Kiddie Meltdown: Fighting The Pressure to Be #1

February 8, 2013  |  

Within the next week, my daughter has three major mid-term exams, a school spelling bee, a big Spanish quiz – and of course, lots and lots of homework.  I can already see the determination building in her eyes.  She’s competitive and fiercely wants to get all A’s.  She wants to be #1.  I won’t lie – that’s what I want for her too.  But I keep reminding myself that she’s only in the 2nd grade.

You’ve probably noticed it with your own kids.  School schedules are becoming more and more demanding, even for elementary children.  The pressure is on to produce children who will group to be adults competing in the world market.  And unfortunately this pressure isn’t lost on our little ones.  School anxiety is becoming more common in children.  They know that we expect them to do well academically.  But we have to be careful that they don’t cave under the pressure to be #1.

So how can you tell if your child is on the brink of an anxiety-induced kiddie meltdown?  And what can you do to help them cope with the overwhelming pressure?  Experts have lots of thoughts on this.

According to, if your child is experiencing school performance anxiety, there are usually clear signs including:

  • Worry and forgetfulness: Your child may be so focused on upcoming tests and assignments that her mind may work overtime causing her to actually forget assignments or lose her ability to focus.  Watch your child’s sleep patterns as well.  Excessive nightmares may be a sign of worry and anxiety.
  • School avoidance: Headache today, tummy ache tomorrow? If your child is looking for any and every excuse not to go to school, they may be dealing with school anxiety.  They may be so overwhelmed that they try to avoid school.
  • Poor performance: If your overachiever’s performance starts to take a nosedive it may be a sign of anxiety.  When children worry excessively about their grades and school performance, it can create a self-fulfilling prophecy.  They worry about doing poorly, which causes them to lose focus and actually perform poorly.
  • Sickness: The United States Department of Health and Human Services says kids with anxiety disorders can become physically ill and complain about their illnesses.  Extreme cases of anxiety can produce headaches, nausea, vomiting and fast heartbeats.

There are parenting strategies that you can use to help children prevent and diminish their anxiety.  WebMD says a first step is for parents to examine their role in producing school anxiety in their children.

Richard L. Hall, PhD, assistant headmaster of Atlanta’s Lovett School says

“Parents are too often very preoccupied with seeing their children succeed and intolerant of anything other than excellence. We as schools and we as parents need to remind ourselves that sustained excellence is not natural. It is not how we, ourselves, operate.”

Once parents take a look at their own behaviors, they can employ many strategies to combat anxiety including spending more time with their children and listening to them.  If parents really communicate with their children, they will be able to understand the root causes of the anxiety and help children combat their fears.

A consistent routine at home and eating right can also help children reduce their stress.  And finally, parents should recognize their own limitations.  If your child’s anxiety levels have gotten out of control, you should consult your school’s guidance counselor or a child psychiatrist.

Like all moms, I want my child to do her best in school.  But her mental health and inner peace are more important to me than a report card full of A’s.  She doesn’t have to be #1, but she does have to be happy.

Yolanda Darville is freelance writer who fiercely focuses on empowering parents, girls, women and people of color around the world.  Connect with her on Twitter at @YolandaDarville.

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