She slumps into the couch, “I hate this. This is stupid,” and she glares at her math sheet. What my child doesn’t say is “I’m scared.” But whether or not she verbalizes it, I’ve learned to recognize her fear. She’s afraid of failing. She’s afraid of writing, especially when things have to be in a particular order (i.e. spelling, math problems, fractions, order of operations, etc.) She’s weary from the effort of trying to sort things out in her dyslexic mind. But she rarely says any of this. Instead, she says, “I hate this. Why do I need to do school anyway? This is stupid.” Her learning anxiety often doesn’t look like anxiety at all, at least, not what I would expect it to look like. Sometimes, it looks more like a pout, a tantrum, even a rage.
It’s taken me awhile to figure this out. And sometimes, I forget and need my husband to remind me. “Ask her if she’s afraid,” he tells me as I recount my latest knock-down-drag-out homeschool day. So, in spite of what my child does or doesn’t say, here’s what I’m learning to say when her learning anxieties have us at a stand-still.
Five things to say when your child has a learning anxiety
I’m here. I have to assure her that I’m here. I’m going to help her. She’s not alone in her struggle.
I have a plan. After assuring her that I’m here for her, I gently lay out my plan to help. “Here’s what this is going to look like.” I’ll scribe her math problems in much the same way I used to scribe her writing. I do 1/2 to 3/4 of the writing for her and have her try when she regains her confidence. I assure her that we will use the abacus or the calculator or another manipulative for the hard part. When we were struggling through spelling and writing, I found her a Dyslexia Aid app that translates her speech to text. My plan includes ways that she is going to find help for what is scaring her.
Remember when… I remind her of past struggles and past successes. “Remember when you used to be afraid to do this particular subject, and we tried this particular thing to help you. And now you aren’t afraid of that anymore.” Reminding her of what she has overcome in the past, gives her perspective. Yes, this is hard right now, but it won’t always be this hard. Yes, this is hard, but we will find the tools to help you. Yes, this is hard, but this isn’t the first hard thing you’ve done.
I’ll fight for you and with you, but not against you. This is my new line, the statement I use to put the ball back into her court. I can help her in many ways, but I can’t make the decision to try. She has to come to a point of decision. She has to stop resisting, get past her “I can’t,” and decide to try. I’m not her enemy. I am for her and with her.
I’ll give you space. I WANT to push for a decision. I WANT to pressure her to try again. I WANT to get this done so that I can finish with my other two kids and get dinner on the table. But added pressure is actually the worst thing I can do for her learning anxiety. Trust me, I know. Sometimes, she needs me to back off and give her the opportunity to muster her courage and decide to try. Yes, this takes time. Yes, this often puts me “behind schedule.” But yes, this is sometimes the most helpful strategy of all. Again, it puts the responsibility of learning back into her court. Giving her space allows her to be in control of a situation that often feels very out of her control.
Other strategies to combat learning anxiety
Another strategy that has helped us to navigate learning anxiety are brain breaks. All that mental energy from trying to sort, decipher, and organize information can leave her brain exhausted and in a state of overwhelm. When she is working in an area of weakness, I have to watch her pace and give her brain a chance to break and relax. These breaks aren’t usually long, maybe 5 minutes or so. But yes, this takes extra time. Yes, it may put me a little behind. Yes, it may mean we don’t get as far in the lesson. What we do accomplish, however, is quality over quantity.
Sometimes our brain breaks require some physical activity. (We love Ultimate Brain Breaks for this.)
Other times I give her an art break to go create something. Art is her strength. In essence, what I am doing is giving her a break to do something she’s good at, to relax her and restore her confidence before tackling the hard thing once more.
We try an entirely new learning strategy. Sometimes, you’ve just got to come at it from a completely different angle. My dyslexic child forces me to be a better teacher. She forces me to research and improve how I present things. She motivates me to do what I wouldn’t have otherwise tried to do. Together, we both learn to do hard things.
Need some more help and motivation? Check out my other posts.