• How to Relieve School Anxiety

    By Terri Mauro, About.com

    Difficulty: Hard
    Time Required: As much as your child needs

    Here's How:

    1. Acknowledge the problem. Does hearing, "Don't worry!" help when you're anxious about something? It probably doesn't comfort your child much, either. The most important thing you can do for a child experiencing school anxiety is to acknowledge that her fears are real to her. If nothing else, you'll ensure that she won't be afraid to talk to you about them.
    2. Ask, "What three things are you most worried about?" Making your request specific can help your child start to sort through a bewildering array of fears and feelings. If he's unable to name the things that are most worrisome, have him tell you any three things, or the most recent three things.
    3. Ask, "What three things are you most excited about?" Most kids can think of something good, even if it's just going home at the end of the day. But chances are your child does have things she really enjoys about school that just get drowned out by all the scary stuff. Bring those good things out into the light.
    4. Do some role-playing. Once you have some concrete examples of anxiety-provoking events, help your child figure out an alternate way to deal with them. Discuss possible scenarios and play the part of your child in some role-playing exercises, letting him play the part of the demanding teacher or bullying classmate. Model appropriate and realistic responses and coping techniques for your child.
    5. Keep the lines of communication open. Let your child know that she can always talk to you, no matter what. It's not always necessary even to have solutions to her problems. Sometimes just talking about things out loud with a trusted adult makes them seem less threatening. And if the situation does become overwhelming for your child, you want to be the first to know about it.
    6. Understand the value of tears. Crying can be a great stress reliever. It flushes out bad feelings and eases tension. It's hard to see your child crying, and your first instinct may be to help him stop as soon as possible. But after the tears have all come out, your child may be in a particularly open and receptive mood for talking and sharing. Provide a soothing and sympathetic presence, but let the crying run its course.
    7. Resist the urge to fix everything. There are some instances in which parents do have to take action. If your child is in a class that's too challenging, or is having trouble because an IEP isn't being followed, there are steps you can take. If a teacher or a classmate is truly harrassing your child, you will want to follow up with that. But you'll also want to teach her that some things in life just have to be dealt with, even though they stink. Fix only what's really badly broken.
    8. Know when to get help. Most children experience school anxiety to some extent, and some feel it more deeply and disruptively. When does it become a big enough problem to require professional help? Some signs to look for are major changes in friendships, style of clothing, music preferences, sleeping and eating habits, attitude and behavior. If you've established a good rapport with your child and he suddenly doesn't want to talk, that's a sign of trouble as well.


    1. Set a regular time and place for talking with your child, whether in the car, on a walk, during mealtimes, or just before bed. Some kids will feel most comfortable in a cozy private space with your undivided attention, but others might welcome some sort of distraction to cut the intensity of sharing their feelings.
    2. Be aware that all kids feel anxiety about school, even the ones who seem successful and carefree. Knowing this won't lessen your child's anxiety, but it may lessen yours.
    3. "Freeing Your Child from Anxiety" is a good book for learning more about anxiety and how to relieve it. And to remind yourself how it felt to be in school, read "The Pressured Child: Helping Your Child Find Success in School and Life."
    4. No time to talk? Try one of these ten chances to chat. Then find more ways to make this the best school year ever.
    5. If school is truly a toxic environment for your child, you may have to look at other options. Read one mother's story on the Parenting Special Needs Forum.

    What You Need:

    • A shoulder to cry on
    • A listening ear
    • Plenty of patience
    • Unlimited understanding
    • An unwillingness to judge
    Related Articles

    School Phobia

    Symptoms of school phobia are:

    • Frequent stomachaches and other physical complaints such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, exhaustion, or headaches that cannot be attributed to a physical ailment.

    • Clinginess, tantrums, and/or panic when required to separate from a parent or caregiver.

    • Fear of the dark or being in a room alone.

    • Trouble going to sleep and/or having nightmares.

    • Exaggerated fears of animals, monsters, school, etc.

    • Constant thoughts concerning the safety of self or others.

    Usually, school refusal lasts only a short time, especially if a parent insists on school attendance. However, if the problem persists, consultation with school personnel will be necessary to form a unified home and school approach. If ignored, chronic school phobias can result in the deterioration of academic performance, peer relationships, work quality, and possibly lead to adult anxiety, panic attacks, or psychiatric disorders. Therefore, the issues of a child with school phobia must be addressed early so that his or her fears can be abated. The essential steps are recognizing the problem, discovering the underlying cause or causes for the child's discomfort, and working with school professionals to alleviate the difficulty. Parents need to view themselves as part of a team working together for the good of their child.

    Ideas for School Modifications

    • Have the teacher or other school professional, such as the school counselor, establish a caring relationship with the child.

    • Arrange for a school staff member greet the parent and child at the door and take the child to the class.

    • Discuss the situation with the school nurse who can attend to the child's complaints and then return him or her to class.

    • Help the child build self-confidence by discovering his or her strengths and by providing opportunities for the child to excel.

    • Identify particular activities the child enjoys doing and those that produce anxiety.

    • Monitor bullying activities that may be taking place.

    • Include the student in a friendship group facilitated by the school counselor.

    • Adjust work assignments to match the student's academic skills.

    • Have a child with poor academic skills tested for special education services.

    • Use a behavior contract to be reinforced with a reward such as a sticker (see Rewards in the Classroom).