Does your child have Performance Anxiety at School?
Overly emotional, angry, frustrated, unexplained outbursts, unsettled sleeping or sleepless nights and bedwetting. Any of this sound familiar? Do you experience one or more of these with your child? Perhaps often, if you have a baby or a toddler – not if you have a junior school going child of 9 years or older. This is what my husband and I have experienced with our daughter over the past two years. We had no idea that it was related to performance anxiety at school, or that she had a learning difficulty. It had been for a while that our daughter was struggling with Maths at school. Despite English being her first language, she was starting to battle with this as well. Despite her overall adequate understanding of number concepts and operations, she struggled to always apply her knowledge to word sums. And, she was spelling most words phonetically, and therefore struggled to spell words with silent letters (guess), double letters (bottle, press) and other sight words not spelt phonetically (watch, careless, charge).
Initially, we noticed a considerable difference in our daughter’s behaviour. Normally, she was very chatty and open. She was always confident sharing her thoughts and opinions. Therefore the decline in her confidence levels was very noticeable. What we didn’t know at the time was how very aware she was, that she was struggling at school – hence the impact on her confidence. She has always been very affectionate but her affection became clingy and at times a bit too much. As soon as either my husband or I sat down, she would be on top of us. When you would ask her for some personal space she would become sad and angry. She often fought with her brothers, and felt that she wasn’t getting the same attention they were, when in fact she was getting more. She started waking up several times during the night. Getting her back to sleep was a struggle. She would argue, cry, and every time she was sent and sometimes taken back to her room, she would return immediately. My husband described this period as having a new-born baby in the house – it was that bad. Then there was the frequent bedwetting, which we couldn’t understand considering she was up so often during the night. One night we even found our daughter crying under a table in our bedroom. This was all so exhausting, frustrating and heart-breaking.
Not knowing what else to do, we took some advice and went to see a psychologist who conducted various assessments. It was determined that our daughter functions verbally at an average level, and non-verbally at an above average level. She experienced very high levels of anxiety particularly when tested, and displayed anxiety about tasks being timed. This affected both the speed at which she worked and overall performance on some tasks. Ultimately, it impacted her ability to cope in the classroom. Despite being aware of her struggles, it was very hard for her, as it would be for any young child, to say when she was struggling with a task or didn’t know the answer to a task. In fact, she was fearful of saying it – she didn’t want to disappoint anyone. The more she struggled, the less she was able to reason through a task. As a result, she would often give up easily in order to avoid having to tackle the task, and often tended to guess. Her anxiety affected her ability to persevere on tasks. She displayed a resistance to written tasks, and as a result wrote very little in answering questions. Her written work was her lowest score and it became clear that she struggled with spelling and expressing herself using the written word.
She was eventually doing extra English and Maths classes both at school and out of school with a tutor. Little did we know at the time, but this added to how overwhelmed she felt about performing academically. We were advised that due to language difficulties she would struggle with the demands of grade four, which is why she repeated grade three when she was 9. This was a very difficult decision for us to take, but at the time we felt it was in her best interests. We felt that giving her a year to essentially catch-up would be beneficial to her mental wellbeing. All we wanted was our daughter back and emotionally healthier. Thankfully the repeat year was great for all of us. The change in behaviour and confidence was again very noticeable. No more sleepless nights, no more bedwetting. I also believe that it assisted in closing some of the gaps in her learning development.
She felt and sometimes still feels insecure about her academic performance. She worries about disappointing others if she does badly, and this too creates more anxiety for her when being tested. Her answers often still lack detail. Two years on, it was still hard for her but she was coping much better than she had ever before. This was seen by her teachers, in her results, and at home. The one thing that became a problem was her anger about certain things she wasn’t happy with. We took her for another evaluation with a psychologist to just check that she was okay, and whether she needed someone else to speak to. This time however, from the results of assessments done, our daughter was diagnosed with mild Dyslexia. When I first found out, I felt anger and guilt for not knowing sooner. I felt anger and guilt for her having to repeat a grade, and felt it would have been different had she been diagnosed sooner. This though was because of my limited knowledge around Dyslexia. I ignorantly assumed it was just a reversal of numbers and letters. As soon as I went through the information, and naturally did some research of my own, it was as if most of what I was reading was describing my daughter. Some of what we were told and experienced before all made sense.
Our daughter is so naturally creative, and when she was finally diagnosed, further interventions to assist her were put in place. At school for example, during tests she is asked about her understanding of a question or a question is read to her. This has had such a significant impact for her. But because her dyslexia is mild, and with her maturing and knowing what she can do for herself, she is managing to cope well enough. Telling her about her Dyslexia openly and honestly was the first step. The second was showing her YouTube video’s that would resonate with her in order for her to learn more about it, and embrace it. It was critical for me that she embraced knowing that nothing was wrong with her, but accepted that there were certain things others would be able to grasp easily, but that would be harder for her, and that she needed to at times work harder than others in order to keep up. What was the absolute turning point for her was when I told her one of her favourite YouTubers, Rosanna Pansino, is also Dyslexic. Rosanna has become somewhat of a role model to my daughter. She was particularly inspired by the fact that Rosanna reads while listening to audiobooks, which our daughter felt would be really helpful for her too. Finding out of so many other successful and famous people with Dyslexia and reading about their achievements was definitely great and helped her confidence.
Don’t be ignorant about your child’s behaviours. Don’t just take a hard firm stand against test scores from school. Think about whether your child is coping with the pressures of school. Consider whether your child might be experiencing anxiety at school. Be open to your child potentially having a learning difficulty. There is nothing wrong with them – they just need to learn differently. In fact in many instances, they display brilliance when it comes to creativity – our daughter does. More importantly, create a space for your child to talk and become more open with you. All we should expect of our children when it comes to performance at school, is their best. It’s amazing what this can do for a child’s psyche.
Whilst hard, our daughter’s journey has been invaluable to her succeeding in being the best version of herself, and working at producing her best academically. She still has a long school journey ahead of her, and we have no doubt she will succeed in everything she does.
Until next time…
Yours in Adapting & Being