Anxiety Answering Questions

Updated on December 25, 2011
J.H. asks from Manchester, NH
9 answers

Hi fellow mommas. I need your help again. My first grader is having some issues with answering questions. She is a very good reader but refuses to answer questions about what she reads (specifically at school). She grades high in reading but not comprehension. When we are at home and we ask her questions about what she reads she seems to understand perfectly what she just read. When I ask her why she doesn't answer questions at school she says, "school is boring". My daughter is very bright so a part of me thinks it is simply that. However, I believe she might lack confidence or is afraid to be wrong when she answers questions. She does NOT like to get in trouble. If we ask her questions she will make it through about 2 questions before she tells us that is enough and then puts her hands over her ears. Does anyone have a clue what we can do to encourage her to answer questions or at the very least get her to communicate to us about her day without questions?

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So What Happened?

It's been a while but many of your suggestions were very helpful. Thank you!! Basically, I had a brief conversation with her teacher letting her know my daughter would not be the most forthcoming with her answers because she doesn't want to be wrong. Second, I spoke with my daughter and asked her why she answered our questions at home but not her teachers. She, of course, didn't know so I then asked her if she liked the reading level she was at in school or if the books she was reading were interesting to her. She said, "no". Then I told her that if she wanted to read at a higher level and read more interesting books she had to answer her teacher when she asked about what she read even if she was wrong. At that point she seemed to understand. I also told her it was ok to be wrong and that I was wrong many times too and gave her some examples of when I was wrong and how I dealt with it. Thanks again for all your advise. I can't tell you how helpful it has been.

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answers from Seattle on

You just described my own 9 year old daughter to a T.....

We talked with her teacher....and her advice is....what Hazel

DITTO Hazel below.

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answers from Portland on

There was a great article in the New York Magazine regarding very intelligent children and aversions to risk-taking in academics (as well as trying new things they aren't certain they'll be 'good' at). I'm not sure of your parenting style, but I think it's worth a read and I'll include it here:

For some kids, quizzing is a fun challenge. For other kids, little or big, having a wrong answer is a reflection of some sort of deficit on their part (to them-- this is their perception). In short, some kids will boldly guess and some kids will just shut down.

I wonder if your daughter has some performance anxiety, esp. around peers or teachers.

My son is four and often won't offer up information about his day, so I sometimes do a "you tell me-- I tell you" game of telling each other about one fun thing we each did in the morning while he's at preschool. I also like Rae's suggestion of keeping things a little silly at times.

I'd also see if your little girl might be more inclined to use props to have puppets or other toys 'act out' the stories she must review with teachers for comprehension. As a preschool teacher, I have a lot more freedom to try new things than an elementary school teacher might, but this is one approach I would try with the child. This way, the focus is on the puppets or props. If the teacher isn't open to, consider trying it at home. Some kids are much more comfortable acting something out than they are answering a direct question. You might also get a clearer picture of the level of comprehension by what's about the story is being reflected back. Maybe she needs more help with comprehension, or perhaps it is the quizzing that she gets stuck on. Like I said, just one idea from my world...

And lastly, check out the article. Keep your praise focused on her effort, not her smarts. When she's reaching for an answer and gets it "I could see you were working really hard to remember" instead of "You're such a smart cookie, I knew you could do it!" They both sound nice (and believe me, I've had to 'retrain' myself on this one) but emphasis on the effort actually makes for a lower-risk experience for kids. The amount of effort they put toward something is within the child's control, their amount of inherent 'smarts' isn't.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Providence on

Oh your daughter sounds just like my son! He's in second grade and reads very well. Has trouble with comprehension. Is always very shy to answer a question. He is a perfectionist, and doesn't like to get things wrong( inherited by an equally anxious perfectionist-myself). His teacher often tells me that he is shy when asked to answer, often saying that he doesn't know. He is anxious too.Especially before a spelling test.

I often tell him that i know how he feels about answering questions. Sometimes you may not know the answer, and the only way to learn is by asking questions, and trying to find the answer. She may feel overwhelmed and put on the spotlight. I know that is how my son feels. So, we role play. I tell him that he can ask me questions about the book we read together, and I will try to answer. Sometimes i will throw in a wrong answer, and laugh and try again. It helps him out to know that even I get it wrong so not to worry about it!

Added: My son is awful about telling us how his day went. Sometimes to get him to talk, we ask him what we think happened-humorously." Did you see a purple cow?.. Read with an Elephant? " He usually says, "No mom, we read this and this, and then we ..." It gets him to talk.

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answers from New York on

I wanted to say exactly what Hazel said! You mentioned she's very bright. How often has your daughter heard "you're smart" ? Read the article, it's made me change the way I talk to my youngest and I wish I could go back and change how I talked to my other kids! You need to completely stop praising correct answers and talk to her teacher about this method. Say things like "you answered that so quickly, I guess it was too easy, sorry" OR "I liked the way you pauses and thought for a while"

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answers from Chicago on

I would discuss with the teacher what type of excercises for reading comprehension are available. Tell the teacher you want to build her confidence and to help. I was like that. I could read well but it took me awhile to catch up with the comprehension part. :)

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answers from San Francisco on

This is my 9 year old granddaughter as well! I just met with a school counselor last week and I told her that at times I just want to reach in to her mouth and pull the words out! I can tell she wants to say something - I can see it on her face, but like you suspect about your daughter, I think she's afraid to be wrong! She is a definite people pleaser and hates to be wrong about anything! I have no idea what to do.

