The natural parental impulse of a child in distress is to protect them. With school anxiety, parents often consider homeschooling or extended breaks from school to treat or protect against the suffering caused by school anxiety. While this temporarily masks the problem, extended avoidance of school can lead to worsening school anxiety when reintroduced.
Most people experience anxiety before beginning something new. So normalizing this truth for children before they enter a new year of school can help them realize this is a part of the process. Many children won’t believe it, it still helps to tell them that most of the other kids are feeling anxious too.
Source of the School Anxiety
School anxiety can be related to social or academic pressure, or both. Students who experience bullying have clear reasons for being anxious. Children who don’t feel like they ‘fit in’ can be anxious. The first thing is to try to get a handle on the source of the anxiety. Is it a general anxiety about separating from parents or is tied to a particular issue such as prior bullying or learning issues.
If it is a general anxiety, be as proactive as possible. Examples – visit school building before school is in session to help the child get a non-stressful association with the building. Next would be to visit with a parent when they do not have to attend. Just walking into the building and seeing students and teachers at work while still in the proximity of a parent.
If the source is tied to a particular school issue, a parent needs to have a conversation with teachers and administrators to figure out what steps the school should take to address the issue. If a resolution or plan is in place, then the parent needs to reassure the child as to what steps have been adopted to solve the problem and that the parent will monitor outcomes and intervene if the plan was not working.
Identifying the Triggers of the School Anxiety
The student needs to identify the triggers for the anxiety. What is the situation, what is happening, what are the expectations? Then talk through it in a rational way. What is the worst that can happen, and is it that bad really? If the worst does happen, what can we do to resolve it? Having a solution in your back pocket gets rid of the uncertainty and gives the student confidence in their ability to deal with the worst if it happens. Talk about mistakes and failure, and that they are good things because they are clues to what will make things better in the future. The more they fail (key point: and learn from it), the less anxiety they will eventually have!
School Anxiety is a Temporary Condition
School Anxiety is unrelated to personality, it’s irrelevant to self-worth. Having anxiety is like having a cold. It doesn’t make you a better or worse person. It just makes today a little harder to get through. Teach the student that when anxiety happens, it’s just an annoying imaginary person saying annoying things. After a few deep breaths, some muscle relaxation, and focusing on the present moment, it will fade away again.
The most important thing for a student to learn is that anxiety is good. It gives us information – and that they just need to become comfortable with it, so that the volume isn’t so loud. Also, everyone experiences it at one point or another! Talk about your anxieties as a parent, and in what (healthy) ways you cope with it. Then, practice working through it.
For example, if the student needs constant reassurance that homework is correct, practice completing it first, and then check it. Encourage them to make mistakes and admit when they don’t know something. Reward them for their bravery in dealing with fear, and remind them of the progress they’ve made so far!
School Anxiety to be Handled on an Individual Basis.
School anxiety has to be handled on an individual basis. During the back to school season, children feel an exceptional level of pressure. Some children need strategies to make them feel safe at school. Example pictures of their family on their desk, sitting next to classmates they deem safe.
The level of anxiety varies kid to kid and year to year. Take your child to the school they are to attend during the summer. Visit the classroom. Introduce them to the office staff. Spend time with your child answering every question they have until they quit asking question. It lets your child know they are an important person in your life, and you will do whatever needs to be done to help them feel confident. Once your child feels they have control over the situation, the anxiety will lessen.
To help us with further insights on dealing with School Anxiety, we reached out to some widely recognized experts in the Parenting field. You can click on your favorite expert’s name to jump straight into their opinion about the topic.
Dr. John Mayer, a leading Psychologist and Author on School Anxiety
Dr. John Mayer a leading psychologist who cares for youth and families and a national school consultant. His web site is: www.DrJohnMayer.com and and author of FAMILY FIT.
Here are some Tips and Facts on School Anxiety/Stress.
The biggest source of stress is always from the unknown, always. When we, humans at any age, do not have the first-hand experience with an event, we stress about it. With school, think about it, the upcoming school year is a big unknown for both parents and children. No matter how old you are the next year holds a lot of mystery, if you are going into the 7th grade (middle school here) you may have been an expert at grades 1 through 6, but 7th grade is a new experience.
