Overcoming School Anxiety Blog
with Diane Peters Mayer, M.S.W., L.S.W.
Diane Peters Mayer Blog for Overcoming School Anxiety

School Anxiety and Disruptive Weather

 

Dear Readers,

 Living in the northeast I admit that winter is my least favorite season. It’s lovely to watch the first snowfall from the warmth and safety of my home, but after that if the weather pattern takes a turn like it has this winter I turn into a whiner—a big one. For many years I’ve thought that if I had a totem it would be a bear. Eat enough during the spring, summer and fall then when the temperature dips below 40, hibernate until the crocus crown the following spring.

 The cold, snow and ice have disrupted almost every aspect in daily living ( like trying to get to my car without breaking my neck on the ice) including frequent delays and closings for schools.  For many anxious children who I see in therapy these weekly changes in school routine have led to increased upset and agitation about going to school when it resumes. Because so much of anxiety is worry about the future, the “what ifs,” any change in their daily routine throws these kids a curve ball.

 Here are tips to help your anxious child adapt:

 

  1. Talk to your child about the possibility that storms are likely to disrupt school.
  2. Ask her how she feels about this.
  3. Calmly mention that when her routine changes she may feel increased tension about going to school the next day. If that has occurred in the past, you can bring it up without judging her by saying, “Hey, remember that happened before and though anxious, you did it.”
  4. With your child plan how to cope with her anxiety if this occurs. Problem-solving is taking action, the opposite of helplessness, a main feature of anxiety. Working with you on the problem will help your child know that she is not alone in this. Teaching your child to be pro-active also helps turn on rational thinking while turning off the distorted thinking characteristic of anxiety.
  5. Engage your child in learning about weather and weather prediction by reading books about it, watching TV and doing research with you on the computer. Learning and interest in something often lessens fears—who knows your child may be a budding meteorologist One word of caution, be careful about any disturbing images of storms, etc—as a parent of an anxious child you know that visual impact can jump start worry.

 

I look forward to comments and questions.

 

Warm regards,

Diane

 

ADHD--Reality or Myth?


Dear Readers,

Dr. Perri Klass begins his article, "Untangling the Myths About Attention Disorder"  (NYT, 12/14/10), with this paragraph, "As recently as 2002, an international group of leading neuroscientists found it necessary to publish a statement arguing passionately  that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder was a real condition." These research scientists, Klass says complained that ADHD was too often "portrayed in the media as a myth, fraud, or benign condition..." Klass cites leading researchers who state that the causes of attention disorders are more from genetics than our multi-tasking, distracted, technology minded culture.

Though I was never formally diagnosed with an attention disorder, over time I came to believe that my difficulty in staying on task, and the ease in which I can mentally scatter is more than boredom, anxiety or my learning disability, and has an organic cause.

Please follow the link below for the entire article, and send your comments.

I wish you all a happy, peaceful and safe holiday.

Warm regards,
Diane






Untangling the Myths About Attention Disorder - NYTimes.com
By PERRI KLASS, M.D.. Published: December 13, 2010 ... Even so, I've lately ...
www.nytimes.com/2010/12/14/health/14klass.html - Add to iGoogle

Get Your Child Outside

When I read Jane Brody’s article, Head Out for a Daily Dose of Green Space, (NYT, 11-30-10), it brought back a rush of memories of growing up in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, NY in the 1950’s. Though we lived in an urban landscape and had little money, my parents connected me to the natural world by utilizing the free resources the city had to offer.

Summers we walked, hiked, had picnics, caught tadpoles, learned about insects etc at Betsy Head, Prospect & Central Parks. The Brooklyn Botanical Garden was a wonderland for a little girl with its vast gardens and brooks and Coney Island & Brighton Beach were favorite haunts, along with the Canarsie pier where my father taught me how to fish. From Brownsville to Canarsie was about a 3 mile distance and we rode our bikes there, holding our fishing rods.

With no car, trains/subways were our main mode of transportation, and I remember that those trips felt like a wild adventure. We would pack up food and other supplies depending on where we were going and schlep four blocks to catch the el and might travel an hour or more to our destination.  In winter we traveled to libraries & museums. The Brooklyn Museum, The Museum of Natural History and the Hayden Planetarium, in Manhattan were top picks.

