Many children experience back to school jitters. It's a normal part of childhood. These symptoms may go by different names, but parents will recognize them when they see them in their children. What can be done to help your child better cope with their return to school?
Each child who suffers from school related anxiety has their own experience. But, there are a number of symptoms that are common.
- Clingy behavior
- Somatic symptoms such as stomach aches, headaches and nausea
- Depressive behavior
Your child may very well feel relieved if they manage to avoid going to school. As a result, you may be reassured that you have helped them. But, there are two things to consider.
If your child is avoiding school because they feel threatened, you are really dealing with a different type of situation. This is one that needs your full attention and the cooperation of the school administration. Unless this situation is dealt with, no progress will be made.
However, if the anxiety is due to normal "back to school" jitters, then the successful avoidance of the anxiety producing situation, i.e. school, will increase the level of fear associated with it. And, since your child needs to attend their school, this expected increase in anxiety will unfortunately add to the discomfort they will experience when they do return.
So, remember what may happen as a consequence when a child avoids overcoming their school related anxiety:
- Their experience of anxiety can get worse.
- There may find it more difficult to form bonds with other children.
- They can fall behind academically.
- The family may also experience an increase in anxiety as they witness their child struggle to meet social norms.
In more extreme cases, a child may suffer from social anxiety. In this case, the child will try to avoid all social situations. Exposure may lead to panic attacks. If your child is suffering from social anxiety, professional intervention would be advised. Help may be offered in the form of cognitive behavior therapy including graduated exposure. At times, pharmacological intervention is very helpful. According to Wanda P. Fremont, M.D quoting from Am Fam Physician. 2003 Oct 15;68(8):1555-1561, "Assessment and management of school refusal require a collaborative approach that includes the family physician, school staff, parents, and a mental health professional."
However, most cases of school related anxiety are not that severe. They can often be alleviated with the help of some common sense pointers. According to webmd.com parents should:
- Spend time with their children.
- Give children a stable home environment.
- Establish supportive time-wise routines at bed-time and wake-up times. These can include bathing and brushing.
- Remind their children about previous positive experiences.
- Promise them your support.
Why are children anxious about starting a new school year? The reasons vary depending on their age. For young children, their anxieties may center around worrying if they can please their teacher or who they will lave lunch with. As children mature, they may worry more about being able to pass a particular course or of being socially isolated.
They may also experience peer pressure to experiment in ways they don't want to. As mentioned above, bullying and other physical safety concerns affect a child's experience with school and need to be addressed very effectively.
According to anxietybc.com here are some steps that you can take in advance of the start of school to ease your child back into a productive routine:
- 1 - 2 weeks before school, you should gradually reset your child to a school schedule sleep waking routine.
- Plan the lunches that your child will take together so they feel that they are preparing for the return.
- Create the list of school supplies and plan a fun shopping trip together.
- If this will be a new school that they will attend, go and play with your child in the school yard to get them used to the environment and to set some positive associations with it. (This would apply to younger children)
- Likewise, visit the school a few days before it opens so that your child will get a sense of where everything is and how it looks.
- Be full of praise for positive behavior.
Anxietybc.com also has a great video for parents of young children. Check it out here.
Remember your child senses your stress levels. So be positive and loving. Remember, also, that an anxious child can unintentionally add stress to your relationship. My earlier post, The Strains of an Anxious Child, can help mitigate and minimize the stressors, for the sake of your marriage AND your child.