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Raising children to be studious without being stressed

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Dear Mary Jo,

My twelve year old son has always been a good student butrecently has been having trouble in math. He is so overwhelmed and stressed outabout the situation that it is making him sick. He constantly complains ofhaving a headache and a stomach ache before the weekly test on Friday. We havetold him to just do his best, but he goes on and on about how stupid he is andhow he will never be able to get into college or get a job. My husband and I are glad he is aconscientious student and cares about his grades, but we are worried he ismissing out on the fun of being a kid. Any advice?

- Mother of Stressed out Kid

Dear Stressed out mom,

From your letterI can feel your frustration as well as your son's. This is not an uncommonproblem and the first thing I would advise is for you to take your son to thepediatrician to have his hearing, eye sight as well as his overall healthevaluated. Many times when children develop academic problems it is medicallyrelated. Changes in hearing and eye sight can cause dramatic changes in abilityto process information. Although you did not mention if your son was onmedications, if he is taking something for depression or attention deficitdisorder these medications can alter performance also.  Often times if a child is extremely anxiousyour pediatrician will recommend medication to manage the anxiety.  If there are no problems and your son ishealthy I would try the following intervention.

I would schedulea time to talk to your son (along with your husband) when there is no stress. Iwould make the agenda one of problem solving with him. He needs to know bothyou and his father are supportive and believe in him. Children at this age havea difficult time understandings how to problem solve. He is emotional andfrustrated because he is overwhelmed and not sure how to "fix" theproblem.  Math is one of the subjectsmost affected by stress or anxiety. Learning healthy ways to manage stress isgoing to be the first plan of action. Schedule whatever stress relievers heenjoys into his day. For example, does he like to run? If so, schedule a 15minute run after the first 15 minutes of math homework. Maybe you/and or dadcan go with him? Maybe he relieves stress by shooting hoops? Make sure he getstime to shoot hoops after doing homework for a set period of time. If heunderstands that stress management is as important as his homework he willbegin to value it and make time for it. Most likely he will be able to thinkbetter as he manages his stress more effectively.

Secondly, I wouldtalk to your child's teacher and to help guide you. Maybe your child ispresenting in class as being troubled by something else? Many times at the ageof twelve social issues become very important. Something may be bothering yourson that you are not aware of. The teacher can also tell you specific areasyour son struggles with and they know tutors who can help give your child oneon one help with the content they don't understand. This will help make yourson feel a sense of mastery if he can have the one on one teaching to help himunderstand the concepts that he is struggling with.

Lastly, I wouldhelp provide a place for your son to do his homework that is well lit and calmso he can think and not be distracted. Your husband and you can use this timeof difficulty for your son as a learning experience for all of you. You canprovide the love and support that will help him get through this difficult timeand teach him problem solving skills for life. Good luck to you.

- Mary Jo Rapini

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