What To Do When You're The Parent Of An Anxious Student

by Clint Edwards
anxious student
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I was in my 7-year-old daughter’s room attempting to help her with her homework. I say “attempting,” because it wasn’t going too well. It never really does. When something doesn’t come easily, when she becomes the slightest bit confused, and anytime she has to put a little grit into a math problem or really struggle to sound out a word, she get’s frustrated and shuts down.

We were working on a math page — basic stuff like number lines, rounding to the nearest 10, and that sort of thing. Twice she’d clinched her fist and pounded the worksheet, then stomped into the corner of the room, sat down, and placed her head on her knees. She says things like, “You are making it harder,” when I try to explain what to do, or “I just can’t do it!” She calls it stupid and frustrating. And all of it boils down to the fact that she’s an anxious student.

She always has been. She get’s anxious whenever she has to do homework, and I’m not sure exactly why that is. Her older brother has his own struggles, but it’s more about being a lazy student. He procrastinates. He cuts corners. But he never get’s frustrated. He never goes into a rage. He never tells us how irritating we are for this or that, or throws things, or pounds his fist on the page like Norah does. He never runs into a room and shuts down for a while.

But I suppose this is raising children. Even though both our children came from the same parents and they look a lot alike, they are very, very, different people. And with each child, there are different challenges. The biggest one we have right now is my daughter and schooling.

We were working on a problem about dimes and pennies. I’d just had to coax her out of the corner to try again. We got out some candy coins that were in the pantry and turned it into an object lesson. We do a lot of those. Candy helps, no doubt about it.

The hardest part about all of this is sticking it out with her. Every time she get’s frustrated over a problem that seems so simple to me, I want to scream. I want her to just sit down and work through it. I want her to let me help her, but that really is the challenge with an anxious student. I think to Norah, getting help from someone feels like failure. I think she feels like she should be able to do it on her own, but sometimes she can’t.

And sometimes with an anxious student, that’s how you get them out of the corner. You tell them that it’s okay to get help. You tell them that you want to help and that you care. But this can be frustrating, because sometimes, after a long day of work or parenting, you just want to scream. You just want it to be done so you can move on to having dinner, and then bath time, and let the day come to an end.

But what I’ve learned is that screaming and frustration never works. A parent’s frustration only increases the child’s frustration, and then they shut down even more. They curl their face deeper into their knees. They cry harder. They dig their heels in deeper.

And I know there’s a lot of talk right now concerning the lack of impact homework has on elementary school children, but as the parent of an anxious child, I’m happy that she has it. I know that she has the same struggles at school as she does at home when learning, and as frustrating as it is to help my daughter with homework, I feel at least I have a hand in helping her gain the coping skills she needs to be successful when studying in the classroom.

I know exactly how frustrating it can be to help my daughter learn, and while I think all the teachers she’s had while in elementary school have been fabulous, I honestly doubt they are going to try as hard as I will. And whatever I learn about how to help her, I make sure her teacher knows, too — because honestly, it takes a village to raise a child, and any way to make a teacher’s job easier so your child can learn is priceless.

I try to keep things upbeat. I try to make them exciting. I encourage her. I let her know that regardless of how frustrating learning can be, I’m at her side. I will help her get through it. I will support her because I am her father, and that’s what fathers do. They love and care for their children, even when they pound the page and even when they yell and scream and don’t want to press on. And that’s the most critical part of helping an anxious student: support. They need to feel that you support them, regardless.

It took us almost an hour to get through the worksheet. It seemed like something that should have taken half that time, but we got it done. Then Norah, like she often does when her homework is finished, let out a huge sigh of relief, like she’d just run a very long and difficult race. Then she gave me a hug and called me a good daddy.

She usually gives me a hug. While trying to help her, I get frustrated several times. And although sometimes it feels like parenting is thankless, there’s something about that simple gesture from her, a warm hug that makes all of it feel like I am doing the right thing. And with parenting, that can be an amazing feeling.