While it may feel like summer has just begun the end of this glorious season is always right around the corner and soon you will see back to school clothes on mall shelves. While the transition back to school is probably stressful for you there is a chance that your child or teen worries excessively about the new school year. Anxious feelings are normal and expected during times of transition or change. This is especially true for children and teens going back to school. Worries are common. Worry that causes tearfulness, stomach pains, headaches, withdrawal, irritability or avoidance may be of higher concern.
So how to deal with school worry?
- Provide your place with a safe space to talk about fears. This could be with you, a trusted adult or relative, a therapist or even in a group setting. Often teens may feel both excited and anxious. This may lead them to believe something is wrong with how they feel. It’s important to let your child know their feelings are normal and that mixed feelings are normal. A group setting will offer children the opportunity to hear how normal and common their feelings are.
- Avoid giving reassurance…instead, problem-solve and plan. Reassurance can minimize or invalidate fears. Children may actually become more entrenched in their fears if they think others do not understand. Instead focus on what your child can do in the face of the problems they imagine. Say “Lets think of some ways to handle that situation?” or “What ideas do you have about how to handle that if the worst case comes true?”
- Role Play. Like problem solving and game planning, role-playing offers the opportunity to build confidence. Practice makes perfect.
- Build familiarity with the school and school year by creating a routine for bed time and morning before the first days, visit school or routes to school if it is new to your child, look online to get familiar with counselors, teachers or who to call if extra support is needed.
Not sure if your child is at risk for school anxiety? There are no studies specifically on school anxiety though experts suggest it is on the rise. Regina Ruelle, LMFT, cofacilitator of Birmingham Maple Clinic’s back to school group references the Anxiety and Depression Association of America and reports “Anxiety disorders affect one in eight children. Research shows that untreated children with anxiety disorders are at higher risk to perform poorly in school, miss out on important social experiences, and engage in substance abuse.”
Children with school refusal may complain of physical symptoms shortly before it is time to leave for school or repeatedly ask to visit the school nurse. If the child is allowed to stay home, the symptoms may quickly disappear, only to reappear the next day. In general, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S. If your child is complaining of headaches, stomachaches there is a chance they are suffering from school anxiety not a health complaint. Fortunately, anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only about one-third of those suffering receive treatment. People with an anxiety disorder are three to five times more likely to go to the doctor for a health complaint. If you would like to rule out anxiety and prevent school refusal you may value from individual, family or group treatment to learn stress reduction and problem solving skills. Birmingham Maple Clinic will be offering a Back to School Group for Teens and Pre Teens in August 2015. To schedule an appointment visit www.Birminghammaple.com or call (248) 646-6659.
Facts and Statistics. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. http://www.adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics
Helping Your Child Cope with School Anxiety. http://www.anxietybc.com/parenting/helping-your-child-cope-back-school-anxiety
School Refusal. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. http://www.adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/children/school-refusal