Whole Child Learning Part 2: Stress & Anxiety 

To support understanding of social and emotional learning, Student Services is hosting a three-part series, including the former “Trauma Informed Care”  blog post and this post on “Stress and Anxiety in our Children." The district screening of Angst on October 16 from 6-8 p.m. at Lakota West High School is the culminating event.  

Anxiety can be sweaty palms before giving a presentation, the elephant sitting on your chest as you look over the list of things to do, or it can be a crippling sense of inability to move forward. Our bodies are designed to feel the emotion dubbed “anxiety,” so we understand physically and emotionally how important something is to us. However, for many people, the body sends mixed signals of emotion/anxiety, making it difficult to navigate daily tasks. The most common forms of anxiety, especially in children, are: 

  1. General Anxiety Disorder – General Anxiety Disorder  (GAD) is the diagnosis when a child experiences anxiety, but the cause cannot be determined. General Anxiety Disorder can last a few months or several years.

  2. Phobias – Children sometimes suffer from a specific phobia. These children greatly fear a particular object, animal or certain situation. When a child encounters his or her phobia, they often exhibit symptoms such as shaking, difficulty breathing, heart palpitations, or an upset stomach.

  3. Panic Attacks – Panic attacks are sometimes also referred to as agoraphobia. (Agoraphobia (ag-uh-ruh-FOE-be-uh) is a type of anxiety disorder in which a person fears and avoids places or situations that might cause them to panic and feel trapped, helpless or embarrassed.) Children suffering from panic attacks have repeated episodes of shaking, dizziness, chest pains, and intense feelings of fear. They often avoid certain situations for fear of having a panic attack.

  4. Social Anxiety – Children with social anxiety only have symptoms when in social settings. They fear unwanted attention from anyone, including friends.

  5. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder – Children with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) are consumed by a specific obsession. They perform repetitive rituals as a coping mechanism.

  6. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – When a child experiences a traumatic event, he or she may suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The child cannot stop thinking about the stressful event. Certain people or situations that remind the child of the traumatic event will make the child feel very anxious.

List Courtesy of Mommy Edition 

Our gifted learners often experience high levels of anxiety. This can be attributed to the courses they are taking, or perfectionist tendencies, but the more accurate understanding is that their brains work differently. Their synapses fire faster, which is what allows them to excel in school, but also creates oversensitivity or overexcitability, as identified by psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski.  This “fast firing” allows them to learn more quickly than their peers, but makes them more susceptible to experiencing anxiety. 

“Typical Teen Behavior” vs.  “Potential Warning Signs”?

Courtesy of Alyssa Louagie, Lakota parent, gifted advocate and Associate Director of NAMI,  Butler County 

How can a parent tell the difference between typical teen behavior and behavior that warrants help?  A few questions to consider to help determine when it’s time to seek help include: “Are the child’s emotions impacting and/or interfering with his/her day-to-day ability to live life in the way that he/she wants?” or “Does the child feel like his/her life would be better if he/she wasn’t dealing with these emotions all the time?”  

If the answer to those or similar questions is yes, it’s often a clue that it’s time to seek help.  A pediatrician can be a great first step towards getting help. They may have counselors to recommend, or may feel prescribing medication to begin treatment is appropriate.   Lakota’s school-based therapists are also a great place to start.

I just took my second child to the doctor this morning to start medication for anxiety and depression, so this subject is near and dear to my heart. I work in the mental health field, and still struggle with figuring out what is “normal teen behavior” and what is a mental health issue. 

Also, my pediatrician (who I feel is very knowledgeable on issues with gifted/high performing kids – he was a gifted kid himself and is raising gifted kids) recommended the following books  for perfectionism – What to do When Good is Not Good Enough: The Real Deal on Perfectionism – A Guide for Kids by Thomas Greenspon, and What to Do When Mistakes Make You Quake: A Kids Guide to Accepting Imperfection by Clair Freeland.  They teach common language for the family to use to discuss the problem and coping techniques for control. He recommends all major caregivers read it alone and to (with) the child (depending on the child’s age and whether they can read alone).

Strategies to Cope with Anxiety at Home and the Classroom: 

Courtesy of Tina Pratt, Lakota parent and Lakota’s  Behavioral Specialist

  • Teach your kids how to do deep breathing. Deep breathing will help calm the child and teach them a great tool to self-regulate. My favorite for young kids is “Smell the flowers, count to 3, and blow out the candles.” I like this example as kids can visually imagine it. Teaching them when they are calm is important, so when they become stressed, they can implement it easier. Older kids can do 4 corner breathing.

  • Another thing that I really like is “rose and thorns” or the “good things/bad things” of the day.  Lots of times kids with anxiety will dwell on the things that didn’t go their way or the things that stressed them out. At dinner have the conversation about what didn’t go well for the day. Discuss how they could have problem solved or “fixed” the problem/issue. Then follow up with what was great (rose) about the day. Praise your child for sharing the positive things. Make the roses the last thing you talk about so they focus on the good.

  • I also really like check lists. Kids (and adults) with anxiety are often over-achievers…which then feeds into the cycle of anxiety. Writing a checklist and crossing off things as they finish them, can reduce anxiety.

Some of my personal favorites: 

  • Another favorite that works for all ages: write or draw the worry on a piece of paper (sticky notes are great for this) and share aloud with someone. Then rip the paper up and throw away! It allows the mind to let go of the concern. 

  • Coloring-any kind of coloring really works to release the stress and anxiety and provide the mind peace. It is also a great family activity! 

Discussing mental health in a safe place is the most important step in having happy, healthy kids. One opportunity  to learn more is to attend Angst, a film that promotes discussion around mental health. The film is offered on October 16 at 6 p.m. at Lakota West High School  After the film, there will be a unique panel comprised of mental health professionals, parents, and students to help us continue the conversation. 

Lori Brown headshotAs the Director of Student Services at Lakota Local Schools, Lori Brown oversees the district’s programs and services supporting students’ social, emotional and mental health needs. Connect with Lori via email at 

Posted by lauren.boettcher@lakotaonline.com On 16 October, 2019 at 12:15 PM  

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