Helping Your Child Deal with Anxiety

anxiety-1337383_960_720-2Every parent has dealt with a child who is anxious about something, be it the first day of school, a piano recital, or meeting the new kid next door. Anxiety is certainly a part of every person’s life from time to time, but anxiety that is too strong or that happens a lot can become overwhelming and prevent a child from being able to function.

More Common Than You Think

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 18.1% of adults have suffered from anxiety in the past year, and 22.8% of those adults (4.1% overall) have suffered from severe anxiety, and the average age for the onset of anxiety was 11 years old. For children, the numbers are higher, with 31.9% having anxiety disorders and 8.3% of them with severe anxiety. Anxiety is the most common form of childhood mental illness.

Among the most common forms of anxiety (with links to information on each from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America) are:

Two Questions to Ask Yourself

Researchers studying kindergartners found that two questions parents can ask themselves about their young child that can indicate that a child may develop an anxiety disorder in the future. Those questions are:

  • Is your child more shy or anxious than other children their age?
  • Is your child more worried than other children their age?

The researchers found that parents are often tuned in to their child’s behavior, but are not able to specifically identify what the issue is. Also note that these questions target persistent behavior over time and not passing anxieties that are a part of growing up.

Knowing the Signs and Symptoms

As stated earlier, every child and adult experiences anxiety from time to time. Most, even those who live through traumatic events, don’t develop anxiety disorders. For those that do, the signs include:

  • Excessive worry most days of the week for weeks on end
  • Trouble sleeping at night or sleepiness during the day
  • Restlessness or fatigue during waking hours
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Complaining of stomach aches
  • Withdrawal from social activities

What You Can Do for Your Anxious Child

It is difficult to watch your child struggle and suffer, but attempting to anticipate your child’s fears and to try to protect them from those fears can actually exacerbate a child’s anxiety. The advice to families of children suffering from anxiety is to help them learn to deal with anxiety, not to avoid it.

The Child Mind Institute has a list of ten things to do and not do when dealing with an anxious child. PsychCentral has a list of nine things for families of anxious children to try. The two lists parallel each other, and key points include:

  • Don’t avoid things just because they make your child anxious.
  • Stop reassuring your child.
  • Respect feelings, but don’t empower them.
  • Don’t ask leading questions.
  • Teach your child to be a thought detective.
  • Allow your child to worry.
  • Try to model healthy ways of handling anxiety.

Be sure to check out both lists for more information on these and other suggestions. Don’t forget to mention anxiety issues when talking with your child’s pediatrician. Anxiety is a treatable mental disorder, but far too many children and adults do not get treatment.

Printable List Provides Over 500 Accommodations for an IEP or 504 Plan

iep-word-cloudNavigating the process of getting your child an Individualized Education Program (IEP) can be a confusing process for families. Illinois does provide a guide for families, and Illinois PTA has covered the 10 common mistakes parents make during the IEP process. The special education parent blog, A Day in Our Shoes, has a wonderful resource available for families—a printable list of over 500 Specially Designed Instruction (SDIs), strategies, and accommodations for an IEP or 504 plan.

Families new to the IEP process may have no idea of what accommodations may be made for their child. This list helps those families know what is potentially available for their child and can be used as discussion topics during the IEP meeting. Even experienced IEP families may find new ideas in the list that will better serve their child.

The list is broken down into types of accommodations, including ones that address:

  • Schedule/environmental issues
  • Transitions
  • Tools and equipment
  • Language-related issues
  • People- and peer-based issues
  • Sensory issues
  • Behavior issues
  • Testing and assignments
  • Miscellaneous issues

In addition to their own printable list, A Day in Our Shoes added links to other accommodation-related resources from:

If your family is headed into an IEP or 504 meeting, be sure to review and take the printable list with you to your meeting.

Help ADHD Students Concentrate by Letting Them Fidget

adhd-attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorderAccording to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 11% of children ages 4 to 17 have been diagnosed with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) as of 2011, and rates of diagnosis have increased an average of 5% per year from 2003 to 2011. Many of these students have 504 Plan or Individualized Education Plan (IEP) to accommodate their diagnosis in the classroom.

Recent research indicates that ADHD students concentrate better when they are allowed to fidget at their desk. This can potentially become a distraction for the rest of the class, but Edutopia has used suggestions from teachers, parents, and students to compile a list of 17 ways students can be allowed to quietly fidget. These suggestions could be included in a child’s accommodations plan. The list includes:

  • Squeeze Balls
  • Silly Putty
  • Velcro
  • Doodling
  • Chair Leg Bands
  • Standing Desks
  • Stability Balls/Yoga Balls

If you have a student with ADHD, be sure to check out the complete list and share it with your child’s teacher and intervention team to find a suitable way for them to fidget.

