Anxious children are often overly tense and may need a lot of encouragement. Anxiety presents itself in children in many different ways. According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, among the most common types are:
- Separation anxiety: Symptoms of separation anxiety include refusing to go to school and having constant thoughts and fears about the safety of parents and caretakers.
- Phobia: Symptoms include extreme fear of a specificthing or situation, which can cause significant distress and interfere with usual situations.
- Social anxiety: Symptoms include having many worries about things before they happen and fears of embarrassment or making mistakes.
So, what should a parent do if they notice their child showing signs of back-to-school anxiety?
Here are a couple tips from Cynthia Mester, PhD, director at The Children’s Center at Mental Health Centers of Central Illinois and a licensed clinical professional counselor:
- Parents should make time to have conversations with their children about how things are going with their new teachers, classes and classmates. If a child conveys that all is well, but his/her behaviors illustrate differently, then parents should share their concerns with their child and encourage him/her to confide about what may be the issue. If the child seems reluctant to share, then parents could share stories from their own childhood experiences about fears they had and things they did to work through those fears, including establishing new friendships, rekindling old friendships, talking to the school counselor, writing stories about it, etc. This helps the child know that what they are feeling is normal and to provide ideas of how they may be able to cope with and/or overcome feelings of anxiety.
- Parents should observe and check in with their child daily about how their day was. If a parent notices that a child’s anxiety isn’t improving or may even be getting worse as the school year ensues, then he or she should not hesitate to call the child’s teacher to discuss concerns/issues that may be contributing to the anxiety. If problem-solving with the teacher does not equate to a relief in anxiety, parents should call the child’s pediatrician or a mental health professional for an evaluation. Once they speak to a mental health professional they will learn ways to help their child cope with anxiety or they will receive the medication their child needs. Involving a mental health professional is imperative if the symptoms of anxiety are significantly affecting the child’s ability to function at home, school or socially.