Opinion Blog

Ask a Psychologist

Helping Students Thrive Now

Angela Duckworth and other behavioral-science experts offer advice to teachers based on scientific research. To submit questions, use this form or #helpstudentsthrive. Read more from this blog.

Student Well-Being Opinion

Student Anxiety Is Rising. Here’s What Helps—and What Doesn’t

Solutions that work in the short term aren’t always good in the long run
By Tracy Dennis-Tiwary — May 25, 2022 2 min read
Image shows a stylized artistic landscape with soothing colors.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

How can I help students struggling with anxiety?

A natural reaction is to try to prevent the anxiety, but that’s often not the right thing to do. Here’s something I wrote recently about the topic for Character Lab as a Tip of the Week:

When my son, Kavi, left his math homework at school one day, he came to me in a panic. “What am I going to do?” he asked.

Together, we figured out that he could ask his friend to send a photo of the homework, and he would copy out the problems by hand. Problem solved, right? Wrong. He remained agitated.

Soon, I discovered what really worried him: He was afraid his teacher would see the forgotten homework on his desk at school and be upset with him the next morning. He begged me to email her to relieve his anxiety.

I wanted to help—what parent doesn’t want to make the hurt go away, especially when the solution was as simple as sending an email? And yet that would have been the wrong thing to do.

By the time kids turn 18, over 30 percent of them will have experienced debilitating anxiety—that’s around 20 million in the United States alone. A parent’s natural reaction is to try to stop the anxiety. For example, the family of an anxious child who fears flying in airplanes might limit vacations to only drivable locations.

Research shows that while avoiding anxiety-provoking situations may comfort anxious children in the moment, it prevents them from learning to cope in the long run. A new type of therapy called SPACE taught parents a better option: working through anxiety. For example, instead of allowing socially anxious children to stay home, parents gradually exposed them to challenging social situations and provided support. In the study, 87 percent of the children whose parents received the therapy showed less severe anxiety, an outcome as good as if children received therapy themselves.

I never sent that email to Kavi’s teacher. I tried to talk Kavi through his anxiety, but he still went to bed feeling restless and worried. I did, too. But the next day, he got an A-plus on his homework along with a note: “Wonderful job figuring out how to get your homework done!”

Don’t try to protect young people from their anxiety by “fixing” the situation for them.

Do let kids sit with their anxieties and support them in coping. If your child has a spat with a friend or is worried about an upcoming test, listen and advise but don’t intervene. In facing these commonplace but difficult moments, children gain mastery over their anxiety—and that’s the key to feeling good.

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Ask a Psychologist: Helping Students Thrive Now are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Law & Courts Webinar
Future of the First Amendment:Exploring Trends in High School Students’ Views of Free Speech
Learn how educators are navigating student free speech issues and addressing controversial topics like gender and race in the classroom.
Content provided by The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Start Strong With Solid SEL Implementation: Success Strategies for the New School Year
Join Satchel Pulse to learn why implementing a solid SEL program at the beginning of the year will deliver maximum impact to your students.
Content provided by Satchel Pulse
Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Well-Being What the Research Says Are Children Getting to Bed on Time? Here's What New Data Show
A CDC study finds that more than 1 in 4 children in poverty don't have set bedtimes on school nights.
2 min read
Image of reading at bedtime.
nattrass/E+<br/>
Student Well-Being Bipartisan Bill Would Extend School Nutrition Flexibility, But Not Universal Free Meals
The proposal would help nutrition workers navigate supply-chain issues, inflation, and staffing shortages affecting school meal programs.
3 min read
Carl Hall, 8, drinks apple juice he received as part of a free bagged breakfast at the Jefferson County Upper Elementary School on March 3, 2021 in Fayette, Miss.
Carl Hall, 8, drinks apple juice he received as part of a free bagged breakfast at the Jefferson County Upper Elementary School on March 3, 2021 in Fayette, Miss.
Rogelio V. Solis/AP
Student Well-Being Thousands of Students Will Face Long COVID. Schools Need to Plan Now
The issue is not yet on most educators' radar screens, but should be.
7 min read
Illustration of a young boy holding his hands against his temples with his eyes close. Clouds and virus pathogens circling around him.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Student Well-Being Really Listening to Students Has an Academic Payoff, New Research Finds
When students see their schools as "responsive" to their feedback, they are likely to have better grades and attendance, new research finds.
5 min read
Arial view of people sitting on chairs in a circle with a listening ear in the center.
Collage by Gina Tomko/Education Week and Getty