Those memories are some of the fondest of my childhood and a photo taken by my mother when I was about five years old shows my father kneeling down pointing to a ladybug on his hand as my brother and I look on, is one of my favorites. Fast forward many decades and in today’s culture our techno savvy children are spending more and more time indoors often to their detriment.

Brody’s article cites recent research showing that children who spend most of their time indoors will lead to what Richard Louv, author of “The Last Child in the Woods”, calls “nature-deficit disorder” (I’ve read it and highly recommend it). Today’s children aged 8 to 18 spend an average of seven and a half hours a day using electronic devices and not only have they become dangerously sedentary, but have lost their connection to the natural world.

Studies in the article show that the result of this life style place children at risk for the following physical and mental conditions and disorders: obesity and diseases linked to obesity such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, vitamin D deficiency, stress disorders and anxiety, depression, and ADD/ADHD. "Dr. Daphane Miller, a family physician…with the University of California…calls them “diseases of indoor living."

The emotional benefits derived from heading outdoors is as important to your child as the physical ones, and just the act of slowing down to hangout with your child outdoors with no formal plan is a wonderful time for family members to  connect. The National Wildlife Federation cites scientific research showing that children who spend more time outdoors in unstructured play are fitter and have less of a risk for diseases such as bone loss and heart problems, may have a reduction in ADHD symptoms, perform better academically and socially and are less likely to develop anxiety or mood disorders.

Health Benefits - National Wildlife Federation
Remember playing outside until mom called you in for dinner? Today’s kids probably won’t.

In the last two decades, childhood has moved indoors. The average American boy or girl spends just four to seven minutes in unstructured outdoor play each day, and more than seven hours each day in front of an electronic screen. Read the full article.

So, what can you do if your child wants to stay home most of the time and cuddle up to electronic toys? Get your child into the great outdoors, into your backyard and local parks. Introduce your child to local farms and ranches, visit national parks, hike in forests and go camping. Teach your child to fish in brooks, streams and rivers, spend time at the beach. Besides the physical and mental benefits of going outdoors, it’s important to teach children about preserving our beautiful, natural world. Make your time outdoors with your child fun and adventurous and eventually leaving behind his or her computer, Xbox, and cell phone may not be painful at all.

Oh, mom and dad, you have to turn off your cell too.

Warm regards,

Diane



Digitally Distracted Kids

Dear Readers,

While we're on the subject of the digital age another NYT article by Matt Richtel, titled "Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction", November, 21st, examines the difficulties today's educators face in trying to get children who often chose computer time over schoolwork, to do otherwise.

This is a problem I see over and over again, parents bringing in their children who are getting low grades, who seem not to care about school anymore because as many parents state, their child is "addicted" to computers. Article headings include: Growing Up With Gadgets, The Lure of Distraction, Clicking Toward a Future and Back to Reading Aloud. A sidebar headed, "Achieving a Healthful Digital Diet" offers tips for parents.

Please follow the link below to read the entire article.

Warm regards,
Diane


Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction - NYTimes.com
By MATT RICHTEL. Published: November 21, 2010 ... Jim Wilson/The New York ...
www.nytimes.com/2010/11/21/technology/21brain.html - Add to iGoogle

Cyberbullying - What's a Parent to Do?

Dear Readers,

I hope your Thanksgiving holiday was filled with love and peace. Mine was how I like it, spent with family and friends and low-key. This year I was asked to bring along only one dish to the party, my delectable non-dairy rice pudding, so besides fun the dinner was restful too.

This weekend I'm catching up on reading and looking for articles and subjects to share with you. The first one titled, "As Bullies Go Digital, Parents Play Catch-Up" by Jan Hoffman is from today's New York Times, so important for today's parents and children that it appeared on the front page of the paper.  Filled with the stories of parents whose children were bullied online, and those who found out to their dismay that their children were involved in bullying, these stories are both frightening and heartbreaking. Headings include: Parental Fears, The Bully Next Door, Contacting the Other Parent, When the Bully is Your Child, and Supervisor or Spy, this article is an important read for parents, educators, therapists, and anyone involved in the welfare of our children.

Follow the link below for the entire article.

