Many children are reluctant to go to school, as a parent you can assuage their anxiety through awareness, love and a little toughness
Do you have a child that is having a hard time adjusting to going to school? If so, you are not alone. School anxiety is real, and more common than you may think.
For some children (and parents as well), embarking on this journey of a more social and academic life can be scary. Some kids go running for that bus on day one, but others, such as my youngest, cling to their mothers with all the howling and fierceness of someone going off to battle.
As a parent, although this may be difficult, it is important to remember that in any educational story, there will be bumps along the road. That said, it is important to keep in mind that a child’s anxiety about going to school may be a sign that something is going on that is making them feel unsafe or unsure.
Embrace the Journey
As I walked my 3rd grader into school on the first day this year (yes, he still can’t face the bus at times), I passed the drop-off kindergartners and their parents, standing outside the doors as they waited for them to open. It almost brought me to tears as I heard the gasps and sniffles and saw the wet eyes and fear — in both parents’ and childrens’ eyes, as they clung to each other, arms around necks. “This was just me,” I thought; and truly, sometimes it still is.
But now, after many years and children, I know giving up your children to school is good for kids, no matter what their individual struggles will be, even when they don’t believe it.
It may sometimes feel like unchartered territory as you learn more about your child and their individual needs during this journey but know that there are so many resources available to parents online, through the school, and in the form of medical professionals for you to take advantage of, especially in regard to childhood school-related anxieties.
If this is one of your child’s primary years, and his anxieties seem mild, be comforted by the likelihood that he or she will soon grow out of fears about going to school. If, however, you suspect there are deeper issues than simple separation anxiety as your child progresses through primary grades, the reasons why need to be uncovered and appropriately addressed for their own good and their ultimate success.
Reasons a Child May Be Refusing to Go to School
- To get away from feeling bad. He is trying to avoid something at school that causes anxiety, depression or other feelings of distress.
- To avoid social interactions or public evaluation. He has anxiety in social situations, trouble with peer interactions, or is worried about how he’ll do in testing situations and/or about being called on in class.
- To get attention. Her tantrums, clinginess, and separation anxiety may be a way to get the attention she desires.
- To get some sort of reward outside of school. This can be as simple as being able to watch TV or play video games while at home.
- Fear of riding the bus. The feeling of fear can be real for your child, even if the fear appears to you to be unfounded.
Know Your Child and Advocate for Them
The elementary years are quite critical years in the lives of children. Things that occur within this time frame set the scene for their worldview, ideas about themselves, their abilities, education and striving toward success for years to come. We, as parents and members of this speed-of-light world, all have extremely busy lives, and when you add to this our jobs as well, it can only get unimaginably busier.
However, it is critical to give your child’s interactions at school apt attention, so that if any important problems do exist or arise during their progressions, you can catch them early and address them with the appropriate plan of action. If your child is experiencing difficulty with going to school — from crying at go-time to struggles with learning to over-stimulation, to physical, cognitive and developmental problems, to social anxieties…
Being there to help your child deal with these issues is truly a critical function of your role as their primary caretaker and guide in life.
Many of the common problems young children face today just need time to resolve themselves. But others require action and you as parent are the one that needs to make the call toward seeking help when it becomes a necessity. Remember that as one of the people in the world who knows your child best, you as parent, are also the most qualified to make that distinction.
Talk to Teachers and Ask for Help When You Need It
Your single greatest resource in engaging in your child’s educational and developmental process is your relationship with teachers. Instead of making them your adversary, try very hard to nurture a good working relationship with them toward providing your child with what they need to learn and thrive. Listen to the feedback your child’s teacher gives you. Discuss your child’s apprehensions about school with his or her teachers. Often, teachers can provide that insight for you to determine if your child’s anxieties about school are related to academics, emotional problems, or social problems or if they could possibly even be related to some kind of physical malady.
Ask them for some clarity surrounding occurrences within the classroom. If you need to seek further assistance from other special resources within your school district, such as speech pathologists, school psychologists, or special service professionals for learning disabled children to make your children a little more comfortable in their school environment, do it. Don’t be afraid of uncovering a special need in your child. Getting them the proper help if they struggle in any area is always a good thing when truly warranted.
Seek Medical Attention When Necessary
Your pediatrician can be a first line of defense for your child as you embark on their educational journey and the process of growing up healthfully. Discuss any problems your child is having with your pediatrician — from anxiety, to potential learning disabilities to the existence of allergies, to potential physical abnormalities. Your doctor can offer you good advice and referrals for further help if any small issues warrant further preventative, diagnostic, or therapeutic treatment. If your child has extreme anxiety when it comes to school or if your child is dealing with any mentally challenging difficulties at home, do not be afraid to seek further professional interventions; they can remain as confidential as you or your child wishes.
No problem is too small to warrant further investigation if your child is showing signs of suffering or delay, academically or developmentally. Larger problems, if the warning signs are there, will not go away by ignoring them. Left unattended, they can cause more serious difficulties for your child later on.
Don’t Overreact or Underreact When Problems Arise
Kids will be kids and it is important not to overreact or jump to conclusions when a child hits a bump in the road.
Watchful waiting is a good strategy in the early grades because, as previously stated, many difficulties resolve with time.
However, if you suspect that your child has an issue that does require further attention at some point, or if your child’s teacher is urging you to investigate issues like anxiety, attention deficit or behavioral or learning problems, remember that there is the potential that a larger problem may exist that needs to be treated. These may include mental disorders, trouble with bullying, child molestation, maladjustment to learning disabilities. All of these can be, and should be, met with action.
Tips To Encourage Your Child To Go To School
It is important to keep in mind that a child’s refusal to go to school or anxiety about going to school well may be a sign that something is going on that is making them feel unsafe or unsure. Assuming there is not a medical or extreme social factor in play, here are some strategies to make going to school easier for your child:
- Make sure your child gets a good night sleep.
- Give your child a security blanket, toy, or picture of you to bring to school for comfort.
- Speak with the teacher so she may support your child throughout the day.
- Make sure your child is up and ready to go in the morning, with all homework done.
- Give your child a good breakfast.
- Don’t give in to crying or feigned illness.
- Teach your child some basic relaxation techniques.
- Allow your child to check in with you during the day if need be.
- Talk to teachers and ask for help when you need it.
- Seek medical attention when necessary.
- Don’t underreact or overreact when problems arise.
- Monitor warning signs that could point to larger issues.
Pay Attention to Warning Signs for Childhood Depression or Anxiety
Sometimes, even the best strategy is not enough to eliminate your child’s school-related anxiety. If you suspect your child may be suffering from childhood anxiety or depression, here are some common signs and symptoms to look for:
- Irritability or anger
- Continuous feelings of sadness and hopelessness
- Social withdrawal
- Increased sensitivity to rejection
- Changes in appetite, either increased or decreased
- Changes in sleep, either sleeplessness or excessive sleep
- Vocal outbursts or crying
- Difficulty concentrating
- Fatigue and low energy
- Reduced ability to function during events and activities at home or with friends, in school, extracurricular activities, and in other hobbies or interests
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Thoughts of death or suicide
If your child is displaying any of these symptoms on a regular basis, you may need to consult your doctor to rule out serious concerns. Whether the feelings are fleeting or deeply rooted, as a parent you have the power — and responsibility — to help your child begin the process of dealing with them in a positive way.
You may also enjoy reading ALPHABREATHS: The ABC’s of Mindful Breathing For Kids by Christopher Willard