One of the first steps we can take to understand anxiety in children is to realize that we cannot always take it away. There will be days where all the comforting words in the world won’t help. Days where your child will feel scared alone and worried and nothing will help ease the emotional pain. Fear is a part of our genetic make-up. Fear helps us to survive and it pushes us to excel since we are afraid of failure. We are afraid to be seen by others as a failure. We push ourselves to succeed and not fail. This is normal.
How do we know when the fear of failure has become too much? There is no easy answer to this question as fear is a normal emotional state. We can identify some behavioral signs that may indicate an underlying fear of failure or Test Anxiety that is unhealthy. Extreme thoughts and behaviors help psychologists identify anxiety.
- How much concern does your child express over their grades and school work? Has it become an obsession?
It is important to spend time preparing for tests and projects. However, statements like, “My life will be over if I don’t get a 100 or an A” or “If I fail I will die” or “I must get into a certain school or its over for me” are catastrophic statements. Catastrophic statements regarding school may signal an unhealthy fear of failure. It is also important to look at frequency. How often does your child make statements about life ending or the world ending if they fail?
- Does your child have a meltdown or a tantrum after they receive anything less than what they expected? Do they yell, scream become moody and hateful toward the teacher when they don’t achieve a perfect grade?
- Test Anxiety. Does your child have high anxiety before or during an exam? During times of severe anxiety and right before a test some children may feel like they can’t breathe. Some may feel like they are choking or nauseous. Some children complain of belly aches or headaches right before or during an exam. The anxiety may become so high for some children that they blank out before an exam.
- How much relaxation does your child have daily?
Fun is the best part of being a child or teen. Being able to spend time with friends and engage in a hobby is key. A hobby can be anything like gardening, rock collecting, drawing, yoga, aquarium care-taking, pet care-taking/walking etc. Relaxation is key. Relaxation disconnects them from worries and allows them to be in their natural state. The more time we spend in our natural state the more relaxed we are. Relaxation practice also buffers children from anxiety and it teaches them to partake in pro-social activities. Fun should be a daily part of their experience. Relaxation should be a part of their daily experience.
If you notice the above signs in your child or teen they may need to see a licensed psychologist. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) helps children and teens to identify these unhealthy and catastrophic statements and behaviors. In CBT children learn healthier ways of viewing failure and success. CBT teaches children/teens behavioral techniques that may help reduce test anxiety.