The counselor did say that modeling that it's okay to be wrong is a good place for me to start. So, when I make a mistake or do something wrong, especially if she's within ear shot, I will say something along the lines of oh gosh! Guess I'm wrong! Oh well, no big deal and then move on. That way hopefully she'll start to understand that it's okay to be wrong and to admit it!

I'm going to be monitoring your responses. Thanks for posing the question!

Adding: Hazel W thank you so much for your insight. I'm trying to remember what I usually say to her. I know that I'm praising her for getting through her multiplication facts much more quickly and saying things like "I see the progress you've made by doing all that homework" and "You did a lot of good work tonight" re homework. I have to think about those things now to be sure I'm praising the effort, not the answer.



answers from Burlington on

I was and still am that same way. For me it is the fear of actually being wrong even if I know 100% I am right. I'm not sure if there was anything that has ever completely helped me for I still have the same fear even at 34. I am working on getting back into school but that fear does hold me back. So I guess I'm commenting more to let you know that your daughter is not alone. Love her and help her build her self-confidence and I bet she will grow out of it.



answers from Boston on

ok so I know you child is not special needs or anything but let me share some strategies that work with SN children and see if you like to try anything with your daughter.

1. have the child write( then read if comfortable) her answer to the questions. Some children respond better when they can write down the answer this allows them to edit the content and gives them more control over the situation.

2. Make sure the child knows the # of question she is required to answer about the book and possibly which questions she will be asked before she reads. This also works well with the how was your day questions. If your child knows what you are going to ask them before you ask them it. They will already have answer and will be more likely to comply if the know they have to answer x amount of questions and what questions. After a while you can throw in a "bonus question" or change one question everyday.

3.Let her make up her own questions before she reads or give her a choice let her pick say 3 out of 5 questions .

4. Ask her to tell you about what she read instead of asking specific questions. Some kids get tripped up by questions that are too specific. You may get the same amount of info or even more if you just let her talk about what she thinks about the book/reading material. Sometimes general is the way to go.

5. Act it out. some kids prefer to get a little physical. Acting and role playing allow a child to be creative and fun. This is a very non-threatening way to get info. an example of this is "tell me what character ate the red apple while acting like a monkey!" You should also be silly and ask the questions is different but fun ways "like standing on your head or being a robot" etc. even just making the questions into a scripted play can be fun.

6. Consider letting your child be the "teacher" and ask the "class" (class could be you and some stuffed animals or you and other people) questions. By letting her ask the questions you are able to empower her and create self confidence. As a bonus you get to see in the questions what she thinks is important and you can model how to answer questions when put on the spot. Also, by answering some questions wrong or saying that you don't understand the question you can help address any fears she might have about the same issues.

7. give her a break. some children to better if the are allowed a 5-10 min play break in-between assignments or reading/answering the questions. Also, using a homework timer can be useful. The child will know that you expect her to finish in X amount of time and that she doesn't have to concentrate for too long before getting a break.

*once you know what works at home you can talk to the teacher about possibly giving your child the same opportunity at school. Also, once her anxiety at home disappears it might not be long before she can do the same at school.
I hope some of these thing help you.



answers from Boston on

You could tell her what a teacher told my daughter: "If you knew everything already I would not have a job, so I am just trying to find out what I should teach you (or the class)". It could also not hurt to have her tested, to find her learning style. Being very bright does not mean she could not have some kind of learning disability, my daughter has dyslexia and is of "very superior" IQ, which makes for a very specific learning style. My daughter is bored by all the repetition that most kids need but then she is lost when it comes to spelling and writing. So for 5 out of the 6 hours every day she is zoning out and for 1 hour each day she is freaked out that she cannot "get" it. The doctor who tested our daughter had very specific guidelines for the school (she is now on an IEP), and he also has a website which on the right hand side under "Quick Jump To" has a "Parent Guide". This might be a good place to start reading for more ideas.
Most importantly, let her know you love her unconditionally. No matter what happens, let her know that you are on her side and that you will work with her to make her life better and that you will never give up on her. Teachers at our school told my daughter that she needed to "just step up to the plate and get busy", and that she may need psychotherapy to get over her fear of writing (yes, really, therapy is the answer to dyslexia?!) - there is all kinds of misinformation out there and she may be hearing negative comments from teachers like my daughter did (and sometimes still does even though they now all know she has dyslexia). I would start with the testing, you can write the principal that you are concerned about her lack of comprehension and you would like a "full core" or testing done. Outside of school this will cost about $3,000 to $4,000, but this will give you a baseline as to where she is academically and will tell you whether she has progressed next year when you can retest. If you want more details you can contact me off line, I live in just south of Nashua in Massachusetts and know a lot of the local folks who can guide you with the schools, and can tell you about our 3+ years of struggling with the schools.

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