On homeschooling an anxious child ~
Written by Shawna Wingert of Not the Former Things
When I was in the sixth grade, I ran for student council president.
One of the requirements was getting up on stage, in front of the entire school, and giving a speech about why you should be elected.
I bombed. For reals.
I couldn’t remember the lines I had prepared. I stuttered and started sweating. I ran off the stage as fast as I could and burst into tears.
It was pretty awful.
But what I remember most about that day is what happened next. I went back to class.
I remember trying to take a math test and the page seemingly swimming before me. I remember not being able to focus on verbal directions and wondering what was wrong with me. I remember my anxiety increasing, not decreasing as the day went on.
I didn’t learn a thing that day at school.
My eleven-year-old son struggles with anxiety more intense than I ever experienced at his age.
While my difficult afternoon in sixth grade ended, and school returned to normal by the next day, my son feels that same anxiety all the time. Moreover, he is struggling to learn with that same level of anxiety every day.
One of the reasons we homeschool is to accommodate his learning needs. But the truth is, I often struggle with my own worries when I consider how best to approach his education.
He can’t just do nothing.
He’s already behind. If I don’t make him do the reading lesson, he will never learn.
I know he has anxiety, but at some point, we have to just do school – right?
Because of my own fears, I often find myself recreating that same afternoon I experienced at eleven years old, for my son.
I know you feel anxious, but we need to get this done.
Try to focus.
This is just how school works.
I find the outcome is always the same.
He struggles, gets frustrated, makes little to no progress and feels defeated.
I struggle, get frustrated, see little to no progress and feel defeated.
And he retains nothing.
On Homeschooling an Anxious Child
I am finding that the best way to help my son consistently learn, is to acknowledge his anxiety and build education plans around it.
Here’s what has helped us, as my son’s anxiety has become more chronic and intense:
Change to a favorite topic
If I notice that my son is becoming anxious, I quickly wrap up whatever we are working on and then switch to a topic and/or subject I know he loves.
For example, last week, no matter how hands-on and fun I tried to make his reading lesson, he was clearly becoming more and more anxious. Instead of pushing him to finish, I put the word lists away and instead turned on the latest from Around The World Stories.
He visibly relaxed and began to engage again in learning. He even read the resources associated with the story without me asking.
Being willing to shift to a topic he perceives as interesting and “easier” allows him to continue to learn, without increasing his anxiety.
Incorporate mindfulness exercises
This is relatively new for us but is making a difference.
As part of our school day, I walk my son through simple mindfulness exercises. For example, if I notice he seems to be a bit tense, I grab a couple of chairs and place them on our grass outside. We sit and talk about how good the grass feels on our bare feet, we listen to the sounds of the birds chirping and feel the breeze on our faces.
It’s not complicated, but it is effective.
Incorporating mindfulness exercises into our day has made an impact on my son’s overall ability to cope with the stresses of learning, even when he is feeling anxious.
More than anything else, just getting outside makes a difference in my son’s level of anxiety. The exact same reading lesson that is causing stress can be taken to a picnic blanket outside, and suddenly it feels doable.
Some days, we leave the lesson entirely and instead focus on nature study. Other days, a quick trip to the park relaxes my son and then he is able to come back home and complete his assigned learning.
I have found that fresh air, connecting with nature, movement and play are wonderful anxiety medicines.
Tomorrow’s another day
There are times that no matter what we try, the anxiety just feels too overwhelming for my son to really continue with any sort of structured learning. Rather than pushing my own, worry-fueled, “what if he never learns to read” agenda, I am learning to instead focus on my boy’s heart.
On days when the anxiety is just too much, I try to remember that one of the reasons why we homeschool is so that we can accommodate his learning differences in ways that build him up, rather than leaving him defeated.
We can always try again tomorrow.
We have good days. We have tough days. We have days that are a mess of emotions and anxiety. We have days that are light and easy.
No matter what the day or the circumstances, I want my son to feel support and encouragement as he learns – not only in traditional academics but in managing his own chronic worries and fears.
Homeschooling allows us to do just that.
Are you homeschooling an anxious child? How do you help your child learn?
What’s Your Homeschool Mom Personality? Take Jamie’s quiz now and receive a free personality report to help you organize your homeschool based on what your personality type needs most!