Parenting has its fair share of stressful situations, but being a kid does, too. A local child counselor shares simple ways to encourage and calm your kids as they face the stresses of school.

By Eric Karlan

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Middle school and high school are filled with monumental moments in a young adult’s life – and parents are tasked with the seemingly impossible task of navigating their children through it all. But for some children, these events and tasks present particular challenges and anxieties, oftentimes putting parents at a loss for how to handle a situation. In these instances, Dr. Tina Paone, a counselor in Montgomeryville, offers some insights and tips for parents.

Tests

No student likes tests, but many struggle with the idea of even having to take an exam. Geometry finals stare back from the syllabus and SATs loom ominously on the calendar. Even the smallest of history quizzes can induce panic.

Did I study enough? Do I really know the material? Will I make a dumb mistake? Will I do well? What if I do not get a good grade?

Questions like these can cloud a student’s mind, making it seemingly impossible to process and retain the material they are studying – let alone correctly execute their knowledge on the test itself.

A student’s level of stress may correspond with the stakes of the test, but Dr. Paone believes the first steps to overcoming text anxiety are rooted in the basic practices.

“A good night’s rest before the test. A good breakfast. And breathe!” she says. “Teaching our children to breathe when they are anxious or stressed is important.”

Unfortunately for students plagued by test anxiety, most outside influences will not offer any relief. Says Dr. Paone, “The stakes increase as students get older. Society has placed a lot of weight on these tests and therefore that filters down to children. Reassuring children that they know the material is important.”

Auditions & Tryouts

Aspiring artists and athletes can commiserate over the stresses that come with trying to make the cut – whether for the lead role in the play, the higher chair in the orchestra, or a spot on the basketball team.

Every student experiences some nerves as they prepare for auditions or tryouts, but for some the immense pressure can destroy confidence and ruin performance on the proverbial big day.

“Be supportive and at the same time encouraging to children,” says Dr. Paone of how to help with performance anxiety. “It is important to teach children that all they can do is their best.”

And if students have not already taken a cue from their favorite performers and athletes on TV before a defining moment, Dr. Paone reminds them: “Breathe. Deep breathes in and out while they wait.”

Dances

From the first event in the middle school gymnasium to prom, the stresses that come with a school dance never change: Will someone ask me to dance? Will my crush be there? Will I make a fool out of myself dancing?

The weeks preceding a dance can be as stressful as the evening event itself. Many students spend days and nights wondering anxiously either how to ask their crush to the dance as a date, or if they will be asked as someone’s date. Dr. Paone says it is important to take away the emphasis placed on having a date.

“It’s important that students realize it’s more about having fun. They can go with a group of friends or go to the dance stag.”

And from an appearance standpoint, Dr. Paone tells parents to do what should come naturally to them when offering support: “Reassure your children that they are beautiful and look wonderful. You are their parent of course, so you are biased, but that’s our jobs as parents!”

Presentations & Speeches

As a professor of graduate school students, Dr. Paone still sees public speaking anxiety in adults: “It is intimidating, but practice makes perfect. Someone may not like to speak publically, but with practice they become good at it.”

This same approach can be used for students preparing for an important in-class presentation or a speech to the grade as a student government candidate. And parents can play an important role in helping their children get ready and not worry about messing up or stumbling over words.

“Parents can videotape a practice presentation and allow their children to help critique their own speech,” says Dr. Paone. “Ask them what they liked, what they would change, and then offer some feedback yourself.

Then allow them to do it again until they are comfortable and happy. Then it’s all about encouragement and telling them to do the best they can.”