Every student worries or gets the odd case of butterflies in the stomach, but perhaps you are concerned that your child is experiencing a higher level of stress or anxiety which interferes with learning and overall happiness. There are many different kinds of anxiety, which is one of the reasons it can be hard to detect in the classroom. This anxiety may manifest itself in behaviors you might not associate with anxiety such as the following:
Inattention and Restlessness
When a child is squirming in his/her seat and not paying attention, we tend to think of ADHD but anxiety could also be the cause. When children are anxious in the classroom, they might have a hard time focusing on the lesson and ignoring the worried thoughts overtaking their brains.
Attendance Problems and Clingy Children
It might look like truancy, but for children for whom school is a big source of anxiety, refusing to go to school is also pretty common. School refusal rates tend to be higher after vacations or sick days because children have a harder time coming back after a few days away.
Acting out is another thing we might not associate with anxiety. But when a student is compulsively kicking the chair of the kid in front of him or throws a tantrum whenever the schedule is ignored or a classmate isn’t following the rules, anxiety may well be the cause.
Trouble Answering Questions in Class
Sometimes children will do perfectly well on tests and homework, but when they’re called on in class they hit a wall. If they do get called on, sometimes children get so anxious that they freeze. They might have been paying attention to the lesson and they might even know the answer, but when they’re called on, their anxiety level becomes so heightened that they can’t respond.
Frequent Trips to the Health Room
Anxiety can manifest in physical complaints too. If a student is having unexplained headaches, nausea, stomach
aches, or even vomiting, those could be symptoms of anxiety. So can a racing heart, sweaty palms, tense muscles, and being out of breath.
Problems in Certain Subjects
When a child starts doubting her abilities in a subject, anxiety can become a factor that gets in the way of her
learning or showing what she knows. Sometimes this can be mistaken for a learning disorder when it’s really just
Not Turning in Homework
When a student doesn’t turn in her homework, it could be because she didn’t do it but it could also be because she is worried that it isn’t good enough. Likewise, anxiety can lead to second guessing — an anxious child might erase his work over and over until there’s a hole in the paper — and spending so much time on something that it never gets finished.
Avoiding Socializing or Group Work
Some children will avoid or even refuse to participate in the things that make them anxious. This includes obvious anxiety triggers like giving presentations but also things like gym class, eating in the cafeteria, and doing group work.
Usually, children who have school anxiety will show a range of stress- or anxiety-related symptoms. Always have
recurrent physical symptoms checked out by a pediatrician to rule out medical problems.
Also, rule out problems at school or at home. Ask your child and your child’s teacher if something upsetting
happened such as bullying or teasing — both are very common causes of school anxiety. Or has there been a
change at home — a move, a divorce, or even the death of a family pet — that is distressing? Your child may need to talk through his concerns with you.
You should seek professional guidance if after several weeks you’ve tried different strategies and the anxiety
continues to interfere with your child’s enjoyment of other areas of life — perhaps your child is having difficulty
sleeping regularly, is isolating himself/herself, or is always worried or sad, for instance — then it’s time to have your child evaluated by a mental health professional.
For children with mild to moderate anxiety symptoms, treatment usually begins with cognitive behavioral therapy,
which teaches relaxation and coping skills to reduce anxiety and can result in improved behavior over several
months. If symptoms are severe, doctors may prescribe medication, which can produce some results within two
Whether you consult a social worker, a psychologist, or a psychiatrist, choose someone who specializes in working with children your child’s age. And be sure that this expert, your child’s teacher, and you work together as a team. Let me know if you would like to talk about any of these issues.
Thomas L. Bomann
Principal, Classical School