Warm regards,
Diane



Parents Struggle With Cyberbullying - NYTimes.com
Dec 4, 2010 ... As Bullies Go Digital, Parents Play Catch-Up. By JAN HOFFMAN .... A version of this article appeared in print on December 5, 2010, on page A1 of the New ... Click here to get 50% off Home Delivery of The New York Times. ...
www.nytimes.com/2010/12/05/us/05bully.html - Add to iGoogle

Interview with Susan Mulcaire

Dear Readers,

Please welcome Susan Mulcaire, the author of The Middle School Student's Guide to Ruling the World! a great resource for students to use alone or with help from parents. With humor and a spot on feel for how to engage students, Susan lays out how to become an organized student in a step-by-step easy to follow guide and tells why being organized is important for academic success. Links at the end of Susan's interview will take you to her site.

Thank you Susan for giving readers another tool in overcoming school stress and anxiety.

Warm regards,

Diane


Can you give my readers a synopsis of your book?
The Middle School Student's Guide to Ruling the World! is a work habits, time management and organizational skills workbook for students in grades 6-8. Text, comics and graphics tell the stories of five "chronically disorganized" middle school students who find themselves in humorous, but typical situations as a result of their poor work habits, time management and organizational skills. The reader follows along with the characters, to learn practical skills and strategies to be an organized middle school student.

What prompted the writing of your book?
My son wasn't doing well in 6th grade. There was no issue with his ability to learn. He was a GATE student. But, he was forgetting his homework, losing worksheets, not following directions, doing the wrong homework page, etc. I was tired of nagging him about it. One day, in the middle of my usual meltdown over his grades, the look on his face told me that he wasn't being lazy, irresponsible or intentional — he just had no idea how to get organized. It also occurred to me that if he didn't learn how to organize, he could possibly underachieve for the rest of his academic life.

What did you do to help him?
I began looking for resources right away. I was so worried. I searched and searched but found no age-appropriate resources dealing strictly with work habits, time management and organizational skills. At that time, I was still practicing law, and it turned out that practicing law and going to middle school are remarkably similar pursuits. So, I took a swing at adapting legal case management principles to his sixth grade workload and it worked! I ended up putting the program into a fun, and age-appropriate, workbook format.

How is being a middle school student like being a lawyer?
In both occupations there's so much information and paperwork to manage. Like attorneys, students have due dates, deadlines and directions which must be followed — to the letter. Binders must be organized a certain way, both need a reliable calendaring system, and project/case planning skills. A lawyer's work is reviewed a judge. A middle school student also faces a judge: The teacher!

Do you address study skills too?
The book deals strictly with work habits, time management and organizational skills. Often these skills are lumped in with "study skills," usually as an afterthought. I believe they are equally as important, but should be taught separately, and independent of classic study skills, such as outlining, memorization and test taking skills. I see far more students in the middle years underachieve as a result of poor organizational skills - not because they can't outline a chapter.

What are some of the skills and strategies students will find in the guide?
Often well-meaning teachers or parents give a student a planner and think if the student would just use it, he or she will be organized. (I call it "The Magical Planner Syndrome") Yes, a planner is important. But a good organizational skills program must be comprehensive. I address binder organization, planner/calendars, group project management, study buds, taking "to do" notes (for due dates, deadlines and directions), how to use a rubric, self-advocacy skills, memory techniques (to remember your stuff every day), long term project planning, workspace organization, homework habits, goal setting, and more.

What are some of the benefits of your program?
Many students transitioning into middle school have little confidence in their ability to handle the increased workload and responsibilities. This program helps them get some sense of control over the process and their abilities. It takes away some of the anxiety they feel about starting middle school. Also, it is particularly frustrating for a parent to have a child who, but for their organizational skills, would be doing well in school. It cause a lot of tension at home! The program diffuses that tension. Instead of just guessing at a solution, or fighting over the problem, both parent and student have strategies to follow and incorporate into the student's daily academic life.

Boys or girls? Who struggles more with organizational skills?
My observation is that boys seem to struggle more from poor organizational skills than girls. Girls can struggle too — when I teach this class (I am also a teacher) there are always a few girls enrolled. But, the boys usually outnumber the girls by 3:1. I am a mother of boys, and I know that boys are not, by nature, list makers, and will not spend a lot of time fussing over organizational matters or small details. When I developed this program I geared it toward boys who need simple "on the fly" skills and strategies. If they have to make lists, color-coordinate, or label things, they simply will not do it. I designed the program to be easy to follow, and the skills easy to incorporate.

