Monday, February 15, 2010

Is Your Student Ready for College?

by Dave Verhaagen, Ph.D., ABPP

What are the chances your high school senior will make it through her freshman year of college?  Kostas Andrea Fanti found that only half of incoming college freshman earn a degree in five years and, of the remaining half, a full 37% drop out entirely.  Most of the studies find that about 1 out of 3 don't return to their school after their first year.  In other words, a lot of students are at risk for not making it through their freshman year.  By the way, this trend has been going on for decades.  In a study of nearly 58,000 students back in the early 1920's, the author found that 32% of college freshman don't make it past their first year.

So who is at risk for dropping out?  Here's a partial list of some of the patterns that put a student at greater risk:

* Students who have had to be externally motivated and excessively structured by parents and teachers.

* Students who manage their time very poorly, especially with school-related work.

* Students with ADHD who do not manage their condition well (i.e., forget their medicine, don't keep their materials organized, procrastinate, etc.).

* Students who are prone to depression or anxiety in a way that makes them isolate themselves from others, get easily overwhelmed, or turn to self-medicating.

* Students who use substances regularly and/or drink heavily, especially if their use has already caused them to get in trouble or underachieve academically.

For these students, it is often important to seek out professional support or consultation before they go off to school.  Once there, they will often need support services at their university that can be accessed through the counseling center, the learning support center, or the office for students with disabilities.  It's almost always better to be proactive and set up supports ahead of time.

Dave Verhaagen is a licensed psychologist who specializes in working with older high school and college students.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Helping Kids Wash Away Worries

by Mary B. Moore, LCSW

Everyone gets worried or nervous sometimes, both kids and adults. For some kids, worries happen out of the blue for no apparent reason. For others, nervous feelings occur at certain times like when taking a test, meeting a new person, trying something new or leaving their family. Worried feelings are normal and a little bit of worried feelings even can be helpful. If we were not worried about a test, we may not study. If we were not worried about getting sunburned, we would not wear sunscreen. A little bit of worry or nervousness can provide us the energy and focus to tackle a challenging task.

Helping your kids to accept their worry instead of fearing or avoiding it is an important first step in helping them to successfully manage and use the anxiety in a good way.

The Good News: you and your kids can do something to make them feel better and prevent the worries from getting overwhelming.

Help your kids to:

Step 1: Recognize and accept the feeling

· Have your child ask themselves: What is going on in my body? What feelings and thoughts am I having?

· Help your kids to not be afraid of the “butterflies” in their stomach or the sweaty palms. It is our body’s way of getting extra energy to pay attention and tackle the situation.

· Validate your child’s worries with a simple “You seem very worried,” or “Sometimes I get nervous too.” Do not minimize your child’s worry. This will only make it worse. 

Step 2: Figure iut what is causing the worry

· Help your child to figure out what exactly is bothering them. For example, your daughter may have morning meltdowns about going to school. When what really is bothering her is not understanding math. Getting help with math may help reduce the school anxiety. Another example, your son is anxious about going to a birthday party. Through questioning, you uncover he is not sure how to start and carry on a conversation. Understanding what the worries are helps find ways to solve the problem and feel better. 

Step 3: Think about ways to feel better

· Self-calming techniques – take 3 or 5 really deep breaths, count to 10 (or 20 or 50), drink some water or splash water on your face, engage in a pleasurable activity (drawing, listening to music, reading)

· Take action to solve steps of the problem: if your child is worried about an upcoming math test, help them to organize their time and studying. If worried about meeting new people, help him practice questions and conversation skills.

· Remind them of past experiences of success. 

Step 4: Ask for help

Let your child know you are there to listen and help. Identify others in their life they can talk to when they are anxious or worried: grandparent, teacher, coach, counselor and friends. The message:

· "Talking to someone you trust can make you feel better and less alone when you feel worried. In addition, the person may be able to help you solve the problem which is making you nervous."

Sometimes despite our best attempts to help kids wash away worries, their anxiety begins to interfere with their daily functioning at school, home or on the athletic field. If you feel your child has become overwhelmed with anxiety, a professional can provide the additional support, guidance and skills to help.

Mary B. Moore, LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker who specializes in helping kids and parents cope with and successfully manage anxiety.