Helping Children With School Anxieties
Photo courtesy of Falon Koontz/Shutterstock
School can create a number of stressors and pressures on elementary-aged children, from navigating the social world without direct support from their parents to managing anxiety or feelings around learning, performance, competition and grades. This month, we will discuss how parents can support their child leading up to and during testing or other high-stress periods, as well as how they can judge if a child’s school-related anxiety is excessive or interfering with his or her ability to demonstrate his or her true capacities.
Ongoing Conversations About School Life
One way to have a sense of the ups and downs in your child’s school life is to keep discussions about school ongoing as a part of your regular routine. This includes being open and available to listen and talk about a range of experiences, from those that were fun and rewarding to those that were aggravating or frustrating. Not all negative experiences need to be fixed or reframed so that one sees the silver lining. Sometimes people — even children — just need to vent! Knowing that the door is always open to discussions about positive and negative experiences or feelings is often enough for a child to feel like he or she can talk about some of the hurdles he or she encountered in school.
Explaining the Purpose of Testing
The true purpose of standardized tests can become lost in the focus on results as teachers prepare their students to perform well on them. Helping a child understand that testing is merely one way for a school to measure what their students are learning — and determine what needs to be taught more and better — is one way to potentially alleviate test-taking anxiety.
Some children may be reluctant to talk about uncomfortable topics. They may wish to avoid the discomfort or they may not know how to put words to their feelings. Other children may develop symptoms (i.e., behaviors that are new or uncharacteristic) around high-pressure times. Examples include attempting to avoid school or complaining about physical ailments. Helping children recognize their own ways of expressing their anxiety (including trying to avoid it) can be beneficial not only in the realm of school-related anxiety, but in helping children understand and express their feelings in general. Without discounting the symptoms, parents can gently and sensitively bring this to a child’s attention by commenting that symptoms such as stomachaches seem to happen around more stressful times and connecting that there may be some nervous feelings about whatever the current stressor may be.
When to Seek Help
For some children, school-related anxiety is persistent. In such cases, parents may notice that their child’s true intellectual capacities (or social capacities) are not being reflected in the work he or she is producing at school. Some children may also show signs of struggling with peer relationships or may exhibit behaviors in school that indicate that they are under an amount of stress that they are not able to manage or control independently. A full assessment of a child’s social and emotional development from a qualified mental health professional can be helpful in developing the necessary supports for the child in his or her school environment.
The Lucy Daniels Center is a nonprofit agency in Cary that promotes the emotional health and well-being of children and families. Visit lucydanielscenter.org to learn more.