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The Informed Parent

Anxiety In The Classroom

by Catherine S. Tolnai, M.A.T.
Published on Nov. 21, 2011

Question: My seventh grade daughter has started to complain about too much homework and stress in her classes. I’ve met with her teachers and believe that they have her best interests at heart. She plays soccer on Saturdays and Sundays, participates on the school volleyball team, and takes piano lessons once a week. So, I know that she is being exposed to physical and creative outlets. But, maybe my instincts are wrong. How do I know that the teachers aren’t stressing her out? Is she doing this to herself or is this indicative of the stress that the school and teachers are putting on her?

Wow! Your daughter sounds like an amazingly involved teenager. My first thought in looking at the long list of her commitments is to wonder: How much time does your daughter have for herself? While it is incredibly important to build up one‘s extracurricular activities in preparation for high school, you want to help your child understand her emotional limits. And if she is exhibiting high amounts of stress and anxiety in the classroom, this could very well be from a combination of factors. Let’s look at them one by one.

The first area we can look at is the academic workload. How much homework is your daughter expected to complete each night? On average, a seventh grader can have anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours of homework a night depending on the expectations of your school. Any child that is spending more than 2 hours on homework a night, assuming they have managed their time effectively, may need some support from you, the parent, to help them move from one subject to another smoothly and quickly. Perhaps they are loosing focus while working on the computer or perhaps the study environment is distracting. You can spend sometime with your daughter discussing the pluses and minuses of her workload and determine some next steps after you have evaluated her study habits. Enlist the help of the teachers if you see some concerning patterns and see what suggestions they have to help your daughter manage her time better.

Next, we should look at her extracurricular activities to evaluate the value of each of them for your daughter. I would look at each commitment and determine the following: (a) How much time does this commitment require of my daughter/family each week? (practice, games, travel time, etc.) (b) Is  my daughter enjoying this commitment enough to continue with it as she gets older? (c  How much stress does this activity levy on my daughter independent from other activities? Once you evaluate the worth of these commitments, you can start to prioritize your daughter’s “free time” that is actually not free at all. The reality is, the older that she gets, the more choices she will have to make regarding these commitments. The sooner she starts to understand the process of prioritizing and making choices, the easier it will be for her in high school and beyond.

Finally, if you determine that her academic workload and extracurricular commitments are appropriate, you can start a conversation with her teachers regarding said anxiety. They may or may not be seeing it in the classroom, but you won’t ever know until you have the conversation with the teachers themselves. Some parents choose to go straight to the administration regarding stress and anxiety in the classroom. But a good administrator should hopefully direct you right back to the teacher since only the teacher can speak to the child’s experiences in his/her classroom. Your teacher is your best ally in this scenario as most teachers really want the students to feel comfortable and stress-free. I appreciate the feedback from a parent that a child is experiencing stress. I always ask to speak to the child with the parents present so that we can communicate as a parent-student-teacher team. Sometimes I am unaware of the anxiety, and hearing from the parents is eye-opening and always ends up more positive than not.

In the end, your seventh grade daughter is still just a twelve-year-old little girl. She is just starting to understand the expectations of an interdisciplinary learning environment with multiple teachers, multiple expectation, and different protocol and systems in place. That alone is incredibly stressful. If she is as committed as you say, I worry that she may not be getting much personal time to process all of these changes that she’s experiencing. Remember to make time for your family and help her limit her commitments so she also has some downtime built in to her schedule. You will be setting her up for a lifetime of clear boundaries and self-awareness that she’ll continue to benefit from for a long time. 

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