Many elementary school children find their first few weeks back to school exciting, as they meet their new teachers and see their friends again. Yet as they settle into their routines, the realities of school begin to set in and anxiety triggers can surface: From completing homework on time and doing well on tests, to up and downs in their friendships, and being away from their caregivers and the emotional comfort of home.
Symptoms such as irritability, trouble sleeping, headaches, stomachaches, or loss of appetite may be signs of anxiety in your elementary school child. If these symptoms continue or become severe, consult with your child’s pediatrician or a specialist in child psychiatry. They can help you understand the difference between clinical anxiety and the nervousness or worry that we often casually refer to as anxiety. In either case, there are ways you can help your child to cope, including these four school anxiety solutions.
1. Listen to Their Feelings And Validate Them
As adults, we often have 100 things that we are thinking about or need to do, but it is important to take the time to drop everything and show your child that you are seriously listening to their fears without minimizing them. Avoid phrases like: “You do this every year,” or “You’ve got nothing to worry about!” Your child relies on you to protect them. Invalidating their feelings or making it seem like you don’t care can worsen their feelings, not just about school, but also create a strain in your relationship with them. Ask them why they are feeling anxious/worried/scared (not every child knows what “anxiety” is) and demonstrate your confidence that they can handle the situation.
2. Maintain an Encouraging Environment
Parents are busy and they might overlook little achievements, but taking the time to acknowledge them can build confidence, provide reassurance, and help them learn that they can accomplish tasks on their own. It’s important to always provide praise that is specific: “I admire how focused you were on your homework,” or, “You were so brave when you got on the school bus this morning.” This will not only encourage them to repeat that behavior, but it will also boost their self-esteem.
3. Give Them a Comfort Object
For elementary school children with anxiety, carrying a well-loved item that they are familiar with can help put them at ease. Maybe it’s a family photo keychain, or perhaps it’s a special stuffed animal tucked away in their backpack. Distractions can also provide comfort. For instance, a pop-it toy or squish ball can help if allowed in class (or between classes).
4. Share Your Own Story
Times have changed, but talking to your elementary school child with anxiety about a similar situation that you went through when you were younger normalizes such anxiety and helps them feel less alone. Sharing your experiences may help them form ideas on how they can overcome this feeling. It also forms a connection that makes them feel comfortable confiding in you in the future.
Know the Warning Signs of a Mental Health Crisis
Some anxiety in elementary school children can be expected, and these school anxiety solutions can help, but stay on the lookout for extreme signs of depression, anxiety, and irritability. One in five kids will have mental health issues that need treatment, whether with therapy or medication. If you are concerned about their safety, contact emergency medical services or go to the nearest emergency department.
If you’re concerned about feelings of anxiety in your elementary school child, reach out to us at Bloom Health Centers. Our child psychiatrists can help to determine if your child is facing clinical anxiety, versus the stressors of school that can cause typical fears or feeling nervous.