Yesterday, while I was still at work, I got a phone call from my 13 year old who had come home from school very stressed out because a teacher had told the entire class to improve presentations they were doing about their summer reading assignments. (This was in spite of the fact that my kid had not yet made their presentation, but that's another matter.) The teen feared that they would get a 0 (zero, i.e. no credit at all) grade on their presentation if they didn't spend the 4-5 hours they had left before bed time to totally overhaul their presentation. They were ready to cancel all other evening activities - including skipping their first practice in a new sport league - to do this.
During a 25 minute conversation, I learned some of the details already mentioned. The teacher was disappointed in the presentations already given and asked the students to improve them, mostly asking for more detail to be provided. A brief part of the conversation was with my wife who said that the two of them had already spent 20 minutes talking before calling me. Eventually the three of us settled on a plan that one hour would be given to the additional re-work and we would proceed with other plans. (Eventually approximately 2 hours of re-work were done; I allowed this extra time partly because I thought it would lessen the overall stress, partly because it didn't impact our evening plans, and partly because it seems to me that the kid is now at an age where they should take some responsibility in deciding how good is "good enough".)
This afternoon I called home after school to inquire about how the presentation went. "Fine" was the answer. No grade received yet.
While this is the first time this new school year that this sort of catastrophizing has occurred, it is far from the first time it has happened. Generally, my child doesn't seem to suffer a lot of anxiety in other areas of life, even though both my wife and I do (although not to the level of a disorder). However, school assignments often seem to trigger a great deal of worry.
How can I help my child avoid this sort of thinking that terrible things will happen, or at least come to have a more realistic viewpoint and reduce the stress when it happens.