Friday, February 15, 2013

Helping your child to be more resilient under stress

 Experience has taught me that there are many parents of young children who are already worried about SAT scores and college admissions. Some of you may find you way to this blog. This post is for you

I coach students for the ACT and SAT.  One of the things I have done with each student is talk about how to manage their stress.  It's a lesson on what to do if things are going badly and you begin to panic.  We practice breathing exercises and relaxation techniques.  One student reported back, "It really works! I tried it at the DMV, and I passed!"  From now on, I will expand this lesson to include some recently reported research.

You may have heard of this article in the New York Times. Researchers in Taiwan have identified a gene that affects how we handle stressful situations.  Children with one form of the gene perform less well under pressure, while children with a different form of the gene actually perform better.  The article discusses how this works, and I won't repeat it all here. I'll let you read it for yourself - just click on the link above.

When you read the article, I do want you to notice two points:  First is that children with both forms of the genes can perform well in stressful situations - including standardized tests - for which they have practiced.  I know we often feel like practicing for a high-stakes test is wasted instructional time, but it can help students to manage their anxiety.

A more interesting point, however, is this:  children and adults who re-label their anxiety can perform better under stress.  A little bit of stress is beneficial to performance. It keeps us sharp and focused.  If you remind yourself of this when you begin to feel the physical symptoms of anxiety, you can experience your stress differently and improve your performance.  Even young children can be taught this technique.

Read the article. If you have kids, try to figure out which gene variant they have.  No matter which type it is, teach them to recognize when they are beginning to feel anxious and help them re-define that stress.

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