Today is World Mental Health Day, and it seemed like a fitting time to talk about school anxiety. As a veteran teacher, and a behavior support specialist…..I have a TON of experience professionally with school anxiety and I wanted to share what I've implemented as a parent of a now school aged child.
School anxiety. What does that look like and what is it? Morning struggles. Temper tantrums. Refusing to go in to the classroom. A lot of kids experience school anxiety at some point to an extent. It can last a day, a week, a month or longer depending on your child and depending on how they are supported. I wanted to share my top suggestions for helping your child if this is a struggle for them.
How to Help Children with School Anxiety
Communicate with School Personnel: Don't battle this alone. Talk to your child's teacher. Talk to the principal. Talk to the school psychologist. Ask to have a meeting (an informal meeting is fine, this isn't necessarily something that warrants an IEP Meeting or 504 Meeting). The school staff will help you formulate a plan that they can support. We had meetings like this ALL the time. Usually we formulated a short term plan…..and then would slowly let it fade as the child felt more comfortable.
Prepare the Night Before: You know what can cause anxiety to kick into high gear? Chaos and rushing (which I can 100% say is true as someone who struggles with anxiety myself). The more you can prepare the evening before, the better. Clothing selected. Backpack packed and by the door. Socks and shoes ready. Homework done. A calm, slow morning will leave time for emotional support.
Morning Mantra: I know, I know. It's a little woo woo, but if you guys watch our Instagram Stories……then you know I believe in mantras for kids. There's something in the power of repetition. Repeating that you can do it, that you are safe, and you are ready does something to you psychologically. Eventually you believe it.
Get a Watch: A lot of school anxiety comes from children feeling out of control. About their schedule. About being picked up. Help your child to understand the routine of the day, and when the day will be over. Even little kids can understand routine. Let them know that you pick them up an hour after lunch. Older ones? You can easily ask for a school schedule so that they can use a watch and keep track.
Baby Steps: Focus on positive changes. Did you child get in the car by themselves? Exit the car on their own? That's progress if it was a struggle. Walk into the classroom with a friend? You only had to stay for 10 minutes instead of 20? That's progress too. Loop your child in. Let them know that each day, they'll have a new goal. And that each day they'll feel more comfortable.
Seek Professional Help: If you feel that your child is NOT adjusting, or if you as a parent feel ill equipped to handle school anxiety…..seek professional help. You can always ask the school staff for a recommendation. Often, schools can suggest therapists or behavior support specialists who are specifically suited to help with school anxiety.
I promise, in 15 years of teaching, I never saw a case of school anxiety that wasn't resolved within a month or two. School anxiety (as with all types of anxiety) is valid, and totally understandable. And it's also resolvable and easily supported with a great team around you.