Our goal shouldn’t be the impossible task to alleviate that stress, but to help our children cope with that stress. We do too much thinking as parents about how to eliminate this or that in our child’s life rather than letting them face SOME stress and learn how to develop coping mechanisms in the face of it. This is healthy and good development. They will not avoid stress all their life; it’s inevitable so help them face it. So, all that said, parents can share their methods of handling unknown situations, tell YOUR story of how YOU coped with the new school year when you were young. Often children feel like they are going through this alone or that their big, strong parents never had to feel this way.
Ways Parents can help with the School Anxiety.
Keep your home stress free as much as possible around this times-they don’t need the extra stress.
Be compassionate about your children’s fears this is not a time to, “tough it out.”
Tell them how you experienced the same feelings when you were their age as stated above.
Take their school stress seriously—don’t dismiss it or diminish it—don’t compare it to the adult stresses you face and then belittle what they are going through. For them, these first experiences of facing a stressful event are just as big in their lives as the “serious adult stresses” you face as a parent—trust me on this.
Use the coping skill of having them focus on several of the pleasurable aspects of going back to school, such as seeing their friends, playing in a sport, participating in the music program, art program, getting some new clothes, etc.
Suggest to them coping strategies—such as:
Being organized for the start of school.
Reviewing habits that worked well last year.
Improving on skills that were weak last year.
Tell them how you cope with stress-tell them your “story.”
Take breaks/have fun/get physical activity.
Children worry about many of the same things we adults do: failure, how hard will this be, again, as above, what is this unknown adventure I am embarking on. Keep in mind that children are not in complete control of their lives to the extent that adults are. Thus their fears are magnified because they feel helpless and powerless to change what they are about to experience.
Children changing to a new school or changing a grade have all the above fears PLUS: the peer group which offered them sameness and comfort are different.
Supplies…..new pencils and pens, special writing paper, notebooks and binders to keep organized, an assignment notebook, a backpack or book bag to carry school supplies, highlighter pens to underline sections of books, a special case to carry lunch or snacks. These “treats” help kids see the positive in school and look forward to school and are great coping mechanisms.
Set schedules and Rules.
The best step in helping your child prepare for the beginning of the school routine is to set schedules, you might even say rules, for your child. You will go to bed at xx xx xx time, xx xxx time is homework time, you must participate in one extracurricular activity each year you can pick which one, but you must be involved. You do this because children will not do these things on their own. They have not finished products so we cannot expect them to conduct themselves like we do.
This is one of the biggest conflicts between parents and children. We (adults) expect them (children) to approach things like school the same way we would. My favorite example is procrastination. Parents get frustrated when children wait to the last minute to do an assignment when we parents would have prepared for it ahead of time. Children need firm guidelines on all these issues of school preparation asked in this question.
Elisabeth Stitt on Dealing with School Anxiety.
Elisabeth Stitt, a teacher for 25 years and a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, gives her advice on dealing with school anxiety. You can connect with Elisabeth Stitt on her website, elisabethstitt.com.
Familiarize your Child with the Physical Layout of her School and Classroom.
Do whatever you can to familiarize your child with the physical layout of her school and classroom. If you are headed to a new school, ask the front office (or the district office if the school office is on vacation) for names of families who would be willing to answer questions about the school. If the school is unable or unwilling to provide this, see what you can find online. Very often, for example, the PTA president’s info is listed. She will be able to connect you with someone, for sure.
If your child is changing classrooms during the day, as soon as you have the schedule, physically “walk” your child’s day in the order that she will go to each room. Then use a written out the schedule to review the schedule until she can picture the day in her head. If you don’t know where she will be sitting in the room, have her imagine and verbalize out loud what the experience might be like from different parts of the room and brainstorm advantages of each (being close to the teacher or close to the windows or the pencil sharpener, for example). Be sure to include how to get to the restroom from each of her classes.
Do what you can to get to know the teacher ahead of time.
Does the teacher have a website with pictures of herself? If you don’t yet know which teacher your child will have, look at all the websites for the teachers at that grade. See if you can figure out what the teacher’s routines are. How does she assign and collect homework? What her her expectations for students if they finish early? What should a student do if she doesn’t finish her classwork in class?
Keep swinging by the school the last few weeks before school starts.
