Does Your Kid Have School Anxiety? 10 Tips To Help Them Relax In The Classroom
School anxiety can show up in a variety of ways depending on your kid’s age. Younger children are more likely to express their fears and request help from mom and dad. Older children tend to complain of physical symptoms, seem overly clingy, experience sleep problems, demonstrate low self-confidence and/or avoid social situations outside of school.
As parents, the instinct to protect our children is strong – especially when they show signs of fear and anxiety. But knowing what to do isn’t always easy. As much as you may want to help your child feel safe, allowing them to stay home from school because of her school anxiety – even if it’s only occasionally – will only make their anxiety worse.
Avoiding anxiety can work in the short-term, but tends to backfire in the long-term driving anxiety up about anxiety itself.
Additionally, no matter how much you would like to tell your kid there is nothing to be scared about, research shows this backfires as well. Advising your kid to simply stop worrying tends to do the opposite, and make anxiety worse.
While anxiety is not something he can just stop feeling, it is something your child can learn to control – with your help and guidance. Below are strategies for both parents and kids to help manage school anxiety.
Tips for parents to help their kids deal with school anxiety
- Provide the big threeHelp ensure your kid gets appropriate exercise, sleep and nutrition. Each of these physical needs has been repeatedly linked to cognitive control as well as emotional regulation. They are especially important in helping kids (and adults) become aware of their emotional signals so they can take action to curb anxiety before it becomes too difficult.
- Provide a calm, safe homeA safe, calm home is about more than the just the physical surroundings. It is also about the emotional environment you create, and the emotional coping you model.
Anxiety is contagious. If you’re feeling anxious about your child going to school, s/he will feel it too – even if you think you are hiding it. Kids are very adept at picking up on nonverbal responses – especially those of their parents.
- Teach him/her what feeling anxious meansPeople who worry are caring people. They tend to be intelligent and great problem-solvers. Moderate anxiety is correlated with optimal performance, and according to one child, anxiety can even be viewed as a super-power.
- Communicate with your child about what s/he is experiencing
It is important to talk with your child about what she is feeling. Doing so helps her articulate what is happening in her body, and is a critical first step in taking control of anxiety. Talking with her also lets her know she can count on you. You can even use your conversations to help your child put together a plan for dealing with her anxiety using the tips below.Explain to your child what anxiety is from both a physiological standpoint and a cognitive one. As she understands what is going on when she experiences school anxiety, she will be better able to take back control and put her plan into practice.
And once your child knows he can control his scholastic stress, he will be able to start dealing with it more easily on his own. The following is a list of things your child can use to calm himself when he recognizes that he is feeling anxious about school.
Tips for kids to deal with anxiety on their own
- Don’t fight the anxietyNo matter how uncomfortable the stress and worry about school is, fighting against the feelings will only make things more uncomfortable. The anxiety has a message and if your child can listen to it, he will begin to understand what his underlying fear is and put his problem-solving superpower to work.
- Strike a poseHarvard University researcher Amy Cuddy has found that our posture can impact our feelings. She calls these expansive postural stances power poses. (Your kid will recognize them as the way Superman and Wonder Woman stand.)
She has also demonstrated that power poses can increase feelings of confidence and power prior to high-stakes social situations – like going to school.
- Use a breathing technique
One of the simplest ways to calm an anxiety response is through breath.Belly breathing is one specific way to calm worries and stress about school (or anything else). Have your child place her hand (or stuffed animal) just above her belly button. Then, breathe in through her nose for a count of 3. She will notice that her hand (or favorite stuffed friend) will rise. Then have her breathe out through her mouth for a count of 3 or more. She will notice that her hand (or stuffed animal) will lower.
It is important that your child practice doing belly breathing when she is not experiencing school anxiety so that she can learn how to do it. After she has built the skill, she will be able to more easily use it when she needs it.
- Listen to musicResearch has shown that listening to music, especially slower tunes, can alter brain activity and reduce stress.
- Get really active for a couple of minutesSchool anxiety makes your kid ready for action by sending adrenaline pumping through his body. Some things your kid might try are going for a walk, doing some jumping jacks or running in place to burn off some of the excess energy.
- Use the undoing effect
Positive emotions can reduce negative ones. Scientists call this “the undoing effect.”In one study, when subjects with stress-related health issues were triggered into anxiety, cardiovascular symptoms decreased faster in those who watched positive films than in those who watched neutral films.
This means that watching a few minutes of a favorite comedy show, scrolling through cute animal videos or even looking at pictures of loved ones, could promote faster recovery from school anxiety.
Dealing with scholastic stress is difficult for you and your kid. You struggle with seeing him struggle and he struggles with not only how he feels, but with how you react to him.
Fortunately, there are some things you can do to help your kid more easily deal with her school anxiety. And there are things she can do too. Learning how to manage anxiety starts with taking control of what you can in the situation. As you both cultivate more control, you will each feel more confident and happier knowing what to do next time anxiety strikes in the classroom.
Looking for more help with parenting and anxiety? Check out my book, Hack Your Anxiety, sign-up for my free mini-ecourse to help you hack anxiety’s most common challenges, or subscribe to my newsletter.
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