Help for Back to School Anxiety - Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare

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Published on September 02, 2014

Help for Back to School Anxiety

The start of a new school year is exciting, but it can also be a little scary for some children. Children resisting to go to school is a common problem for many parents.

Dr. Erin O’Tool, MD, Family Medicine, recommends the following tips for easing back to school anxiety:

  • Be excited for your child. Kid’s feed off your anxiety and energy, so remain calm and positive.
  • Show your child you care by sending them off with a hug or a little note that can ease their worries.
  • Talk with your child about feelings and fears, which helps reduce them. 
  • Emphasize the positive aspects of going to school: being with friends, learning a favorite subject and playing at recess. 
  • Encourage hobbies and interests; they can be good distractions and help build self-confidence. 

When to Seek Professional Help

Sometimes your child’s refusal to go to school can be a sign of a deeper problem. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, school avoidance syndrome is one of the most common causes of vague and unverifiable symptoms like a stomachache or a headache. Other symptoms like tantrums, inflexibility, separation anxiety, and defiance can show up too.

Anxiety-based school refusal affects two to five percent of school-age children; most commonly between the ages of five and six, and 10 and 11.

Dr. O’Tool says the first step in managing school avoidance is having your child checked by a doctor so that actual physical problems can be ruled out. Vision and hearing problems, for example, may cause high levels of anxiety in children.

It’s also important to ask the child what’s happening at school. The following situations are school avoidance triggers:

  • Teasing by other children, such as being called "ugly" or "fat"
  • Fear of failure
  • Threats of physical harm from a school bully
  • Actual physical harm
  • Anxiety over using a public bathroom
  • Major changes at home, such as a divorce, death of a family member or pet, moving to a new home 

If school avoidance lasts for more than one week, you should seek the help of your child’s doctor and enlist the help from school staff; including the teacher, principal, school nurse, and guidance counselor, for extra support and direction. The longer your child stays at home, the more difficult it will be for him or her to go back to school.

School avoidance is difficult for both the child and the parent. However, quick, supportive action by the parent and the appropriate use of health and school professionals can make the issue manageable.

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Help for Back to School Anxiety