Answers for Back to School Anxiety

August 16, 2016

Schools across the South started back over the last couple of weeks with schools across the country soon to follow. The start of school brings with it the excitement of seeing friends again and the stability of a daily routine. However, school isn’t always an exciting time for all students.

We recently caught up with Dr. David Foster, V.P. Senior Advisor at Palmer Home for Children, and asked him for his advice for parents of children who are experiencing more than the normal back-to-school anxiety.

School anxiety can be a challenging problem to deal with.  It is characterized by intense fear, often accompanied by crying, pleading, and accusations by the child that the parents are being mean or uncaring by sending the child to school. It typically escalates as the time to leave for school draws near.  Kicking, hitting, and screaming may even be part of the mix.

Getting beyond this anxiety requires a collaborative effort by parents, teachers, and the child who is struggling with the issue. Fortunately, there are many helpful strategies for managing school anxiety. Parents need to listen to their child’s fears, acknowledge them, and discern whether their child has suffered any maltreatment at school or if their worry is rooted more in a feeling of insecurity about being away from parents and home.

If it’s the former circumstance, which is not the norm, further investigation will be required to find out what problem may have occurred at school and to enlist the help of school personnel. If it’s the latter situation, the usual case, parents need to maintain a caring but firm approach in reassuring the child that he/she will be ok, refuse to be manipulated by the child’s emotional outburst, leave the scene (don’t linger), and return to pick up the child at the designated discharge time.

Teachers likewise need to be consistent and caring. School day routine helps to stabilize a fearful child. Keeping the same schedule, engaging the student in the day’s activities, and connecting them with other children will aid in reducing their anxiety.

Mental health professionals who work with children and are trained in cognitive behavioral therapy and relaxation techniques can provide support to parents and children with school anxiety. In the vast majority of cases this is not necessary if the appropriate parental and educational interventions are followed, as previously suggested. Children gain a sense of security primarily from the adults who surround them.

Looking for more help with dealing with an anxious child? Connect with us at our Whole Child Initiative forum where you can discuss your issues with other parents who are also experiencing these same problems or who have experienced these problems and lived to tell the tale. Your questions will be answered by Dr. Foster and other professionals.