According to research, anxiety affects as much as 10 percent of children today, making it one of the most common psychiatric conditions affecting today’s children. While no studies have currently been done to determine what portion of those children struggle with school-related anxiety, many experts believe it’s an issue on the rise, even in children as young as preschool-age. That said, more parents than ever before are being faced with the challenge of helping their children cope with school anxiety. It’s no easy task, but understanding the issue and having a few tips to help them manage can ease the burden for everyone involved.
What Is School-Related Anxiety?
Feelings of anxiousness are normal and even expected in children headed back to school. New teachers, new peers, different routines, and pressure to perform are just a few of the stressors that today’s school children face. It’s no wonder that children feel apprehension as a new school year looms near.
However, school anxiety goes a step further than the typical “unease” about the start of school. Anxiety affects the child’s ability to cope with the everyday scenarios and may even become so extreme that the child is unable to perform, attend school, or function as a typical school-age child.
What Are the Types of Anxiety in School-Age Children?
School anxiety generally manifests in one of three ways:
• School refusal – The child refuses to attend school regularly or may have trouble staying in school. Refusal may be accompanied by actual physical symptoms including headache, stomachache, nausea, and diarrhea.
• Test Anxiety – A type of performance anxiety, the child is unable to take tests or perform well on assessments despite adequate preparation and knowledge of the material. Test anxiety may be accompanied by physical, emotional, and behavioral/cognitive symptoms such as headache, stomachache, fear, helplessness, and difficulty concentrating.
• Social Anxiety – The child fears social or performance situations with peers to such a level that he or she may chronically avoid feared situations and/or exhibit behavioral aversions to such situations including tantrums, crying, and shrinking away. The anxiety is severe enough to affect everyday life and lasts longer than six months.
What Causes School Anxiety?
The specific cause of school anxiety is typically tied to the type of anxiety the child is experiencing. However, several common causes of anxiety have been identified including:
• Separation anxiety
• Fear of failure
• Stressful life events
• Social stressors
• History of being bullied
• Lack of sleep
• Academic challenges
• Lack of preparation
What Are the Best Ways to Help a Child Manage School Anxiety?
Regardless of the type or cause of school anxiety, there are several steps parents, caregivers, and even school personnel can take to help children cope with school-related anxiety.
1. Prepare the child early.
Preparing the child in advance can go a long way toward easing fears and reducing anxiety. Preparation may involve talking frequently and positively about the upcoming school year, visiting the school ahead of time, and exposing the child to school-like scenarios.
2. Discuss the child’s concerns.
Anxiety is another one of those instances in which “knowledge is power.” The more a parent or caregiver knows about what is causing the child anxiety, the more he or she can do to help ease the concern. Discussions about the child’s specific fears and concerns can better prepare everyone to face the upcoming school year.
3. Monitor sleep.
Partiularly at the start of the year, lack of sleep can play a significant role in anxiety. Establishing a school sleep routine early and monitoring sleep to ensure the child is getting enough sleep is an effective way for a parent or caregiver to help his or her child proactively manage anxiety.
4. Make a daily plan.
Knowing the plan is important for children with anxiety. Parents can help ease concerns by establishing and sharing the daily plan with the child each morning. The plan should include who will pick be at pick up and drop off as well as any additional plans for the day.
5. Ask for help.
If a child’s anxiety is increasing despite measures to manage it, outside help may be the next step. Parents can speak with the child’s pediatrician or school psychologist for suggestions on how to proceed.
A certain level of anxiety related to school is normal in children. When that anxiety interferes with school attendance and/or performance, though, parents may need to utilize effective strategies to help their children cope. Additional support from school personnel and mental health professionals can also be helpful in easing the child’s fear and helping him or her thrive in the school setting.