by Jason Miller, LMSW
NATIVE HEALTH Behavioral Health Counselor
A Deeper Education
Going back to school for youth can mean a lot of things. For some teens, high school is easy. For some others each school year can be filled with anxiety and self-doubt on performance with their classes, being popular or other things. For those that struggle, education can seem like an endless chore.
Education has not always been seen that way. We get the word “educate” from the Latin phrase, educare, which means “drawing out from within”. This is not just a matter of being academic. This speaks to an experience of the whole person being addressed. The primary educators for those under age can be parents. Most parents want to step up but may not know how to draw things out their child. It is okay to not have all the answers on how to do that. But if your child is having anxiety about being back in school (or even more, for seniors, what to do in a year) I would like to suggest some ideas below using the word NATE.
One can start at what makes them nervous. Often the source of anxiety in the youth can be real events in the past where they failed to achieve what they wanted to. Words like” mistake” or “failed” may come to mind. This is where the conversation can be turned into a term like “next times”. For any of us who have benefited from a good mentor, talks often went to what can be learned from one failure to turn into future success. Words can change worlds for people. Centering on failure alone can lead to shameful feelings of “What’s the point?” Here is drawing out solutions.
Achievements should not be lost in the shuffle. What went right? Celebrating achievements of the last school year can be good too. It reminds the youth what they had going for them and is an easier point of reference for doing better. You can even draw out exceptions to areas that are seen as failures. Here is drawing out hope.
It is tempting to isolate as a youth. This is especially true if one is insecure about being overlooked by peers and so they just make the loneliness consistent. This is where it is good to talk about who is really on their team. Of course the parent may be and should be but it is important to voice that. Who else? Where can they go in their school or in their community that can be a resource for meeting their goals or working out their anxiety along the way? It does not come down to only one or two people. Here is drawing out the resources.
Just as the “Next Times” take away from a fault finding approach, this can also be a way to keep the conversation strength-based and supportive. What I propose differently here is that there be dates set in the future by which school or other goals will be evaluated. If the youth is running into trouble on what is giving him or her anxiety, then the choices can be on getting help (more on that below). Depending on the age and personality of the youth, maybe have a poster on the fridge that is something like “Rallying Point For ________” that lists what the youth and others on the team are going to do to achieve or support that goal. “This may seem nice, but what if my heart is bursting out from nervousness?” Breathing exercises or even general exercise can help. I recommend journaling thoughts and counter-thoughts on solutions that come to mind for some of my clients.
Beyond that, the supports can remind the youth, or anyone of any age, that anxiety is nothing to be ashamed of. You are called a “human being” for a reason and anxiety about anxiety does not help. This leads to my three favorite questions that a client can ask themselves especially when anxious about life changes (senior year in high school for example):
- Am I being listened to? Am I speaking up for what I need?
- Am I learning something about myself? How do my own values give me a guide if I am lost about that?
- From what I am learning, am I good enough just me being me?
For any young person reading this, those answers for you may not be yes. But what if they could be? What would it look like?
These are but a few simple quick and easy to implement techniques that can be taught during family sessions and/or individual counseling sessions at either one of our locations NATIVE HEALTH, NHW Community Health Center or NATIVE HEALTH Mesa.