Meet as many people who are there as you can—not just teachers but custodians and office staff. Have your child offer to help. Lots of times teachers are at school early setting up their classrooms and would be happy to have your child be the one to put the books back on the bookshelf. Does your child have a special interest in music or the library? Find those classrooms, too, and see if those teachers need help. Discuss which adult you might go to for what kind of aid. Role plays how to approach the adult to get help.
Is your child anxious about the actual school work?
See if you can review it ahead of time. My son used to order all his books ahead of time and preview them over the summer. Does a particular subject have a reputation for being hard? A genuinely anxious child will choose to do some study over the summer so that she feels less overwhelmed at the start of the new school year. I did an intensive four-week German program the summer before I started German I. Being able to walk in and say, “Guten Morgen,” that first day with confidence set the tone for my relationship with the German teacher for the entire course of study.
Is your child worried about leaving you?
Ask! And bring it out into the open. If you have been going through any personal challenges yourself—illness, divorce, the loss of a job—your child may feel that she is essential to your comfort and well-being. That will mean that going to school means leaving you to cope on your own. If she is worried about you, make an action plan for what you are going to do while she is at school and then do it.
Is your child afraid she will fail?
Say, “It may be hard at first, but you will figure it out as you go along.” Help her to identify progress and process. Ask her what steps or techniques she can use to make learning easier. Does she have a hard time remembering to write down assignments or turn completed assignments in? Could she find a study buddy? Does she get permission to take a picture of the whiteboard with her phone? Could she get permission to copy someone’s class notes? Does the teacher have an email so your student can ask clarifying questions from home?
What do all these tips have in common?
Two things: 1) Knowledge is power. Lots of anxiety comes from not knowing and then feeling that you will be signaled out or shamed, and 2) Rehearsal and previewing allow kids to practice being at school ready for multiple situations. Empathy is appropriate—I hear that you are anxious about going to school—and at the same time, it is important to emphasize the positive—I know that it will get easier over time. You won’t feel uncomfortable the whole year.”
Kanesha Baynard, a Life Coach, Veteran Educator, and Workshop Leader, on How to Deal with School Anxiety
Kanesha Baynard is a life coach, veteran educator, and workshop leader. Her workshop on managing *Back-to-School C.H.A.O.S.* is wildly popular. She created the Bold Living Today, community to support people in creating the lives they want based on their core desires. She is also an expert on multi-generational households and in-law dynamics. You can connect with her on her website, www.kaneshabaynard.com
Identify any Triggers
Think about things and events that caused stress during the previous school term. Think about the negative reactions and feelings that this trigger evokes. Create coping strategies to be prepared if this trigger happens again. *Example*: I get stressed when my kids wait until the last minute to tell me they need supplies for projects. This year I will buy a few extra supplies to have on hand so that I will not have a negative reaction.
Lower your Hurdles
Prioritize what you need to get done your first day/week back-to-school and then spread out other tasks as needed.
Do Vacation Stuff
If there is an activity that you enjoyed while you were on vacation, try to keep that going even when the kids go back to school. You’ll have to be practical about what that activity is, you may even have to modify it, but it may be doable.
Create a Family Vision Board for the School Year
Identify goals that affect the entire family and individuals. Fill the vision board with pictures and other visual representations that support the goals. Refer to this vision board when stressful or tense situations come up. The family can update and revise the vision board as the school year continues.
Create Self-Care Action Cards
Before the school year, starts have each family member write down self-care activities they enjoy (e.g., going on a walk, drawing, meditating, napping, etc.). Capture each activity on an individual index card and put the cards in designated area. When stressful moments arrive, a family member can select a self-care card from your deck and then do that activity.
Create a Designated Sanctuary
Pick a location in your home that will serve as a sanctuary. This is a restful place free of distraction. It is a place for a family member to go, relax, and refuel. You could even put your family vision board in the sanctuary. Typically a sanctuary will have pillows, blankets, a comfortable chair, plants, and low lighting.
Thank You Experts !
To keep the originality of the content, alterations were done at a very minimum on the inputs received. Personally thanking our experts who helped us in completing this article.
For anxiety that leads to frequent panic attacks, a psychology professional should be consulted. As severe issues need more support than an encouraging parent. Consult a local mental health clinician to discuss the treatment options available when anxiety begins to become a concern.
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