Dr Alex Russell discussing Child Anxiety

On one Friday in February every year, teachers in Ottawa always have a Federation Professional Development day. This year it was held at the beautiful Shaw Center in Downtown Ottawa.


Dr Alex Russell was the Keynote Speaker; a clinical psychologist, speaker and author who lives in Toronto, ON. He focuses on children’s emotional development and talked to us about Child Anxiety.

He says Anxiety is like fear, except it is always anticipatory. It is fear with planning.

Anxiety is not all bad but teachers and parents need to make sure that the child is developing adaptive anxiety. We need to make sure that our child or student is becoming responsible for their own life and are feeling adaptively anxious for their own success. For example: If you teach Grade 6 and a parent calls screaming at you, the teacher, because Tim failed his test, we need to make sure that Tim is concerned and upset that he failed the test, not just his parent. If Tim is not concerned or adaptively anxious about it then he will not try to make it right and improve his grades. This will affect his future going forward as well. We need to teach our students and children that learning isn’t only about the grades or about pleasing our parents but pleasing ourselves.

As parents and teachers we need to let our children and students fail. Kids need to learn that doing bad things cause bad things to happen to them.  We need to let them try and fail in reality. It is a hard lesson to learn but one that they need to become anxious for themselves to turn it around and work hard to succeed. If we as parents take care of it for them, they will never learn.


Teachers, of course we want to communicate with parents what is happening in class and how their son or daughter is doing but we really want to make sure that the student is responsible for their own success. We want parents on the side of their child’s education, not in charge of it. Children need to build their own responsibility, problem solving, and ownership of their learning.

Parents feel on the hook for their child’s behavior. When the child makes a mistake, parents feel like the world sees them as a bad parent. Parents need to trust their children to learn the tough lessons.

We need our parents during their child’s life to gradually release responsibility onto the child. When a child is baby, 100% of the care relies on the parents. When they are in Kindergarten, the parents still have most responsibility (98%) but the child can have some too (2%). When the child turns 18 years old, an adult, they should have 100% of their own responsibility. So throughout their life, the parent and teacher should continue to give the student more and more responsibility.

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Teachers: If you have a difficult parent who is upset at you for their child’s mark. You need to realize that the parent is feeling anxious about their kid. We as teachers need to work on getting parents anxiety go down so the child’s responsibility and anxiety increases. When addressing an upset parent or calling home about a grade, make sure to talk about the whole child and have some stories ready to tell so the parent knows that you know their child and puts them at ease. Then, with the parent, discuss a plan that you have to help the student.



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