Does your child seem anxious about coming to school?
Anxiety around school can come and go throughout a child’s life, and can be triggered for a number of reasons. Reasons can include; separation anxiety, academic concerns, not getting along with friends or teachers, worrying about what others think, learning at home due to a global pandemic and upcoming events at school, such as sporting events or tests, just to name a few. We can call these reasons triggers.
Helping children manage anxiety
There are a few things parents/adults can do to help children manage anxious feelings.
Talking to children about anxiety is the first step.
When talking to your child, help them state what physical symptoms they having and what emotions they are noticing.
Emotions can include: worry, nervousness, tension, panic, dread, fear.
Physical symptoms can be (and not limited to): fast heartbeat, stomach ache or butterflies, dry mouth, dizziness, tiredness, red face, grinding teeth and headaches.
If you notice that your child looks anxious when you’re discussing school, your conversation might look like this:
Parent: We’re talking about you going to school and you have gone a bit quiet. Are you ok?
Child: No, I don’t want to go to school.
Parent: Tell me more about that.
Child: (tells parent why)
Parent: That sounds a bit like you’re feeling anxious? Does that sound right to you?
Parent: What’s going on in your body? Does your tummy hurt? Does your heart feel like it’s beating faster? (and/or list other physical symptoms)
Child: My tummy hurts.
Parent: And what feelings are you having? Happy? Scared? Sad? Angry? Worried?
Parents: What are you thinking about when you’re feeling scared?
Kate Collins-Donnelly in her book Starving the Anxiety Gremlin says different people react differently to different situations and what makes the biggest difference between people is our thinking.
First, we have a trigger (thinking about situations, places, objects and/or people) and then we have thoughts and beliefs about that trigger.
For example: (triggers)
“Unhelpful” thoughts about the triggers
|· Separation anxiety: leaving the primary caregiver.
|· a child may have thoughts about bad things happening to family members, or the child feels like they can’t do things on his or her own; without the primary caregiver right there with them
|· A child might be worried that friendship groups have changed since they’ve been learning at home.
|· “My friends will leave me out.”
“I won’t have anyone to sit with at lunch”
|· Academic: A child might be concerned they’ve fallen behind in their schoolwork and can’t keep up.
|· “I’ve missed out on schoolwork. I won’t know what we’re up to in class.”
“People will think I’m stupid”.
Kate Collins-Donnelly says YOU have a choice as to how you react to that trigger.
YOU can choose to think differently.
YOU can choose to act differently.
YOU are in control of your reactions.
Helpful thoughts instead of unhelpful thoughts
“I’ve been keeping in touch with my friends, online. Of course they still like me.”
“I can ask my teacher or friend in class to help me with my schoolwork.”
“I can talk to my teacher or adult at school if something is bothering me.”
“I’m in year which means I’ve been at school for years. I’ve had lots of days that have been good at school.”
“Something might happen to my parent but it also might not happen too. I can focus on the positive. Nothing has happened to them so far in my life. Nothing has happened to a lot of friends’ parents too.”
“I managed to do things in class on my own in Term 1 so that means I will be able to do it again.”
Parents dos and don’ts:
- Don’t show that you are worried: this might reinforce their idea that there is something to worry about.
- Don’t allow your child to stay home. This can actually make going back to school harder.
- Do give clear and firm messages that they must go to school.
- Do remain calm and do avoid a battle or negotiation. Speak firmly without raising your voice; offering strong and consistent messages.
- Do have a stable morning routine.
- Do focus on the good things about school.
- Do speak to your child’s teacher about any worries and concerns your child has, and encourage your child to speak to their teacher too. Edney Primary School has amazing staff and we are all happy to help.
One final note
Avoidance of the trigger is a very common behaviour when it comes to anxiety; avoid going to school; avoid going to the packed shopping centre, etc.
Rather than avoiding the experience, as this can make it worse, we can make adjustments to make it easier to have the experience. Speak to your child’s classroom teacher or a deputy principal to see how we can make it easier for your child to come to school. The sooner we know there is an issue or concern, the sooner we can make a positive difference for your child.
School refusal, anxiety and attendance; information for parents– Department of Education
Starving the Anxiety Gremlin– Kate Collins-Donnelly