Tutoring Accommodations for Children with Anxiety


Tutoring Accommodations for Children with Anxiety

Increasingly parents are relying on after-hours tutors to help bridge the gap between what is learned during day classes, and what each child needs to master to be successful as a student.  However, for children with clinical anxiety, there may be additional benefits that can help provide relief from stress, while building emotional and academic strengths.

Is there more to tutoring than creating familiarity and skill in subject matter?  We will share some recent studies that link improved learning and retention after anxiety is successfully addressed, and how to pick the right structured tutoring for a child who experiences chronic anxiety.

How Does Anxiety Impede Learning?

According to Harvard University’s Center for the Developing Child working paper “Persistent Fear and Anxiety Can Affect Young Children’s Learning and Development,” the impact of anxiety on learning is greater and more complex than many people realize.   It is also apparent that children who experience anxiety typically do not outgrow it (fear unlearning), and the same anxieties with regards to social circumstances or learning can follow a child into adulthood.

One of the revelations in the report acknowledged that children who have experienced prolonged anxiety eventually lose the cognitive ability to discern between dangerous or threatening situations and safe environments.  This is particularly true for children who have experienced a traumatic life event, or chronic emotional or physical abuse, but is also apparent in children who have clinical anxiety unrelated to event trauma.

According to The Child Mind Institute, anxiety reduces learning capacity by:

  • Increasing frustration and reducing motivation to complete assignments or exercises.
  • Reducing the inclination to ask a teacher or parent for help.
  • Fear of ridicule by peers may prevent discussion or clarification of instructions.
  • Increasing disorganization, inattention or restlessness.

Many learning disorders are accompanied with anxiety, and can even be mistaken for anxiety disorders and remain unaddressed through a child’s academic career.  It is important to understand however, that children are not performing at their best when their skills are hindered by social, separation or generalized anxiety.

Can Tutoring Help Reduce Daytime School-Related Anxiety?

There may be another benefit to after school tutoring that few parents and educators know about; it can give children enhanced confidence to reduce school-related anxiety.  In a recent study from Stanford University, 46 children in grade three were evaluated with a test that measured the students level of math anxiety.  A neuropsychological evaluation was conducted on each child, which included an MRI scan; children were asked to complete mathematical problems during the scan, to measure the brains reaction and cumulative anxiety levels.

After the baseline anxiety level was measured, each student was independently required to complete an eight-week program of tutoring in math.   The reported results revealed that children with high academic anxiety had significantly reduced levels after eight weeks.   Children who reported no math related anxiety prior to the tutoring sessions remained unchanged in their results.  The ‘amygdala’ or fear control center of the brain had reduced in activity for anxiety-prone children, but there was no correlation between the exercise and increased math abilities or retention of improved math skills.

Independent and one-on-one tutoring can help children develop strength and comfort in social settings, and confidence in their academic abilities.  We know that in most cases, children benefit from tutoring in terms of boosting their grades; now we understand that it offers them improvement to their self-esteem and the soft skills needed to be successful at school, and in life.

About Jared R

Jared, founder of The Knowledge Roundtable, is passionate about the advancement of knowledge. He has a B.S. in astronomy and physics from UMass and an MBA in Advanced Financial Analytics, also from UMass. He has a day job as a Data Scientist in Boston. He has over 500 hours of tutoring experience in everything from algebra to writing. He taught our SAT prep group courses for two years in NH, and before that developed educational content for math, stats, and finance textbooks for two years. His teaching style is hands-on with a focus on problem-solving and critical thinking.