One of the reasons I have seen students excel in a homeschool setting is related to the anxiety that they had developed in a public school classroom. You might even suspect that your homeschooled child is suffering from anxiety. This article will not diagnose, or reccomend medication for anxiety. There is certainly a time and place for that, but sometimes anxiety can stem from the environment. By restoring students to a place of confidence and peace, we can transform their schooling into a successful and enjoyable (not to mention more effective) experience.
Anxiety can manifest itself in many different ways, and look different in each student. But for some children the stress of leaving their parents, taking tests, meeting new kids, being away from home, and many more things is enough to cause anxiety and effectively interfere with learning. If you would like more information on identifying anxiety in your child, this article from the Child Mind Institute is an excellent resource.
It’s important that you identify the source of anxiety in your child. Without knowing the source, it is difficult to make the right plan of action. Also, avoiding all stressors or triggers is not the way that anxiety is treated properly. We want to sensitively help the child overcome the anxiety.
Here are some practical things to do to help create a peaceful and safe learning environment for your child.
Avoid using praise when your student performs well. This is an extrinsic motivator that can contribute to performance-related anxiety. Praise, such as “I am so proud of you!” or “You’re so smart” create labels that the student will strive to maintain, and may be worried about losing if they don’t preform to your liking. This can create an extrinsic motivation that drives the student to perform for your sake, rather than to work for his own satisfaction and to the best of his abilities. Use encouraging phrases instead; be their cheerleader. “I see you put a lot of time and effort into this project.” “You must be so proud!” “You worked hard to solve that problem!”
Along with using encouraging phrases, focus on the process instead of the end result. As I stated in my article about praise vs. encouragement, not every student is an “A+” student. For some, receiving a “B” in math is a huge accomplishment or improvement. If the student is putting in the time and effort to be successful, acknowledge and encourage this work. If the student is stuck on an assignment, don’t rush in to save them. This is part of facing the anxiety and over-coming it with the right set of skills. Empower your student to be a problem-solver. Ask open ended-questions, provide additional resources, and be a sounding board for them. It is important to make sure that they have the right set of academic skills to complete the assignment. It could be that they aren’t ready for that level of reading, or that long of an essay and the anxiety is stemming from an inability to do the work. We want to set our students up for success. We want them willing to take a risk, and even “fail,” knowing that they are safe to do so, and will have learned much in the process (which is the whole point of school!).
Accommodating learning styles and student interests will help your child feel accepted as they are. We want our children comfortable in their own skin. This validation of who they are will build confidence, and confidence aids the learning process.
Yoga, exercise, fresh air, music, and art are all great stress relievers, and one or more of these should be incorporated into your day. It is important that you begin to identify when you see your child beginning to shut down or get anxious. This is when it is time for a break (my students and I call them “mental health breaks”) and/or a change of activity. It is best when you can help your child identify when they feel this mental shift happening. Like I said, we don’t want to run from all stressors, but we want to actively support the student during the process. The more self-aware they become, the more independent they can become in helping themselves.
The learning environment can contribute to anxiety in ways you may not realize. A room with too much noise and activity can set some students on edge. For others, if the lights are too bright, or the room is too dark, etc. Let your student select their ideal location for various school activities and observe their choices. Let that information tell you how you can create a space for them that supports their learning process.
The last bit of advice that I have is to not lower expectations or standards. Sometimes accommodations need to be made, but we still want to hold them to a high standard for work and behavior. This standard shows them that they aren’t broken, they can accomplish just as much as anyone else.
Anxiety is a great reason to homeschool your child. You have freedom to create an environment that meets your child’s specific needs. Anxiety doesn’t have to defeat you or your student. You can do this, you can over-come school-related anxiety together!