Tampa Day School Expert Series: Anxiety

How does anxiety affect your child’s education? Since we all deal with some level of worry, frustration, or fear, it’s hard for many of us to understand the very real differences between normal stress and potentially debilitating anxiety. Lois Delaney, Tampa Day School’s Head of School, unpacks the differences and explains how research-based strategies can give anxiety-prone students the confidence they need to succeed.

  1. What’s the difference between stress and anxiety?

Stress is a natural and normal response to a challenge or circumstance and can make you feel nervous, angry, frustrated or even anxious. By contrast, anxiety is a feeling that is often out of proportion to the real or imagined threat.

  1. When does normal stress cross the line to unhealthy anxiety?

It’s true that some stress can have a positive motivational effect. However, too much stress can be detrimental! When stress becomes overwhelming or prolonged, it can take a significant toll. Anxious children may anticipate that something bad will happen and doubt their ability to handle it.

  1. How can I spot anxiety in my child?

Children do not typically say, “I’m feeling anxious.” Instead, their anxiety is usually disguised by avoiding activities that cause stress, asking for repeated reassurance, complaining of a stomach ache, headache, or racing heart, expressing that they are dizzy or tired, or having sweaty palms. Anxiety can disguise itself as boredom or apathy, sleeplessness or oversleeping, lack of appetite or overeating. In other words, there are many faces of anxiety!

  1. How does anxiety relate to other learning disabilities?

Learning differences/disabilities and attention issues like ADHD put kids at higher risk for developing anxiety disorders. Children who can’t keep up in class, who need extra help or extra time to complete work, and who make more mistakes than their classmates can begin to demonstrate symptoms of anxiety. And since fitting in is important to most children, those with social skills issues may want to join in with others but fear that they will be rejected. This can become a self-defeating cycle!

  1. What are some of the techniques that Tampa Day School has found most effective in dealing with anxiety?

Tampa Day School stresses understanding as the key to recognizing and managing anxiety in children. The TDS professionals know that treating anxiety is not simply telling kids not to worry! Instead, it’s often possible to teach students new self-talk and coping strategies so they can challenge anxious thoughts and replace them with realistic ones.

TDS is committed to ongoing professional development so staff will have the latest and best training to recognize anxiety triggers and coach students in effective coping skills.

The school’s small class size (1:12), predictable setting, and climate of trust and security all work together to help students face challenges they were not previously able to manage. If students continue to struggle, TDS works closely with families to identify an extended system of support.

  1. How can parents help a child who suffers from anxiety?
  •  Learn the signs of anxiety and stress so you can identify these feelings in your child.
  •  Understand what doesn’t work! Avoiding triggers, reassuring pep talks, telling your child to “just do it,” or giving advice typically won’t make a long-term difference for a child who suffers from anxiety.
  •  Seek professional help when anxiety hinders your child from functioning at school or enjoying life.

Offering Solutions and Hope for Parents in the Tampa Bay Area

Anxiety is treatable, but an estimated 80 percent of kids with a diagnosable anxiety disorder are not getting treatment. If you are a Tampa area parent of an elementary or middle school child struggling with anxiety, check out the 2nd-8th grade program at Tampa Day School. TDS is a private school that helps children who learn differently find success.

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