Home or School? Who is responsible for teaching work habits, time management and organizational skills?
I am a huge proponent of teaching study skills in middle school as part of a college readiness program. Organizational skills fit neatly under the umbrella of study skills. In a perfect world, a student would learn work habits, time management and organizational skills in 6th/7th, then traditional study skills in late 7th/8th grade. I believe our students would be better prepared for the demands of high school and, ultimately, college. In the meantime, if your school isn't teaching organizationals skills I recommend teaching them at home. The skills they learn will apply in middle school right on up through college.

Has this project been fuel for other projects?
Yes. I created an Instructor's Guide with sixteen lesson plans and activities for teaching a work habits, time management and organizational skills program in the classroom, so the program has evolved into a full curriculum. We also recorded supplemental audio podcasts that bring the characters and the lessons to life. I'm currently working on a book called Welcome to the University of Middle School! Lessons & Activities for Creating a College Bound Culture in Grades 6-8.

What has been the most rewarding part of the creation process?
It's often a lack of organizational skills that trip up a middle school student. Two major reports recently confirmed that failure at the middle level can have lasting and some times irreversible consequences, and that organizational skills are essential for academic success. It's rewarding to have written a book that can help address some of these issues. The curriculum has sold all over the U.S. and even overseas. The books were recently added to the recommended book lists for the Dallas Independent School District and that acknowledgment was rewarding.

Contact Susan Mulcaire at mulcaire@adelphia.net, www.middleschoolguide.com, info@middleschoolguide.com, or 949-723-5131.

 

Toddlers Can Judge Other Peoples' Intent


Dear Readers,


In today's New York Times Science Times section there is a short article about a fascinating study that appears in the journal Child Development. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute in Germany found that  children as young as 3 years old have an understanding of  " another's  intent...an important skill" needed for social development. Experts originally believed that children became conscious of other people's intentions "a very sophisticated ability"  between 5 and 6 years of age—this study seems to proves otherwise.

Please follow the link below to read the entire article that includes a link to the journal Child Development.


Toddlers Judge Good and Bad Intent, Study Says - Observatory ...
Nov 16, 2010 ... Ability Seen in Toddlers to Judge Others' Intent. Chris Gash ... Get Science News From The New York Times » ... A version of this article appeared in print on November 16, 2010, on page D3 of the New York edition. ...
www.nytimes.com/2010/11/16/science/16obchildren.html -

Warm regards,
Diane

Pushing Children to Find Their Passion


Dear Readers,

Karen Brewer's article in today's New York Times Complaint Box,  "When Early Ambition Squelches Childhood," is an interesting and humorous read. I've worked with many stressed-out  kids in my therapy practice, many of whom complain that they have no time to play, just hang out, or spend time with family because all week long it's Go! Go! Go! in activities that seem more like professional pursuits than fun time for school children. Some children know early on what they want to be and pursue that dream from childhood, but most don't and it's those children, including her own, that are Brewer's target audience.

Karen Brewer has had it with pushing children and she begins with these words, "I'd like to get my hands on the guy who coined the phrase "Find your passion." And ends with, "Has anyone stopped to consider what a pity it is for children to have identified and selected a passion by the time they are 16? Just what are they supposed to do with the next 70 years of life?"


Follow the link below for the entire article, and please send along your comments.

Complaint Box: Passion Pushers - NYTimes.com
Parents put too much emphasis on finding a child's talent, even if it does ...
cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/.../complaint-box-passion-pushers/ - sNXVO4fo9wJ:cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/11/12/complaint-box-passion-pushers/+nyt+article+by+karen+brewer+when+early+ambition+squelches+childhood&cd=2&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us&client=firefox-a">Cached

Warm regards,
Diane

Overcoming School Anxiety--It's a Marathon, Not a Sprint!

Dear Readers,

This past Sunday I was in NYC cheering on my son-in-law, Patrick, who ran the marathon, his first. It's a grueling four borough (Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx & Manhattan) 26.2 mile race. We saw Patrick at the half-way point at the Pulaski Bridge where he was pumped, smiling and cruising, then hours later watched as he ran the last 200 yards to the finish line, obviously struggling in pain.

