Executive Function, Metacognition, and Anxiety

We just read an excellent post on learning differences and anxiety from Benjamin Meyer, LCSW, titled, “4 Ways To Help Your Anxious Learning-Disabled Child Succeed In School.”

In the article Meyer relates that students with learning differences are more prone to anxiety than their peers. As they struggle in school, they are haunted by the fear that they are ‘the bad kid’ or the ‘dumb kid.’ This fear and anxiety may lead them to hide in the back of the class and refuse to participate or become the class clown and seek positive attention by acting out.

To help students reduce stress and build self-confidence when dealing with challenges, Meyer suggests building students’ self-awareness, breaking down challenging tasks and modeling strategies, and developing a growth mindset. At SMARTS, we couldn’t agree more!

  • Each student has his or her own unique strengths and weaknesses. When a student develops a deeper understanding of who she is, she can replace the fearful image of herself as the ‘bad’ student with something more realistic.
  • By employing executive function strategies to break down challenging tasks, students can lessen the anxiety associated with their schoolwork. A large assignment, such as a paper or a test, may seem daunting at first; however, when a student uses a strategy to plan out his approach, the task will be more manageable.
  • Finally, developing a growth mindset is essential for managing anxiety. When a student receives a bad grade, he may interpret that as proof that his fears were correct. Instead, he needs to see setbacks and challenges as learning experiences. When we learn from our mistakes, we know what we will do differently next time.


Self-awareness, executive function strategies, and promoting a growth mindset are all key components of the SMARTS curriculum, and they should be a part of any supports offered to students who struggle with anxiety. Learning to cope with fear and anxiety is a skill our students will need to be successful in school and beyond.


  • Michael Greschler, M.Ed., SMARTS Director