grades for 10 years or more. We do need some help. We sometimes think he just doesn't want to do the work. No child wants to fail in all of his classes. He does very well in Agriculture class and Tech Theater, which is building stage props. He tries to be a clown and also started hanging out with some seniors because they were nice to him. Note these seniors were all good kids My son knows them from being on the JV football team, They are the Varsity players. My son is very small. 15 years old and less than 100lbs. We saw an indo Dr. He is growing, but slowly. What she called a late bloomer. My child has to be told 5 or more times in each class to turn around and pay attn.I do not think he has no interest in school at all."