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Dr. Carey Heller is a licensed psychologist and founding partner with The Heller Psychology Group LLC, which is a small private practice located in Bethesda, Maryland near Montgomery Mall. He specializes in working with children, adolescents, and their families. Dr. Heller conducts play, individual, and family psychotherapy for a variety... Read more

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Reducing School Related Anxiety

Psychologist with The Heller Psychology Group in Bethesda, Maryland

Psychologist with The Heller Psychology Group in Bethesda, Maryland

Children and teens often develop anxiety about different aspects of school, especially about not getting good enough grades. Some individuals develop this anxiety from putting significant pressure on themselves and worrying how not doing well will affect them with getting into college and beyond. Others develop anxiety as the result of perceived or actual pressure placed on them by their parents. Related to this, some children and teens have difficulty tolerating the perceived or actual disappointment their parents experience when they do not do well. Furthermore, many children and teens became anxious as the result of pressure they feel in comparing themselves to their peers, especially in high school if schools rank students based on GPA. Finally, the expectation of many parents for their teens to take several honors, AP, and other high level courses can result in a workload that is not always realistic for certain individuals.

Here are a few items to think about:

  • Think about your own expectations for your child or teen. Are you going to be disappointed or angry if they don’t get an A? Will it make a big difference if they’ve tried their hardest?
  • How do you convey your feelings about academic performance to your child or teen? In your opinion is there actual disappointment conveyed or is it perceived?
  • How do you define your child or teen trying their hardest in school? i.e., studying for X number of hours, doing all of their homework, etc.
  • Are you pushing your child or teen to take honors, AP, or other advanced courses when they struggle significantly in standard level ones?

In order to reduce the anxiety, knowing the cause, whether internal, external, or both, is crucial. Here are a few suggestions for reducing anxiety:

  • Provide clear expectations for your child or teen as to what grades and level of effort you expect from them. Make these concrete when possible (i.e., will use three different kinds of study tools and devote at least two hours to studying).
  • If a child or teen does not do well, rather than focus primarily on being disappointed or angry, especially if the child or teen already feels the same way themselves, focus on ways to improve performance in the future. For motivated children and teens, have them keep a log of test grades, where they made mistakes, and what they can do to improve next time.
  • For children and teens who are especially anxious, if it is negatively impacting their academic performance, consider less direct oversight with their schoolwork (and if needed obtain professional assistance with this, which is likely to produce less anxiety).
  • Online portals such as Ed Line, Whipple Hill, and Haiku can be very helpful, but for some individuals can be confusing to use to conceptualize their assignments. In addition, the ability to constantly check grades can produce anxiety in both parents and children/teens.
  • When feasible, help children and teens to put bad grades into perspective and realistically evaluate how much impact long-term it will really have on them.
  • Make sure your child/teen is involved in activities that they enjoy and realistically have sufficient time to complete schoolwork.

I hope that these ideas and tools are useful in helping you to prevent your children/teens from experiencing significant anxiety related to school.

Copyright 2016 Carey A. Heller, Psy.D.

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*Disclaimer: The previous information is intended as general guidance based on my professional opinion, does not constitute an established professional relationship,  and should not replace the recommendations of a psychologist or other licensed professional with whom you initiate or maintain a professional relationship*

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Carey Heller, Psy.D.

About Carey Heller, Psy.D.

Dr. Carey Heller is the author of the blog Practical Parenting Strategies. He is a licensed psychologist with The Heller Psychology Group LLC in Bethesda, Maryland. Dr. Heller specializes in the evaluation and treatment of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), executive function challenges, learning disabilities, and co-occurring issues such as anxiety. With treatment, he often blends traditional psychotherapy with practical coaching to help individuals improve time management, organizational, and related study skills as relevant.


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