School Anxiety

Many students experience school anxiety at one point or another. It may occur in kindergarten, when students transition from one school to another or any time throughout their school career.

School anxiety may be the result of:

  • External influence: Something that happened in class, on the bus, during recess, etc. It may involve another student or a teacher.
  • Internal influence: Something that your child is afraid may happen or something that your child misunderstood.

It may even be the result of something that is unrelated to school. Sometimes students experience school anxiety as a result of some internal or external experiences at home, in the community, etc.

Here are some tips which you may find useful at any age, and for any type of school anxiety.

Acknowledge the problem. The most important thing you can do for a child experiencing school anxiety is to acknowledge that her fears are real to her. If nothing else, you'll ensure that she won't be afraid to talk to you about them. School anxiety is real. It may be the result of any number of factors, some external and some internal. Only when the anxiety is identified as real can we start to do something about it.

Ask, "What three things are you most worried about?" Making your request specific can help your child start to sort through his fears and feelings. If he's unable to name the things that are most worrisome, have him tell you any three things, or the most recent three things.

Ask, "What three things are you most excited about?" Most kids can think of something good, even if it's just going home at the end of the day. But chances are your child does have things she really enjoys about school that just get drowned out by all the scary stuff. Bring those good things out into the light.

Do some role-playing. Once you have some concrete examples of anxiety-provoking events, help your child figure out an alternate way to deal with them. Discuss possible scenarios and model appropriate and realistic responses and coping techniques. Give your child the opportunity to play both roles in the situation so that he can see how you handle the situation as well as practise handling it himself.

Keep the lines of communication open. Let your child know that she can always talk to you, no matter what. It's not always necessary even to have solutions to her problems. Sometimes just talking about things out loud with a trusted adult makes them seem less threatening. If the situation does become overwhelming for your child, you want to be the first to know about it.

Understand the value of tears. Crying can be a great stress reliever. It flushes out bad feelings and eases tension. It's hard to see your child crying, and your first instinct may be to help him stop as soon as possible. After the tears have all come out, your child may be in a particularly open and receptive mood for talking and sharing. Provide a soothing and sympathetic presence, but let the crying run its course. Severe crying and anxiety may be a sign that professional help is needed.

Resist the urge to fix everything. It is important to teach your child strategies to solve her own problems. Rushing to fix everything will only lead to increased anxiety and school problems. However, there are some instances in which parents do have to take action. If your child is in a class that's too challenging, not challenging enough, or where he feels threatened or harassed then it is important to speak with your child’s teacher and or school counsellor.

Know when to get help. Most children experience school anxiety to some extent, and some feel it more deeply and disruptively. When does it become a big enough problem to require professional help? Some signs to look for are major changes in friendships, style of clothing, music preferences, sleeping and eating habits, attitude and behavior. If you are concerned, speak with your child’s teacher, school counsellor and/or administrator.

Reference: Terri Mauro,