Head of School Blog

Managing Anxiety for Our Children’s Sake

Jill Singleton
According to Robert L. Leahy, Ph.D., Clinical Professor of Psychology at Weill-Cornell Medical School and author of a number of books related to anxiety and its treatment, we are getting more and more anxious with each passing decade. Leahy reports that “The average high school kid today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the early 1950’s.” The number of children with clinical anxiety disorders is on the rise, and the scope of children’s worries is broadening to a scary degree. I don’t know about you, but it certainly gave me pause when our Middle School students identified “texting while driving” as the issue they wanted to focus on for their Youth Leadership Summit in October. Other things they reported worrying about include global warming, getting into a good high school, the economy, the future of our country, and war.

As an educator for the past 25 years, I can personally attest to the increasing levels of anxiety in children and their parents. Most of our families likely know that our expansion into the Middle School was in response to parental desire for an extension of the All Saints experience through the Eighth Grade. In a focus group held to discuss the idea, one parent said they were looking for “A middle school to reflect the same principles, philosophy and mission of the All Saints primary school.” Another offered that “A middle school needs to be a time of safe and gradual transition to high school.” Yet another offered, “Hoboken needs a ‘high-achieving’ middle school with a solid spirituality component.” These ideas, among many others, were part of the fuel that drove our planning engine.
What many of our families probably don’t know is that there was a second, equally compelling reason we started the Middle School. We saw a trend of families going through the stress of the admissions process for nursery school, and then just a few short years later, begin to worry about what was going to happen after Fourth Grade. By expanding into Middle School, we felt we would make real progress on the anxiety-front for parents. Sadly, however, it appears that the anxiety has shifted to a different yet related topic – the high school years! At a number of recent gatherings with parents, I have heard worried conversations about where children are going to attend high school, even among parents with children in Kindergarten or at the very start of their elementary years.

Research has shown time and again that when parents are anxious, their children become anxious, so of course it behooves all of us to do everything we can to keep our anxiety in check. Furthermore, our children need and deserve to fully invest themselves in their current lives and to get the benefit of every moment of their Nursery through Eighth Grade years if they are to fully develop the foundation needed for future academic success. As we tell our Middle School families, there is no need to begin to worry about high school until the spring of your child’s Seventh Grade year. Likewise, my own children’s high school advises us not to worry about college until spring of the junior year; to worry any sooner would be to rob our children of their high school experience.

Remember wondering whether your child would ever sleep through the night? Take that first step? Give up the pacifier? Get fully potty trained? These worries can get the best of us if we’re not careful and can deprive us of our happiest times with our children. We begin to wonder whether we are doing enough to ensure that our child’s future opportunities are as broad as possible. However, we have to be careful that we are not sacrificing the present in the interest of the future. As the old proverb goes, if we take care of the present, the future takes care of itself. Identifying strategies for tuning out the noise and chatter which can cause anxiety becomes a priority if we are going to stay truly present for our children. This holiday season I encourage you to treasure the moments and cherish your children for who they are. Albert Einstein once said, “I never think of the future – it comes soon enough.” Personally, I think Ralph Waldo Emerson may have said it best: “Don’t waste your life in doubts and fears: spend yourself on the work before you, well assured that the right performance of this hour’s duties will be the best preparation for the hours or ages that follow it.”

For tips on managing worry and anxiety, visit these sites:

how to stop worrying

parenting tips for anxious parents

Thoughts? Comments? Ideas? I’d love to hear them! Email me: jsingleton@allsaintshoboken.com.