Family | Many children are anxious at school and this makes learning difficult – a brain researcher explains how parents should make it easier for them to feel

A child may drift into a typical human fight or flight state, where it becomes difficult to learn something new. However, an adult can feed a positive attitude.

16.9. 12:40

Can you stop rocking in the chair and focus on the tasks? How many times do you have to say this? It has to be quiet in class – hasn’t this already been agreed?

The teacher nags at the constant disorder, and the atmosphere in the classroom is nasty.

It doesn’t matter to anyone.

“The negative message spreads throughout the class and a bad atmosphere impairs everyone’s ability to learn new things,” says a brain researcher and professor of education at the University of Helsinki. Minna Huotilainen.

Huotilainen has become known for his many interviews, in which he tells us in a popular way what things are good for our brains. He has hinted to students that learning is enhanced if you take a break every 45 minutes. She has recommended trying small naps for everyone. He encourages to play music as well as to leave less vacuuming and go to the woods instead.

Huotilainen also emphasizes the effect of a positive attitude: it leaves a mark on the brain of a growing child, which increases curiosity and the ability to embrace new things throughout life. Consistent positive feedback creates an atmosphere that has a long-lasting impact on everyday doing.

When Huotilainen began brain research more than twenty years ago, working primarily in a laboratory. Subjects were dressed in a wired hat resembling a swimming cap that measured brain reactions while the subject was given various stimuli.

“It was complicated and awkward, the experimental setups were foreign to reality,” Huotilainen says.

Nowadays, measuring devices can be put on, you can move and sleep with them. Research can be done in an everyday environment: at home, in kindergarten, at school and at work.

According to Huotilainen, there is now a “renaissance of emotion research” in brain research. In the past, researchers focused on naming emotions and classifying them. Now they are trying to figure out what kind of trace the emotions leave in the brain. Huotainen is particularly interested in how emotions affect learning and behavior.

In our brains there have been two basic regulations since the hunter-gatherer period.

Humans, like other prey, have a powerful survival mechanism that relentlessly monitors potential danger. The mechanism is so strong that it cannot be turned off.

“If we heard a lion roar nearby, we would immediately bounce up,” Huotilainen illustrates.

When danger threatens, the entire human body concentrates at its full capacity to survive. This need displaces, for example, the ability to empathize.

On the other hand people are also curious and creative, as the brains of the hunter-gatherer are constantly developing new ways to obtain food.

“We continue to balance between these two extremes: caution protects us and curiosity takes us forward – ultimately, curiosity may be even more important for survival,” says Huotilainen.

Researchers can further verify these two conditions in a child, for example, by measuring his or her physiology.

“Everyone is in a fight or escape mode sometimes, but it’s worrying if it’s a child’s normal state, if he’s in that state all day, or all week. Things are even worse if it is the normal state of all the children in the kindergarten, ”says Huotilainen.

Finnish children do not have to be afraid of lions. Instead, the modern child monitors other types of threats: Why is that guy looking at me around, is it going to take my backpack. Is there anything funny about me, is my hair bad? Why is a boyfriend behaving around, is it going to leave?

The threat of failure also causes anxiety and alertness: you should always do something more and better.

If the upcoming math test is exciting, it will be more difficult to prepare for the test.

“The mechanism feeds itself: the more the experiment wears out in its mind, the more threatening it feels,” Huotilainen says.

There is also evidence, he said, that anxiety is contagious and intensifying in groups of friends and young people in bubbles.

Sadly emotions can accumulate in school, for example.

“When a person is in a state of threat monitoring, the mere physiological state prevents learning. This space also spreads from student to student and also from teacher to student and vice versa, ”says Huotilainen.

According to Huotilainen, the task of adults is to ensure that the child is safe at school and that there are enough things to support health and mental health.

“The truth, however, is that we are not here for this. With the dimensions of what adults are in the school today, not every child can be encountered during the school day, ”says Huotilainen.

An ordinary school day is full of factors that hinder learning.

The first grader queues to eat in a noisy and open space with 300 other students. The situation can be scary for a child because there are too many people and too many events. The student may not even know how to navigate the space and where the different doors lead. The situation is too uncontrollable for him.

“Wrong!” Huotilainen says. “If the dining situation is already scary, what is it like to study in an open school environment where there are just too many people, events and noise? Learning requires peace. ”

An teenager who is insecure about his body has to do an exercise during a gym class that he does not perform.


The student is bullied at school.


Huotilainen reminds that bullying interferes with the school work of both the bully and the bully.

“The bully is often stereotypically seen only as a villain, but he also walks his own struggle for survival. If he didn’t have to worry about his own success in the world, he wouldn’t have to be bullied. ”

When there are not enough adults in school, there must be good practices.

According to Huotilainen, every school should have, for example, a practice of tackling bullying, which is implemented systematically.

“Then everyone knows what will happen from the bullying situation.”

What what can parents do to help their child learn?

It is the parents ’job to create a space in the home where the child and young person will be heard so that they can safely be themselves. The young person is looking for their own self-image and sometimes wants to confuse their parents by announcing that they are something strange.

“Parents get upset and maybe have a little time so that the young person doesn’t have to take harsher measures. The most important thing is that the young person is not abandoned, ”says Huotilainen.

For each child, according to Huotilainen, parents should think about whether all the days are spent from inconvenience to grinding.

“That’s extremely tiring for both the child and the parents.”

He emphasizes that the child has the right to hear a positive speech about himself and the parent has the right to speak positively about his child.

It is important for the young person that the parent understands the world in which the young person lives. According to research, the anxiety and cynicism of high school students is on the rise, and it is scary in Huotilainen’s opinion. For college students, anxiety is already starting to be more common than depression.

“It is no longer enough to ask what is bothering this one young person. One has to ask big questions: what is wrong with the entrance examination system, the school and society as a whole, ”says Huotilainen.

He shares the view that the entrance examination reform has increased the pressure on younger and younger students, when decisions about the future must always be made only at an earlier stage.

Another issue that has emerged from research is the excessive use of social media, which causes depression in young people.

The third area of ​​concern for young people is social segregation. Some members of society are doing even better, while others are always doing worse. According to Huotilainen, it especially harasses young people: “It doesn’t help much, even if the young person himself is doing well if the guy is deadlocked and doesn’t know how to get out of there.”

This is how you turn negativity into positivity

1. Shy child

The child is shy and afraid of the presentation he will have to give in front of the class

A parent can help by practicing in advance at home with the child. You can videotape the exercise and watch from the video how interestingly the child can tell about an important topic. It is important for a child to feel accepted as shy.

2. A child with features of the autism spectrum

The child knows the scientific name of more than 400 species of dinosaurs. He has dinosaur-themed cards he doesn’t want to give up for a moment.

The idea that autism is one way to be human can help a parent, and there is no need to improve this trait. Could a child be as enthusiastic about history or math, for example?

3. An overactive child with attention deficit disorder

The student swings in his chair and interferes with teaching. The teacher’s motto in the situation is: Try something else. A silent chair, stress ball, or studying outdoors can help the student. Remember that a child is not the same as his diagnosis. The child is the top type, and the teacher’s professionalism is to make the top type visible.


Bhavi Mandalia

Bhavi Mandalia

Enneagram 7. The multi-tasker. Growing one step closer every day to leaving my legacy.

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