Childwise: School Anxiety

head shotBy Kathleen Ganster

School has been underway for a couple of weeks now, but what if your child is still anxious about going to school and her new routine?

“By this point, your child should be definitely settled in and if they aren’t, you should talk to the teacher,” said Marilyn Adams, a teacher with 25 years’ experience in the classroom.

Adams, a teacher at Poff Elementary School in Hampton Township School District, has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Penn State University and a master’s degree in elementary education with reading certification from Slippery Rock University.  She is also the mother of two children, Melissa, a sophomore at Penn State, and Ed, a senior at Hampton High School.

It is normal for a child to be a bit anxious before classes start, said Adams.

“There are new teachers, new friends, a new setting, a new routine,” she explained, “But that should only last a week, two at the most.”

If your child seems to be suffering from school-related anxiety, it is better to deal with it right away. First, discuss the issue with your child’s teacher and the school counselor.

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“They have dealt with this before, so they can help,” said Adams.The teacher and counselor can assist with coping skills for the child and watch for signs of stress while the child is at school.

“Our counselor will give the child a worry stone to carry in their pocket to feel during the day,” said Adams, “It really helps.”

Adams also suggests talking with your child to address her concerns which “validates” her feelings.

“I talk to my students and will tell them, ‘I miss my daughter too.’ That helps them know that missing someone is normal,” she said.

Delaying or drawing out the separation process in the morning only makes things worse.

Adams said, “tough love” may be necessary to help the child make the adjustments to the new school year.

“Another teacher says that it is like a Band-Aid, you can pull it off quickly or pull it off slowly, it’s still going to hurt,” she said.

Signs that your child may be suffering from anxiety may include not wanting to go to school, reluctance at doing homework and school assignments, and stomach aches and other stress-related illnesses.

Establishing a routine at home helps the child adjust, said Adams.

marilyn adams093
Marilyn Adams

“Get things ready the night before. Pack up the back-pack and lay out clothes for the next morning. The less stress you have in the morning, the less the anxiety,” she said.

Tucking your photo or a little note in the child’s lunch box or pocket can also help, said Adams, reminding the child that you aren’t that far away.

The open dialogue with the teacher also helps if your child balks at doing her homework.

“You can tell the child that you will just let the teacher know if they don’t want to do homework. I’ve had parents tell me that their child doesn’t want to do it then I talk with the child and they get embarrassed and start doing it,” she said.

But the child should have downtime after school, said Adams.

“I know that not every schedule allows that with sports and everything else, but after a long school day, especially for the younger children, they need to decompress,” she said.

Most of all, parents need to set limits and expectations, said Adams.

“Have structure and limits, then if expectations aren’t met, there need to be consequences,” she said.



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