Kids are under increasingly more pressure to prepare for their futures. Anxiety begins younger and younger as competition intensifies to get into the best colleges and kids try to make the grade. Some preschools even have an application process now. In addition to scholastic pressures, many kids also face social pressures at school. Bullying has become more rampant, including cyber-bullying--using the email and social media networks to try to destroy a peer's social status and respect amongst classmates. Kids who picked on have even more reason to dread school.
These factors cause many kids to equate school not with learning and friendships, but with a serious source of stress--perhaps much greater than the types of stress that their parents experienced growing up. This is reflected in higher rates of absenteeism. According to The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, several studies show a rise in school avoidance during middle school and junior high. As a parent, you can help your child manage these pressures. Research suggests that the home environment may be as important as school is in providing positive motivation.
How to Identify School Anxiety
Occasionally, kids and adults alike would rather stay in bed than face the day's challenges. But when kids exhibit a more regular pattern of school avoidance, their behavior may belie a more serious problem. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), experts advise talking with your child's doctor to determine whether complaints are related to a physical health problem or are anxiety-related. Treatment and next steps depend on the reason that your child is avoiding school and their age.
How to Address School Anxiety
It's important to communicate with your child to try to determine the source of the stress. With younger children, simply talking to them about school and helping them prepare can soothe anxiety. With older kids, try asking specific questions about school-related situations and classmates to get to the bottom of it. For example, you could ask:
- What is it that you're feeling exactly? Do you feel scared? Stressed? Does anything hurt?
- Are you having a hard time with any of your classes?
- Is there a teacher that you don't like?
- Is someone at school bothering you?
How to Help
If you aren't able to figure out what's at the root of your child's stress about school, you may need to enlist the help of a therapist. Some kids may feel more comfortable talking to an objective third party than to a family member--especially if they feel ashamed or embarrassed about something that's happening. If you determine that worries related to school are indeed at the root of your child's problems, a behavioral intervention may be necessary. A therapist can help you decide if the following techniques could help with your child's anxiety:
- Meditation to calm the mind
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
In more serious cases where kids are being bullied, you may need to enlist the help of school officials. In sever cases, you shouldn't rule out the possibility of having your child transfer schools.