Tips for Helping Anxious Students at School
Encourage your child to share their fears.
Ask your child what is making them worried.
Tell your child that it is normal to have concerns.
Before and during school, set up a regular time and place to talk. Some children feel most comfortable in a private space with your undivided attention (such as right before bed, or during mealtime).
Avoid giving reassurance...instead, problem-solve and plan! Children often seek reassurance that bad things won’t happen in order to reduce their worry. Do not assure them with “Don’t worry!” or “Everything will be fine!” Instead, encourage your child to think of ways to solve their problem.
For example, “If (the worst) happens, what could you do?” or “Let’s think of some ways you could handle that situation.” This gives you the opportunity to coach your child on how to cope with (and interpret) both real and imagined scary situations. You will also be giving your child the tools they need to cope with an unexpected situation that might arise.
Here’s a sample script for engaging your child in problem-solving and planning (instead of giving reassurance):
Role-play with your child. Sometimes role-playing a certain situation with your child can help them make a plan, and feel more confident that they will be able to handle the situation.
For example, let your child play the part of the demanding teacher or another classmate who is not anxious. Then, model appropriate responses and coping techniques for your child to help calm them down.
Focus on the positive aspects! Encourage your child to re-direct attention away from the worries, and towards the positives. Ask your child, "What are three things that you are most excited about school?" Most kids can think of something good, even if it's just eating a special snack or going home at the end of the day. Chances are that the fun aspects are simply getting overlooked by repetitive worries.
Pay attention to your own behavior. It can be anxiety-provoking for parents to hand over care and responsibility of their child to teachers. Children take cues from their parents, so the more confidence and comfort you can model, the more your child will understand there is no reason to be afraid. Be supportive yet firm. When saying goodbye in the morning, say it cheerfully – once! Ensure you don’t reward your child’s protests, sadness or crying, by allow them to avoid going to school. Instead, in a calm tone, say: “I can see that going to school is making you scared, but you still have to go. Tell me what you are worried about, so we can talk about it.”
Thom Kessler, LMFT, RAS
Registered Addiction Specialist
Certified EMDR Trauma therapy
Gottman Level III
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Marriage & Family Therapist and Registered Addiction Specialist