My friend took her beautiful, brilliant four year old son to a gifted school to be tested. When the charming teacher invited him into the adjoining room to talk and play, he established himself under a table and refused to emerge. No amount of promises or cajoling or diversions changed his mind. There he stayed until his mother agreed to take him home. Stranger anxiety interfered with an opportunity he deserved. 

Many of my adult clients are talented and creative and passionate about a variety of activities but will hide and not attempt, because of deep anxiety, that they will not perform well or be ridiculed or humiliated or dismissed. 

For children to be open to learning, to learn well, they have to be comfortable with themselves and comfortable with their environment. If they’re afraid that the children will bully them or someone will hit them or dismiss them or that they will, in any way, be shamed, they will not feel confident or comfortable and will not be able to focus on learning and will not do well in school. 

It is critical for teachers and parents to identify the anxious children and to help them.

Communication is the first step – a kindly and genuine attempt to understand the source of the anxiety. If the “anxiety” is “real” and practical e.g. fear of bullying, the problem must immediately be addressed and solved. If the anxiety is more unconscious, caused by an “unsafe” home environment where there is very little structure, where parents are punitive and explosive, where the child is often alone and unprotected, where the child has already learned that people and the world are not to be trusted because anything can happen, both the children and the parents must get good therapeutic help. 

It is my experience that many medicated children who have been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder are incorrectly diagnosed. For many of these children, it is an anxiety problem and when that’s resolved, children move on to happy, healthy learning. 

Please let us consider the problem of learning anxiety and its solution as a necessary focus for productive learning and productive growth. 

Anxiety As A Critical Factor In LearningMiriam Kove is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist who has worked with parents, children, individuals and couples for 30 years.

Her passion and mission is to encourage and advocate the critical importance of knowledgeable parenting.

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