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How to Support Learning in Children with Anxiety/Depression

By January 1, 2014Blogs

Anxiety and depression (which often go hand-in-hand) are feelings that most everyone experiences at various times in their lives, even young children. Dr. John Maag, an expert on depression in children with learning disabilities, has identified three reasons why these children may be more vulnerable to anxiety and depression: Children with learning disabilities often experience low self-esteem, frequent feelings of embarrassment or humiliation in school, and confusion. They often feel like they’re unable to fit in with others and become incredibly self-conscious about not being included among their peers. Learning disabilities tend to increase feelings of criticism and embarrassment, especially when making a mistake or feeling confused on a subject. Ignoring these feelings can cause the symptoms to worsen and can ultimately lead to social and academic failure. Here are a few tips on what YOU can do to help support learning in kids with depression/anxiety:
Know the signs. Familiarize yourself with common symptoms of anxiety (e.g., constant worry or fear, panic attacks, and frequent stomach aches or chest pains) and depression (e.g., feelings of worthlessness, poor concentration, sleeping too little or too much, and changes in appetite).  Be aware that these symptoms can lead to school refusal or a decline in grades, which might be additional warning signs.
Check in. If you suspect your child may be suffering from anxiety or depression, the first step in helping your child is to ask. Let children know they are not alone and you are not mad at them for having these feelings.
Be proactive. Don’t wait for the school to contact you about your child having academic trouble. Monitor your child’s performance through regular conversations with teachers. Remember, you are your child’s best advocate.
Stay informed. Consult with a mental health professional to determine the best strategies for your child. Some schools provide counseling free of charge for their students. See if this is an option or get a referral for a private therapist. Again, stay positive about the process since your child may have negative feelings about admitting he/she needs help.
Help them problem-solve. Once you have listened to what your child has to say about his/her feelings, help your child to problem solve. For example, if your child is anxious about staying on top of his assignments, advocate for extended time or help break assignments into smaller bits.
Be there. Encourage your child to talk and ask questions. Let them know they can be open about their feelings. Recognize that the fear is real no matter how trivial the fear may seem. Remember, it feels real to your child and it’s causing him/her to feel anxious or depressed. Never belittle the fear as a way of forcing your child to overcome it. Saying, “You’re fine” may get your child to stop talking about it, but it won’t make the fear go away.
Ashley Ravid, MA, ET/P is a Professional Educational Therapist specializing in working with students with learning differences. She currently has a private practice in Sherman Oaks, CA.