The hours spent watching the marathon turned into one of the most inspirational experiences I've had. First to begin were the wheelchair racers, racing despite being chair-bound, then the elite runners passed, then everyone else who wanted the challenge that included: people who had legs amputated ran on "racing blades," seniors jogged along, groups ran to raise money for charities, blind runners had running guides, and the list goes on.

I witnessed some of Patrick's training, how he pushed himself to extend the length of his runs week after week. And the weekend before the race he became ill with flu-like symptoms, but took meds, and drank gallons of fluids to cure himself by Sunday the 7th, but swore he would run no matter how he was feeling. At mile 20, Patrick said after the race, he began experiencing leg cramps. All he could do was walk out for a minute or two, then continue running. But in the end he had to endure, so he put his head down and instead of thinking about the 6.2 miles ahead of him, step-by-step he continued to the end.

Today, as I began to process what being at the marathon meant to me, I thought that for children who are trying to overcome anxiety there are similar features to running 26.2 miles. It takes determination to overcome anxiety. It is challenging to face fears, to go out the door every morning while contending with symptoms of anxiety that are disturbing and scary. It takes courage to continue training mind and body to stop jump-starting the fight or flight when the school experience feels filled with dread. It takes perseverance for a child to go on when a roadblock or pitfall stand in the way.

I think one of the most difficult aspects of overcoming anxiety is accepting that it will take time to feel free. Adults who are anxious struggle with this concept. Children have an even harder time with acceptance because trying to cope with daily anxiety leads to feelings of helplessness, frightening to a child.

Combating anxiety is no sprint. It is a marathon, and children have to learn how to pace themselves, to let time pass—in the moment of the anxious situation as well as the long run. It is the step-by-step, mile-by-mile small goals and achievements that help children eventually cross the finish line.

Please send comments and questions.

Warm regards,
Diane

Bullying: Child on Child Harassment Must Stop! And It Will Take a Community to Change Things

It’s only a little over two months since school began and already I’m seeing children who are being bullied in school, or having school-aged clients talk about seeing others being bullied in their schools and fearing that might be them someday. In either case, these children are tense and anxious about going to school. Whether a child is a target of a bully or not, bullying creates the same kind of toxic atmosphere that second and third-hand smoke does. Though I have helped many children who were bullied in my practice and devoted an entire chapter to the subject in my book, I along with other mental health professionals and educators understand that preventing bullying will take more than a village.

In a New York Times, October 25, 2010 article by Sam Dillon, titled, "Help Stop Bullying, U.S. Tells Educators," Russlynn H. Ali, assistant secretary for civil rights states, "Folks need to wake up,…We have a crisis in our schools in which bullying and harassment seems to be a rite of passage, and it doesn’t need to be that way." Ms. Ali continues …"Harassment creates a hostile environment…so as to interfere with or limit a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from the services, activities, or opportunities offered by a school."

And bullying can begin early. In her New York Times article on October 8, 2010, titled, "The Playground Gets Even Tougher," Pamela Paul begins with a case of bullying in kindergarten. Michelle Anthony, a psychologist and author of "Little Girls Can Be Mean," who is cited in the article states, "Girls absolutely exclude one another in kindergarten…You don’t expect to run into…meanness in a 7-year-old." Paul cites these statistics: "According to a Harris survey of 1, 144 parents nationwide, 67 percent of parents of 3-to-7 year olds worry that their children will be bullied. Research indicates that their concerns are justified."

Susan Engel and Marlene Sandstrom in their July 22, 2010, New York Times article titled, "There’s Only One Way to Stop a Bully" write, "…our research on child development makes it clear that there is only one way to truly combat bullying. As an essential part of the school curriculum, we have to teach children how to be good to one another, how to cooperate, how to defend someone who is being picked on and how to stand up for what is right."

Please follow links in the article names to read them, along with another one by Riva Richmond titled, "Some Ways to Thwart an Online Bully."

Readers please use this blog as a forum to comment on your child’s school anti-bullying campaign or send along experiences, comments and questions.

Warm regards,
Diane

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