Oh, those butterflies — how to ease school anxiety

School’s been back in session for a little while now. Are your kids starting to get into the hang of the routine? Or do you have a little one who’s still feeling a little uneasy about the whole “school” thing?

When it comes to school, some level of anxiety in kids is normal. It’s common for all kids, but especially common among those who are starting in a new school or other unfamiliar environment.

“All students are anxious when first starting a new school year. Some children think they are the only ones who feel nervous but this is common and expected. It may take up to 2-3 weeks before they feel settled in with the new school year with the new teachers and students,” says Dr. John Heise, adolescent medicine specialist at Children’s Hospital at Erlanger.

But regardless of how common it is, anxiety isn’t easy on you or your child. It may show up in the form of a bad mood or even in physical symptoms like headaches or tummy troubles.

Read on for a few tips on how to help your child through school anxiety.

  1. Understand that school anxiety is not bad behavior. When it’s time to go to school and your child has a temper tantrum, it can be easy to dismiss it as just being “bad.”

But in many cases, a child’s anxiety about all things school-related, including going to school, studying, interacting with others, new and changing virus-related policies and procedures may manifest itself as a change in temperament.

As your child eases back into the school year, it’s important to consider that these outbursts of bad behavior might actually be his or her nerves showing. Knowing this reality is an important step in helping handle your child’s anxiety.

  1. Talk with your child about his or her fears. If your child is experiencing anxiety about school, he or she may feel some level of shame or guilt for those feelings.

Assure your child that the feelings are normal and that many other children experience them, too. Talk with him or her about what’s causing the anxiety. It may be an unfamiliar situation, like a new school, or it may be a bigger issue like a fear of failing or getting sick.

Once you’ve identified the source, you’ll be better prepared to help your child manage the fears and work through the anxiety.

  1. Help your child gain some sense of control. Overcoming anxiety at any age requires regaining a feeling of control and confidence in yourself. The same is true for children.

Many school anxieties stem from feelings of insecurity and uncertainty. To help your child overcome fears related to school, determine steps he or she can take to feel better about the situation.

For example, if your son is anxious because you’ve moved to a new city and he doesn’t know anyone at school, encourage him to choose an activity that will allow him to meet kids his age.

Or if your daughter is afraid that the work in third grade might be too difficult for her to handle, help her find easy ways to study and learn. This might include flashcards, computer games, workbooks or even phone apps.

Having a strategy in place and tangible steps to take can help your child feel more in control, easing anxieties.

Plus, Dr. Heise urges parents to be open with your child’s support group about their struggles.

“This past year with COVID-19 has been unique and unprecedented. Some children have handled this well with seemingly no issues while others have struggled. We are seeing more children including adolescents, adults and entire families struggle with mental health and financial issues. If you or your family member is struggling, let the teacher, coaches, other adults in their support group know so they can help them. If need be, discuss this with the child’s medical provider,” he says.

If your child’s anxiety about school seems severe or is interfering with daily life, your pediatrician can offer help and guidance. Need a pediatrician? Find one here.