With summer coming to an end, you and your child are probably gearing up for the back-to-school season. While some kids are very excited about the start of a new year at school, many children are extremely nervous. A lot of change comes with the first day of school: new students, a new teacher, and for some, an entirely new school. Nervousness about school is completely normal! However, persistent high-stress levels, extreme agitation, difficulty thinking about anything other than the coming school year, or refusal to go to school can be a sign of back-to-school anxiety.
At NeuroZone, we recognize the difference between everyday feelings of nervousness versus anxiety that can interfere with your child’s learning and school experience. If ignored or left untreated, anxiety can cause setbacks in learning and socializing for your child during the entire school year and beyond.
What is School Anxiety?
Many children who appear to be struggling in school, resistant to instruction or are generally underperforming may actually be dealing with school anxiety.
School anxiety, as the name implies, specifically relates to your child’s feelings about their experiences in the classroom, with their peers, or while on campus. An anxious child will fixate on their fears, which can continuously escalate their stress levels. For many children, the weeks and days leading up to the new school year can be especially challenging. The uncertainty of what the first day of school will hold and the many changes that come with the new school year can appear overwhelming to your child. This kind of anxiety can then impact many other areas of your child’s life such as their sleeping patterns. Restless sleep or a sudden increase in nightmares (particularly about school) may mean that your child is dealing with anxiety.
It is important to remember that every child expresses their anxiety in unique ways, but the most common signs and symptoms of school anxiety can look like:
- Constant Squirming in Her/His Chair
- Inability to Pay Attention
- Refusal to Go to School, Frequent Excuses
- Acting Out or Disruptive Behavior During Class
- Difficulty Answering Questions When Called
- Missing Homework
- Perfectionism to the Point That It Impedes Performance
- Stomach Aches and Pains
- Compulsive Behaviors
- Excessive Worrying
- Clinginess to Parents or Caretakers
Children with school anxiety may often still have a desire to learn and succeed, but the intensity of their anxiety can be an obstacle to their positive engagement in the classroom. With the right diagnosis and appropriate intervention, your child can learn how to beat the anxieties that are impeding their success.
How Can I Help My Child with School Anxiety?
As a parent, it can be difficult to watch your child consistently struggle with their anxiety about school. Fortunately, there are many strategies you can immediately use to help your child overcome anxiety or nervousness this school year.
Walk Around Campus Before The School Year
For kids transitioning to new schools, taking the time to just walk around campus can help your child to familiarize themselves with their new environment. Walking across the entire school grounds, exploring the space and pointing out important locations such as their classroom, bathrooms or the nurse’s office, can give your child a chance to orient themselves with their surroundings.
Meet Their Teacher Or a Staff Member On Campus
Teachers can often be big sources of anxiety for students. Arranging a meeting with the teacher can help your child build a relationship with the teacher before the first day. For parents, this meeting can also be an opportunity to communicate with the teacher about your child’s personality or behaviors that indicate your child needs assistance. Teachers can give your child a helping role such as handing out books on the first day that can effectively distract them from fixating on their anxious thoughts.
Find a Friend
Part of a child’s anxiety in starting a new school year typically revolves around the number of new faces they will meet. Your child may feel isolated or scared if they do not know anyone in their class or are surrounded by strangers. For children who express separation anxiety or seem particularly stressed out when getting dropped off at school, arranging for a friend or teacher to meet your child can help.
Having that same friend meet your child outside their classroom can help calm fears as well. Your child and their friend can enter the classroom and navigate it together.
Talk It Out
Encouraging positive behaviors such as talking about their anxieties can be extremely helpful. Many parents have the urge to try and help their children by telling them they “will be fine” or “have nothing to worry about.” While this is understandable, hearing your child talking through their specific thoughts and detail the issues that are bothering them is highly effective for reducing stress and anxiety.
The goal is to validate their feelings, but avoid automatically trying to fix the problem for your child. Not only will this give you the chance to learn more about your child and their fears, but it will also help them vocalize their anxiety and strategize their own coping methods.
We encourage parents not to ask probing questions but to let the conversations come naturally. Ask open-ended questions that challenge your child to think through their concerns in detail such as “What do you think your first day of fifth grade will be like?”.
