One of the most frequently-asked questions from parents is whether to allow the fearful or intensely anxious child to stay home. In general, the answer is 'no.'
Parsippany, NJ, (PRWEB) December 10, 2013
First-day jitters are as much a part of each new school year as are shiny lunchboxes and new shoes. Over the following days and weeks, most children adapt successfully to their new classrooms. But some will still be clinging, crying or complaining of physical ailments weeks later and some may develop anxiety about going to school well after opening day. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders affect about one in eight children and for 2-5% of school-age children, their anxiety is so severe that they flat-out refuse to go to school. “School anxiety appears to be on the rise,” says Dr. Richard Dauber, clinical psychologist with Morris Psychological Group. “Our high-octane society puts pressure even on very young children, not all of whom can handle it. Some aren't ready to be away from home for a full day at an early age, some are reacting to changes or tensions at home, some may be having academic problems or difficulty with peer relationships, and some may be subject to the stress of high expectations.”
Many children express reluctance about going to school, at least occasionally. Children suffering from school anxiety exhibit resistance consistently, usually every day. They show a range of stress- and anxiety-related behaviors: difficulty going to sleep; nightmares; physical complaints, most often headaches and stomachaches; requests to stay home or for a parent to stay in school; long and tearful morning drop-offs; even severe tantrums if forced to go to school. Children with separation anxiety have the hardest time leaving home but calm down once they get to school; those with intense fear and anxiety about school itself may continue to cry when they get there, cling to a parent or the teacher, or become excessively shy and withdrawn with the teacher and classmates.
Guidance for Parents
“One of the most frequently-asked questions from parents is whether to allow the fearful or intensely anxious child to stay home,” says Dr. Dauber. “In general, the answer is 'no.' Children belong in school. If physical ailments disappear by 10:00am or have been checked by a pediatrician, staying home is not an option. Allowing the child to miss school does not relieve anxiety; it reinforces it, making it even harder to go back.” Dr. Dauber provides some suggestions for parents:
- Encourage the child to express her fears and feelings. Sometimes just talking about it helps reduce the child's stress level. Listen carefully to try to discern the root cause of the anxiety. Remind the child of the positive aspects of school, of the activities she enjoys, and of previous occasions when she was nervous about trying something new but enjoyed it.
- With very young children, try “playing school” at home, using dolls or stuffed animals to enact scenarios that make the child nervous.
- If a child is showing signs of anxiety before the school year begins, arrange to visit the classroom and, if possible, the teacher, before school starts.
- Establish a stable, supportive environment at home, including a daily routine – a regular bedtime, wake-up time, homework time – that provides a clear sense of structure and discipline.
- If anxiety develops during the school year and the child can't or won't articulate the reason, meet with the teacher to find out if there has been a triggering incident or an ongoing pattern of uncomfortable social situations, like bullying.
- If school anxiety persists for more than a few weeks, the feelings may have become too entrenched to abate without professional help. A psychologist or psychiatrist with experience treating children's anxiety disorders will be able to identify the cause and help the child develop coping strategies to overcome fear.
“Parents of children with school anxiety must understand that telling the child not to be anxious won't help but neither will indulging the anxiety,” Dr. Dauber concludes. “The goal is to alleviate the child's fears while providing firm limits. Most important is letting the child know that you understand his feelings, that you love and support him and that you will help him work through this.”
Richard B. Dauber, PhD., is a clinical psychologist with over 25 years of experience, specializing in family therapy and child and adolescent psychology. Morris Psychological Group, P.A. offers a wide range of therapy and evaluation services to adults, children and adolescents. http://www.morrispsych.com