Help Your Student Manage Academic Worry and Doubt

08/31/2017 05:30 pm ET

Here we go again! Back to school season evokes trepidation for many students. A new school year, especially within the context of a major shift (elementary to middle, private to public, middle to high or college prep to AP level courses) produces elevated levels of insecurity and self-doubt. As such, worried kids focus on perceived obstacles or challenges, as they project their fear onto what they imagine can be controlled or confronted. Projections of a nervous teen often target the specific class or subject area that best exposes their lack of confidence. Here are three strategies to help your student overcome academic worry and self-doubt.

Differentiate between what can and cannot be controlled. Many questions swirl through the mind of a nervous student. Will I be ready for my first exam? Can I handle a rigorous schedule? Are there enough hours in my day to study? These and similar questions cannot be answered prior to landing in those specific realities. As a parent, shift the conversation to what your child can control. Shifting attention here translates into a positive academic performance. Start small by emphasizing proper preparation, diet, sleep, while strengthening their mindset. Promote and provide structure and routine, both of which calm nerves. Steer conversations away from worry, and toward hope. Help them problem solve and be proactive rather than dwell and complain. How can they be well prepared for their exam? What are the long term benefits of a rigorous schedule? What effective time management strategies can be adopted? Even if your optimism is met with resistance, its solution-heavy tilt will permeate negative thinking.

Combat worry with action. Action is a natural antidote for worry. In targeting smaller, easily attainable action items, students gain momentum and confidence. Paralysis by analysis grips children in a state of overwhelm. As a parent, your talk alone will not thaw this freeze. Instead, help them format and streamline a hierarchical to-do list, and set them into motion. A common residual of worry is procrastination, followed by long, drawn out study sessions. That said, implement and enforce a well-defined academic routine. Routines should include specific times, subjects, and tasks within a clearly defined study location (other than a bedroom). As your student falls into step and begins completing tasks with more autonomy, modify your involvement from active to passive, holding close the goal of instilling independent functionality.

Utilize a third party. Sometimes there’s no way around the fact that a parent’s approach, regardless of delivery, is impervious to a child’s ears. In fact, the exact same information delivered by a third party quickly finds its way through the force-field of resistance. If you cannot gain traction, yet seem to be in a constant state of conflict and nag, it may be time to reach out to someone who can help your student build systems. The goal of any third party should be to build autonomy and not create in a state of total reliance. This might be a neighbor, relative, teacher, tutor, high performing peer or similar. Effective third parties come in many variations, but in finding the right fit, look to identify someone who increases your student’s autonomous productivity, positivity and performance in an ethical and appropriate manner.

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