School anxiety is the state of a child feeling intense, persistent worry and fear as a result of day-to-day challenges faced in school. A child may be bullied, ridiculed or rejected by his or her classmates, all of which can breed anxiety in children.
Research has also indicated that teachers contribute to anxiety in children by failing to appreciate the effort of a child who constantly may still make poor grades or shaming the child in front of others. Even the rigors of academics and standardized testing can be anxiety-inducing.
Whether or not a child already displays signs of anxiety, it is important for parents to understand how to manage anxiety and establish plans to help their kids learn to deal with anxiety.
Empowering your child to manage school-related anxiety will help to identify and strengthen their self-healing abilities. Here are some ways you can help:
1. Avoiding leading questions
Parents are advised to avoid asking their kids questions that encourage the desired answers. Such questions distort the memory, tricking the child into answering in a specific way that might not be true or consistent with his or her feelings. Instead of asking, “Are you worried about your upcoming exams?”, try to ask open-ended questions like, “How are you feeling about your upcoming exams?’’
2. Practice active listening
Active listening requires that the listener fully concentrate, understand, respond and then remember what is being said. Turn off any distractions and truly listen when your child shares something with you. Making them feel valued and heard will give them the encouragement to come to you in the future.
3. Know your child’s likes and dislikes
Children with anxiety can sometimes find it difficult to open up to individuals they are not close or related to, such as a teacher. Share information with your child’s teacher like his or her interests, hobbies, likes and dislikes. This will enable teachers to build up a relationship with the child by finding common ground.
4. Get back to basics
Too much of a good thing is still too much. Your child doesn’t need to play every sport or attend every party. Take some time to slow down and focus on fulfilling basic health needs such as:
Getting enough sleep
Outdoor free play
Plenty of water
5. Find an outlet
Another way of helping children manage school-related anxiety to help them find an outlet. For some kid’s this may be a sport or music lessons. For others, it could be curling up with a good book or going for a walk together. Just like adults, children need time to unwind and decompress. If anything, they need it even more due to the rate of development and frequent transitions that occur throughout childhood and adolescents.
6. Respect their feelings
If a child is terrified about doing something like going to school, resist the inclination to force them--at least initially. Respect their feelings and take the time to explore why they may be feeling a certain way. Try to work through those feelings together to identify what may be causing the anxiety and come up with a plan together on how to move forward.
7. Be vulnerable
Show your child that it’s okay to not always be okay. It’s what makes us human. Showing your emotions and demonstrating healthy ways to manage them is a great way to lead by example. Let them know it’s completely normal to feel anxious, sad, angry or worried from time to time and that part of moving past these feelings is to allow yourself to feel them.
When to seek help
The care team at Brooklyn-based practice Mind Body Seven specializes in work with children, teens and young adults to provide sensitive, confidential and effective help for mood, anxiety, attention and adjustment difficulties. We also offer family therapy to help family members improve communication, understanding, validation, empathy, and effective problem-solving. To schedule an appointment, call (212) 621-7770.