As a parent, it can be concerning when your child starts to show signs of school-related anxiety. School is the place where they go to learn, grow and socialize — it shouldn’t be something they dread or fear.
School-related anxiety can take many forms. Some children may become irritable or moody just talking about school. Others may report feeling suddenly ill or tired, unable to attend school as planned.
As a parent, you may feel helpless or overwhelmed. Even when you try to help your little one feel secure and confident, the fears may persist. Here are a few tips for parents who are trying to help their child overcome school-related anxiety.
1. Identify the sore spot
Try to help your child identify the most anxiety-inducing part of going to school. Do they have worries about making friends? Are they concerned about academic performance and getting good grades? Has someone recently embarrassed or bullied them over social media?
Anxiety tends to make us “catastrophize,” meaning we assume the worst is going to happen, and globalize, meaning a small anxiety can spread into something much larger. For example, when your child feels anxious about being unpopular, they may imagine that others will hate them and that their entire school experience will be terrible. By identifying one or two specific areas of worry, you can help your child pinpoint and contain the root of their distress.
2. Let your child know it’s normal
As you learn why your child is experiencing anxiety about school, help them understand that those feelings are normal. Help your child recognize that their emotional experience is understandable and that you might feel the same way if you were in their shoes.
Let them draw from your encouragement. When your child begins to feel seen and understood in their worry, they can feel less alone in their struggle.
3. Help them make a game plan
Now that you and your child are on the same page about the anxiety, you are ready to put together a strategy.
Teach your child that in life, although certain things make us anxious, we push through our anxiety in pursuit of our goals. Your child wants to succeed in school and find social belonging, but their anxiety is standing in the way. Use these values as a sort of motivational shield to help your child cope with and push past the worry.
Problem-solve with your child to help them create a strategy for dealing with their school stressors. Some children may benefit from having a friend meet them at the bus stop. Others might appreciate a phone call during lunch to check in with you. As your child is able to face their worries and move closer to their values, the desire to avoid school will fade.
4. Know when to get help
Sometimes, the anxiety has grown too powerful for parents and children to handle on their own. If these steps prove to be unsuccessful, reach out to a physician for help. Mental health professionals are expertly trained to help children overcome issues like school-related anxiety.
This blog post was contributed by Kyler Shumway, MA, a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology completing his resident internship at Baylor Scott & White Health.