As summer turns to fall, children return to the classroom—and, for some, this also marks the arrival or return of school anxiety. Reasons for this anxiety range from fears about riding a bus to worrying about a new teacher, memorizing a new locker combination, whom to eat lunch with, play with and more. So, as a parent with an anxious child at the start of the school year, what do you do?
First, recognize that school anxiety is becoming increasingly more common—and, according to a psychologist who works with anxious children, there are numerous reasons why, including:
- Academic pressure is beginning at a younger age. Even some middle schoolers are expressing anxiety about their ability to get into the right college.
- Sports have become more competitive, with less focus on fun.
- Pictures on social media with happy children starting out the school year can make other children wonder what’s wrong with them.
Symptoms of Anxiety
Common symptoms of anxiety in children include:
- Withdrawal from friends
- Grade declines
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Physical symptoms, such as stomach aches, nausea and headaches
Talking to an Anxious Child
If you’re noticing symptoms of anxiety, talk to your child about any fears he or she may have, and acknowledge their feelings. Avoid saying anything like, “Oh, that’s nothing to worry about!” Focus on having conversations that help you to discover the root of the anxiety, which will help you to brainstorm effective solutions together.
In general, talk about the school year in a positive way and encourage your child to participate in hobbies and activities that help him or her feel more confident.
More Ways to Reduce School Anxiety
- Make sure your child is getting enough sleep. Getting your child on the right school schedule, one that includes plenty of rest, can go a long way in reducing stress.
- Send comforting items with your child. This can include a nice note in your anxious child’s lunch box or a picture of the family in his or her notebook.
- Visit the school guidance counselor. It’s helpful if the counselor knows about your child’s stress from the start of the school year, so that he or she will know to check in on your child.
- Be clear about the day’s plan. Let your child know who will be picking him or her up, whether at school or the bus stop, along with any other information that will help your child to know what to expect.
Sometimes, fear reaches the level that it turns into school refusal, which means the anxious child now is insisting that he or she will not go to school. This happens most often to children going through a transition, according to Inside.AkronChildrens.org, whether that means starting kindergarten, switching to middle school or something else entirely.
Sometimes, school refusal happens when parents are going through a divorce and the child is worried, or because there are bullies in the classroom. It’s important to determine the root cause and address that issue.
Ways to overcome school refusal include role playing about school situations at home, giving your child tasks to build self-confidence, teaching relaxation techniques, and carpooling with other children. You can find even more tips on dealing with school refusal from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
Communication is Key
No matter where your child is on the anxiety spectrum, continuing to communicate with your child—and making it comfortable for your child to talk to you about concerns—is crucial. Reassure your child that you will solve this issue together.