On My Way to Parent-Teacher Conferences: Recalculating

GPS RecalculatingParent-Teacher conferences are coming up for many schools. Judy Hutchinson is a Family Consumer Specialist with the Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS), Division of Mental Health (DMH) Child & Adolescent Services who has been a guest blogger for One Voice Illinois before. Today she shares a personal tale about the importance of parents and teachers communicating effectively for the benefit of their students.

Several years ago my husband and I headed off for a weekend in Nashville. My husband’s work day began very early, so by Friday night, he was willing to hunker down in the passenger seat and let me drive. “I’ll get you there,” I assured him as he stretched his legs and yawned.

“There” is the operational word in my assurance to him. I knew we were headed for Nashville, and we had been there before. I certainly didn’t need the GPS. The problem was even though I knew we were headed for Nashville, my mind’s eye envisioned Louisville. The trip was relaxing with me musing and my husband dozing until we approached the Ohio River and were greeted with, “Welcome to Floyds Knobs.” My musings went to “Ugh!” because I know Floyds Knobs announces the outskirts of Louisville. My dozing husband roused with suspicion. “What’s wrong now?” he asked. (Full disclosure: This isn’t my first rodeo fiasco.)

“Don’t worry,” I assured him. “I’ll get us there, but while I know we’re really going to Nashville, I’ve driven to Louisville.” I could tell you he was surprised, but he really wasn’t. Nashville and Louisville are both great weekend getaway spots; however, you can’t see where Louisville Slugger baseball bats are made in Nashville, and you can’t attend the Grand Ole Opry in Louisville.

It all worked out in the long run. Three hours and few calculated recalculations later, we were in Nashville. Funny, but the memory of this travel faux pas resurfaced during recent Parent-Teacher conferences. We’re raising my grandson who has a hearing impairment and ADHD. His study habits are still developing. It is sometimes difficult to know if he didn’t hear the assignment accurately, didn’t organize it and hand it in properly, or simply chose not to do it. Do I hear an “Amen” from the parents of students with ADHD?

This particular assignment was for students to research a topic, write an outline, PowerPoint slides, and an interactive activity. Once the teacher approved these elements, the student would make the presentation to the class. Every day after school, I asked, “Have you received feedback on your presentation?” Everyday my grandson shook his head, “No.” Then it was Floyds Knobs all over again. I asked the question, but he answered, “They’re all done.”

“They’re all done?”

 

“Yes,” he said. “We’re moving on. He never called on me.”

 

“Did you raise your hand to let him know you hadn’t presented?” I asked.

 

“Nope,” my grandson answered. “It’s too late.”

 

I took a couple of days to consider my appropriate level of involvement. This gave me enough time to make a few assumptions as to why my grandson wasn’t called on to present. “He’s being kind,” I thought. “The teacher knows how anxious my grandson must have been to present in front of the class when he knows his hearing impairment also affects his speech.” That wasn’t it. I addressed my concerns in an e-mail to the teacher, and watched my Inbox for the response. It came quickly.

“He didn’t pay attention to the other students,” the teacher told me. “I asked if there were any other presentations, and he didn’t even respond because he wasn’t paying attention then either.”

The experience left me less-than-eager for the upcoming Parent-Teacher conference, but I mustered a smile, threw out my hand, and introduced myself. He shook my hand and answered, “He has a B.” My introduction and his response didn’t seem to match. Once again, I had headed out for Nashville, but navigated to Louisville. You see, the teacher thought all along that my priority was the letter grade. Why would I ask questions if my student was working at B level?

My priority at the first of the year was building success quickly. There had been times when the grades were very important to me; not because I’m focused on grades, but because I knew my grandson needed to experience success as a payoff for the hard work we were expecting from him. Once he had a taste of success, I could use that confidence and competence to develop effective study habits. If we weren’t constantly at risk of failing the class, I could allow him to begin to take the reins and even experience an occasional character-building failure.

The teacher didn’t know this. He didn’t know how close my grandson had come to giving up and checking out on life in general. He didn’t know the personal struggles we were experiencing as a family. He didn’t know the steps we had taken to help our grandson create a system where he could track assignments and complete them in a least restrictive environment. Teachers don’t know these things unless parents tell them.

I did tell the teacher. I told him we were now building a work ethic in our grandson. I told him it was important that he complete the assignments as independently as possible, but sometimes he would need support. He told me the presentation could still be given—to another teacher in a resource room. He told me what he would tolerate in the way of behaviors, and I told him my husband and I would work with him to meet those expectations. I told him this is a process, and we wouldn’t always get it right. He told me he would send an e-mail from time to time to keep us informed of progress.

Life is messy. It’s uncomfortable to admit that we don’t have it all together. Every once in a while, we lose our way. We start out with good intentions, but stop short of our destination. We make one goal our destination, yet when we reach it, we fail to communicate the next destination. If we as parents can’t admit that sometimes we aim for Nashville, but drive to Louisville, how can we expect our students to raise their hands and say, “Hey, I need help!” Let’s admit it: from time to time, we all do.