The first session I had with him gave me a few answers. I pulled out a page of single digit addition problems. "I can't do it", he said, and refused to put his pencil to paper. He had visual signs of anxiety. I wrote the problems on a small white board, and he still refused to try. Reading was a similar experience. What I found is that he easily demonstrated many of the skills that brought him so much anxiety when playing games, or talking about sports.
Students who cannot push much past their current level of capability into a challenge before shutting down can be said to have a narrow "challenge threshold". These kids often struggle in school because any time a new challenge presents itself, they don't have the emotional resiliency to deal with the possibility of not succeeding.
In this case, I stretched my client's challenge threshold little bits at time by having him try one problem, or by reading one page, or writing one sentence, then praising him for his efforts. I worked with him on developing a "growth mindset", basically helping him to value growth and learning over academic perfection. Over the next year, this young man gained two years of academic growth and a whole new level of confidence.
We all have a challenge threshold. The wider our challenge threshold, the more prepared we are to tackle what life throws at us. Nurturing a wide challenge threshold in our children is another way that we can help our children experience life-long success!