Children are more resilient than we sometimes give them credit for. Though it can be tough to watch your child face setbacks or struggle, it is equally important to give them the space to learn and cope on their own. Parents can often struggle to find a balance on how much they must involve themselves in their child’s day-to-day well-being. When parents constantly magnify or talk obsessively about their child’s anxious feelings, it can make the issue worse.
Managing your own fears and anxieties about your child’s schooling is important because your child is constantly taking cues from you, both consciously and unconsciously, about how to deal with their emotions.
Does My Child’s Anxiety Point to a Bigger Problem?
High levels of anxiety in the morning, refusal to go to school, and pronounced difficulty separating from parents can be related to larger issues. Many times, these behaviors may be expressions of another underlying problem. Stressors from a big change such as a new environment can agitate underlying problems and cause your child to act out in bigger ways.
Some examples of potential underlying issues include:
Many children experience stress when first confronted with spending more time away from their parents or caretakers. However, separation anxiety is different because it overwhelms the individual and their ability to think of anything else. Separation anxiety is common among younger children, but when it persists or is present in older children it can deter them from wanting to engage outside the home.
OCD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, is often expressed as compulsive, repetitive behaviors. OCD symptoms are most visible during stressful times for individual such as when a child is going to a new school or starting a new year. OCD-related behaviors can often be related to recurring thoughts and feelings about major changes. Repeated behaviors, called compulsions, may appear as an obsession with cleanliness, repetition of certain names or words, checking rituals or constant rearranging and organizing of books or items.
A new school year can be particularly daunting to children with learning disorders or difficulty learning certain subjects. Negative experiences in past years, fear of underperforming and fear of embarrassment in the classroom can weigh on a child with a learning disorder, especially if this disorder has gone undiagnosed. Back-to-school anxiety is very common in children with learning disorders because the new year presents new difficulties and stressors.
If you feel that your child has shown symptoms of an underlying mental health issue, seeking professional assistance can help determine the best form of intervention and treatment.
Looking for Assistance
If school anxiety and behavioral problems related to school are left unaddressed or ignored, it can be detrimental to your child’s learning and ability to work through difficult situations.
Headaches, stomachaches, diarrhea, nausea, outbursts, tantrums, and refusal to attend school are extremely problematic for a student and can lead to long-term academic or developmental setbacks.
For children who have struggled in school or have strong negative feelings about their schooling, there are effective, non-drug based therapies that can alleviate stress and set your child up for success. School can be a positive experience: there are many options to help your child overcome their back to school anxieties!
How Can Neurofeedback Help?
Neurofeedback is a clinically-backed therapy that retrains the way your child thinks about their anxieties.
Neurofeedback is a non-invasive, non-drug based therapy to help your child develop positive thinking patterns that allow them to overcome their back-to-school anxiety. Often, children with very treatable anxiety levels are hastily prescribed medication that comes with a plethora of side-effects that negatively impact your child in other ways. Many drug-based mental health interventions often fail to address the main concern of your child.
At NeuroZone, our emphasis is on accurate evaluation and comprehensive treatment protocols that will set your child up for long-term success. With treatments such as Neurofeedback, your child examines how their thoughts are related to their anxieties and the resulting feelings and behavior.
A qEEG Brain Mapping assessment will be the first step to understanding your child’s anxieties. This assessment will chart the speed, location, size, and other parameters of your child’s brain waves. From this information, we can create a customized treatment plan that will assist your child and help them be ready for school.
What is Neurofeedback Treatment Like?
Neurofeedback treatment is an interactive auditory and visual experience. A treatment session can look like your child is simply sitting in front of a T.V. and playing a game. However, as the patient is interacting with the game, valuable brain learning is occurring.
During a neurofeedback treatment, electrodes are placed along the scalp. These electrodes will monitor your child’s brain activity as they play a game, watch videos or engage in different activities that engage the brain.
Each session will be used to retrain the areas of the child’s brain that help them they deal with their anxious thoughts and feelings. Positive thought patterns are reinforced, which ultimately help your child deal with their school-related fears in healthy, productive ways.
At NeuroZone, we specialize in helping children overcome their anxieties. Our highly-qualified staff will evaluate your child, listening to their concerns and experiences, and develop a specialized treatment plan. With the start of school soon approaching, now is the time to give your child a leg up and help them conquer their back-to-school anxiety.
Give us a call today at (310) 821-3640 to schedule a consultation.