Parenting a Child Who is Anxious at School

Why is he anxious?

There are MANY reasons why a child should feel anxious. It is important to deal with these underlying reasons and to implement plans to overcome anxiety. If your child continues to remain anxious for more than a few weeks, it would be important to check in with his teacher and the school’s management team in order to address the issues more directly through therapy with an Occupational Therapist or a psychologist.

Is your own Anxiety affecting your child?  

Does your child pick up on your anxiety? Are you relaxed and comfortable with your child’s school situation? Are you at ease, and confident that your child’s school is the right place for him and that it will meet his needs during the day, and at aftercare?  Address your concerns in a practical solution-oriented way. Meet with your child’s teacher, or with school’s management to discuss the concerns which you have and to find workable solutions. You need to show your child that you trust his teacher and staff at the school to care for him and to be there in your place during his day at school. Find peace of mind for yourself first. Avoid discussing your concerns in front of your child. Try to maintain a calm balanced frame of mind.

Validate your child’s feelings and show him that you really do understand him. Never ignore your child’s anxiety or his feelings. Deal with them in a caring yet matter of fact, positive manner.

Making the “unknown” - “known”.

Being prepared for new situations is important for the anxious child, whatever the underlying reason for his anxiety. Walk about the school grounds, visit the classrooms, use the bathroom facilities and  give  him time to  explore the  school’s play  facilities.  Increasing the child’s  familiarity with  the buildings, and with the various facilities at the school, can be very helpful, to the sensitive child.  Children who have spatial and directional confusion will also become less confused in a new school or in an unfamiliar situation or routine, if they have had the opportunity to orient themselves while they are still relaxed and at ease. 

Prepare your child for the transitions which will take place at school. Teach him little things, like putting his socks into his shoes as he takes them off so that they don’t get lost, packing his things carefully into his bag when he is done with them.  As far as possible, teach him good  habits which will help him to be more organised as this will assist immensely in reducing anxiety.

If your child has difficulty in making new friends, create opportunities for play-dates at your home, where you can invite one child at a time, to join your child in his home, and to spend time together. Get to know the parents of your child’s classmates, and model friendly and appropriate behaviour for your child

Role play the situation

It can be most helpful to role-play the various potentially anxiety-provoking situations which may arise.  This increases the predictability of the situation for the child.  Play out various typical school situations with the child and show him various ways in which he could deal with situations which he finds difficult.

Create realistic expectations

Your child should understand that he will not always have a friend to play with. It’s quite okay to play alone. Similarly, do not create an expectation that he will always be happy and will always have fun. At school, just as in life, you will sometimes have a friend, and there will be good days and bad days. Avoid setting your child up for disappointment by creating a false expectation that things will always be great. This is a most positive step in assisting your child to develop emotional maturity and emotional intelligence.

In the case of younger children:  When the time comes to say goodbye, stick to a simple routine of perhaps just a kiss and a hug goodbye. Avoid getting caught up in a lengthy good-bye routine! These delaying tactics only serve to raise the child’s anxiety. Ensure that your child is involved in a task or activity as you say goodbye, or ensure that he is in the care of his teacher or an adult carer, and that they understand that you are leaving. (In time, you will not need to do this anymore). Once you have said goodbye, turn around and leave. Do not look back to check on your child. Avoid going back to settle him in the event that he begins to cry. Trust his teachers to take care of him.

Be sure to collect him on time. Never risk being late as this will unsettle him