By Miquel Anastasi-Melchert, LMHC, Psychiatric Associates
As Iowa City, Cedar Rapids and other area schools start a new year, a lot of kids—from kindergarteners to college students—may feel at least some anxiety about school. For most of them, these fears go away within the first week or two as they get used to their new routines.
For some kids, though, the anxiety doesn’t go away. It may even increase. They may feel nervous about homework, tests, friends, expectations or a host of other stressors. These worries can affect their overall health and happiness, as well as their friendships, behavior and grades.
Signs of back-to-school anxiety
As a parent, how do you know when it’s time to get outside help for your child’s anxiety about school? First and foremost, trust your gut. You know your child better than anyone. So if you feel like something just isn’t right, get it checked out.
You can also look for these signs of potential problems:
- Frequent mentions of worries/stress. If you have to reassure your child often that everything will be OK, this could be a sign that their worries are becoming a problem.
- Homework struggles. If your child seems to spend an exorbitant amount of time on homework each night, this could be a warning sign of a learning disability, anxiety, ADHD or a combination of those.
- Stomachaches and/or headaches. Many kids—especially those in grade school or younger—have a hard time explaining that they’re anxious. Instead, they might talk more about the symptoms of that anxiety, such as frequent stomachaches and/or headaches.
- Not wanting to get out of bed. This can be typical teenager behavior. Or it could be a sign of anxiety or depression. If you’re not sure which it is, consider your child’s other behaviors for extra clues.
- Difficulties with friends. Many kids (especially girls) have friend issues from time to time. Listen carefully when they talk about these kinds of problems to make sure bullying isn’t involved.
- School refusal. If your child repeatedly says he/she doesn’t want to go to school, there’s a reason. (And it’s not that they’re lazy.)
Talk to your child
First, talk to your child about school. Ask questions, and really listen. You may learn something that will help you resolve the issue. Or you may realize that you can’t handle the situation on your own.
How to get help
If you think your child may have a problem with school-related anxiety, it’s smart to reach out for help. The problem likely won’t go away on its own. In fact, it may get worse over time.
- Start with the teacher. A good place to start is by having a conversation with your child’s teacher. For starters, they appreciate knowing when there’s a potential issue so they can do everything they can at school to help. Teachers can also share insights with you about your child’s behavior at school. So it’s always good to keep your child’s teacher in the loop.
- Meet with the school counselor. If the problem continues and/or if the teacher isn’t helpful, set up a time to talk with the school counselor. Counselors can be great resources, providing a gateway to other avenues of help for your child—both at school and outside of school.
- Consider therapy. Therapy is another option. A therapist who’s experienced in working with students can help your child identify sources of anxiety and learn tools to manage those feelings.
You’re not alone
Although the culture is changing, there are still a lot of people (in Iowa and across the country) who are hesitant to talk about mental health. One result of this silence is that parents can feel isolated when their child has a mental health issue.
Rest assured, though, that you are most definitely not alone. Many kids have problems with anxiety and other challenges. (In fact, if you bring up the issue with other parents, you might be surprised at how many reveal that their kids have similar problems.)
Just as you’d seek out care if your child had a broken wrist, it’s important to find help if your child has anxiety, depression, ADHD or any other mental health issue. Doing so will help your child recover faster and live a happier, healthier life.
Miquel Anastasi-Melchert, LMHC
Miquel is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and uses solution-focused and cognitive behavioral therapies. Her focus is on helping clients form positive coping skills to replace the negative behaviors creating problems in their lives.