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The Positive Benefits of Anxiety
By Lauren Rios, School Psychologist at Old Trail School
The topic of anxiety appears in everything from social media platforms to business journals. Societal messages often center around the detriments of anxiety: reducing workplace productivity, wreaking havoc on your child’s social life and other undesirable effects.
Thus, attention turns to prevention and elimination of this negative emotion. Such a focus may cause us to miss the benefits of the full range of our human emotions. So why do we have anxiety, and how could it possibly benefit us?
Emotions are a survival tool, motivating us to think, make choices and take action. Although we may hear more about the adverse effects of anxiety, there are undeniable benefits as well. A certain amount of anxiety is necessary to spur workplace productivity for adults by motivating us to meet a deadline, focus during a meeting or simply return to our desks after a coffee break. For children, some feelings of anxiety can actually support a child’s social life by motivating him or her to show concern if someone falls, share toys with a friend or even carefully choose words that won’t hurt someone’s feelings. The key to accessing the benefits of the emotions we tend to view as negative — like fear, sadness and anger — lies in our interpretation and response.
Emotions develop in concert with cues from our environment combined with data from past experiences, providing clues to what is important to us, our values and motivations. Rather than focusing on eliminating negative emotions, we can take advantage of this rich source of information for a powerful learning experience. Viewing anxiety as a learning opportunity, rather than a negative experience, can diminish the power we allow it to have over ourselves. This allows us to face our feelings and ultimately accept them. The next time your child experiences anxiety, sadness or anger, try spending some time talking with them to help your child learn from the feeling. Focus on understanding and accepting emotions, rather than getting rid of the feeling or avoiding it.
Finding a healthy acceptance of our emotions takes time and practice, and it’s important to reach out for support when the intensity of emotions adversely impacts one’s ability to function. At Old Trail School, faculty members find teachable moments in everyday situations with students. We help children be able to recognize, understand, talk about, and accept their emotions. The development of healthy coping skills, problem-solving strategies, and self-advocacy are also fostered through class lessons, teacher modeling, guided practice opportunities, and positive reinforcement. Our nurturing environment provides the basis for healthy emotional growth by including mindfulness practices, supporting character education, and making sure children have an outlet for physical activity.
Additionally, Old Trail School has two school psychologists on staff to support students and families in learning to lead healthy emotional lives. We provide services such as individual assessment, individual counseling, parent guidance, crisis intervention and referral services. Our school psychologists also provide educational presentations to our community about a variety of learning and mental health-oriented topics.