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by Diane Peters Mayer
AMACOM, 2008
Review by Anthony R. Dickinson, Ph.D. and Lucillal Lau on Oct 20th 2009

Overcoming School Anxiety

Remarkably well written, and with the average parent in mind comprising her primary readership, Diane Peters Mayer presents a superb 'primer' concerning an oft described (but usually poorly interpreted) familiar topic of general interest to many (if not all ?) parents. Of likely benefit also to those working with children in schools of various kinds, training centres, and community-support networks, this one volume affords a fuller grasp as we have seen of school-related anxieties, in the form of easy-to-read case study vignettes with interpretive discourse, accompanied by practical exercises for simple implementation in relieving them. Perhaps lacking in clear evidence for most of her claims with regards the clinical or physiological literature alluded to (references remain uncited, although the author does provide a 'Resources' section which lists several relevant books and websites), we would have liked to see a 'sources' section included for the more research-oriented reader to explore the facts as stated, for themselves.

Following an initial introductory section concerned with definitions and characterizations of a wide range of anxiety-related symptoms and contexts (being careful to distinguish anxiety from fear or stress per se), the best possible start introduces the reader to 'anxiety' as an experience not necessarily to be avoided (i.e., as 'bad'), but as a phenomenon to be managed throughout the ontological development of every child's personal growth (from day 1 at kindergarten through high school). The following chapters 3-13 each deal with a different specific manifestation of anxiety-provoking experiences common to children of school ages, including separation anxiety, worry, novel situation avoidance, homework and examination anxieties, perfectionism, self-esteem management, bullying, and parent-intrafamily conflicts. We imagine that many parents will wish to focus upon only one or two of these chapters as may be most relevant to their own child(ren)'s anxiety symptoms once identified, but for professionals working with life-skill enhancement training programs and psychometric assessment caseloads, reading Peters Mayer cover-to-cover will (we believe), reveal much of significance for use in the parenting  consultancy clinic also. Each of the 10 middle chapters first outlines the relevant target anxiety-related expression symptomologies (with variations and partial-differential diagnosis, DSM-IV refs, etc.), followed by aetiology considerations, occurrence frequency data, exercise and 'treatment' recommendations, symptom management procedures and some excellent checklists. These are each presented as 'stand-alone' readable chapters (we in particular enjoyed the chapters concerned with Bullying (Ch.12) and Parental and Family Conflict (Ch.13 ) and, with ready reference to the many 'common' solutions to be found in the later chapters 14-19, which introduce and discuss the author's own preferred 'ready for use' techniques for managing anxiety, with parent(s) and child working together to experience the benefits of belly-breathing, visualization, and a variety of other physical activity-based distractions.

Although not explicitly stated, one recurrent theme extractable throughout this book (at least from the view of the current reviewers), is the author's hinting that the key to anxiety reduction lays in its management, rather than its avoidance or annihilation. Indeed, as she does later state towards the conclusion of her book (correctly in our view): "If a deep belief exists that the symptoms of anxiety [and not simply their deliberate expression*] in all their disturbing manifestations are harmless [and not life-threatening*], then it does not matter where or when they strike, anxiety and panic will decline and lose their power" (p.170, *square bracket text indicates additional reviewer commentary). Initially reminiscent of the psychodynamics of the early 1970s and 1980s, this book offers much more than the usual fare of that nature, with extensive discussion of a range of different anxiety management strategy(ies) and practical advice for immediate home-based implementation(s), with appropriate cautions also being sounded with regards the use of either psychotropic medications, or other 'alternative' forms of therapy which parents may be considering to expose their anxious child(ren) to. A final take-home (do-at-home ?) message recurrent in the text, is for parents to consider the possibility that their child(ren) might be 'learning' at least some of their anxiety-related expressions/behaviours from their observations of other family members as they may have exhibited them in stressful situations (and especially those of their own parents). Peters Mayer repeatedly states that the exercises which she proposes be conducted by both parent and child together (and of this part the current reviewers are particularly supportive), with parents remaining willing to model the very behaviours they might wish to engender in their new, and increasingly less-anxious children, as they also grow toward a more mature, and relatively stress-free, adulthood experience.


© 2009 Tony Dickinson & Lucillal Lau


Dr. Tony Dickinson & Lucillal Lau, Academic Research Laboratory, People Impact International Inc, HK.