Does Your Child Have School-Related Anxiety?
It’s that time of the year again and school is back in session. parents everywhere have been doing cartwheels for the past month or so as the first school bus of the year drove off! Even though back to school time can be exciting for kids and parents, some kids might really have trouble getting past school-related fears and worries.
One big worry might be taking tests. Kids have worried about tests since the time of Socrates. But in our age of never-ending standardized tests, this anxiety spills over into daily life and is a concern for so many families. Let’s look at signs of test-induced anxiety, what contributes to the problem, how parents can help reduce their child’s suffering, and when to seek outside assistance.
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What is Anxety?
The definition of Anxiety is to have a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. It’s completely normal to feel anxious at times but sometimes it can be very overwhelming.
Anxiety can be a problem for adults as well as kids. The problem is most kids are unable to properly explain whats going on with them. That’s why it’s very important to know what signs to look to for.
Recognizing Signs of Anxiety
Physical symptoms such as trouble sleeping, stomach-aches, headaches, or moodiness can be signs that your child is experiencing stress. Changes in behavior such as nail-biting, angry outbursts, withdrawal from friends and family, or making excuses to stay home from school can also indicate that there are worries that need to be addressed.
One problem with anxiety is that talking about it can give it power. It can remind your child about the cause and make it grow in their mind. Children fear that even talking about the problem will make it worse, so they hesitate to tell their parents what is bothering them. This is all to familiar to me, sometimes it’s like pulling teeth (literally) to get my daughter to tell about something that’s bothering her.
But on the other hand, some kids may not even realize that their problems are school-related. They may just feel sick or angry or lonely.
When testing time approaches, well-meaning teachers and staff start teaching kids test-taking skills. Now, there is a practical reason for this, of course; they don’t want students to waste precious time learning how to bubble in the answers or reading unfamiliar instructions for the first time. They also emphasize practices such as healthy eating, limiting TV time, and getting plenty of sleep.
But if too much emphasis is placed on doing something right, however, children may worry that there is something to be feared if they do it wrong. They internalize this worry and it grows with repeated teachings. Kids who are prone to worry may feel helpless over things they cannot control, such as what’s being served for dinner, the TV being on in the other room, or getting back late from siblings’ sports practices.
Helping Your Child Master Their Worries
Experts agree that telling a child to not worry can actually lead to increased worrying. It’s similar to the old “don’t think about elephants” routine: “Okay, what are you thinking about now?” “Elephants.”
Prevention is the key to addressing incapacitating stress in school-aged kids. Providing routines (study, exercise, chores, mealtimes, and bedtimes) is a smart way to manage family life anyway. When children in the family are inclined towards anxiety, or if their daily lives are potentially stressful, routines become more important and necessary.
Examine your goals and hopes for your children and their futures. Are you setting unrealistic standards for them? Have you placed them in elite academic or athletic or dance situations where excellence is demanded? Is it possible that you are trying to compensate for your own failings or lack of opportunity as a youth?
Consider reducing your expectations. Ask yourself if they changed schools or dropped activities or took a year off from competitive sports, what’s the worst that could happen? If your own pride enters into the answer, you are starting to acknowledge priorities and can begin to deal with them.
Meanwhile, there are books written for school-aged children that discuss worries and fears, and even books that gently tackle the subject of test-taking anxiety. Your school librarian can recommend books that other families have found useful.
Knowing When to Seek Professional Help
After taking preventative steps to help your child, if they are still incapacitated by stress, consult with a health care professional. A visit to your pediatrician can rule out any actual physical issues. They will have seen plenty of cases of anxiety in children and can refer you to the best mental health provider.
I’m no expert just a mom sharing my knowledge and research with the next.
With attention and help, anxiety and stress can be alleviated so that your child can enjoy life and still keep up with schoolwork. You know your child better than anybody so you’ll know the best next step to take.