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School Anxiety

School Anxiety

Helping Your Child with School Anxiety

Over the past few weeks I have been inundated with calls from concerned parents who are trying to deal with a child who is constantly breaking down in hysterics whenever the word school even gets mentioned.

As with many cases of anxiety, people will often get busy trying to stop the feelings of anxiety instead of actually facing and dealing with the reality of the situation.

The Patterns that Often Create Anxiety

Essentially there are a few aspects in this situation, which make for an interesting pattern. There is the seemingly impossible present situation where the child is kicking up tantrums and attempting with every trick in the book to convince the parent that they simply cannot go to school.

Of course, it did not start there. It began a while back, when the child started complaining about things s/he did not like at school which were upsetting. Being the caring parents, the child was advised with a range of tips, ideas and suggestions on how to deal with it.

As time went by, the child would continue to bring home different issues s/he had with school and the advice kept coming.

Somewhere along the way, the complaints started to become frustrating and perhaps to some family member even annoying, the time came to call the therapist to ‘get rid’ of  anxiety.

Are ‘caring parents’ missing out on something?

Let us take a minute and go back a few years…to the time where we were ourselves in school.

Excercise: Visualize yourself as a child

Picture yourself as a child (perhaps age 7 -8), in a classroom in school. (Take a moment to fully experience your surroundings, see what you see and hear what you hear).

You were placed in this school by your parents. Notice that from amongst all the children in your classroom, there are only some children that you really like. In fact there are probably some you really dislike. You have different teachers…some you like less than others. You are taught different subjects…some more boring than others. You are expected to know what you learn and you are expected to accomplish good grades.

You have no choice at all. You are stuck in an undesirable setting for the most part each and every day!

Okay. Now come back to adulthood as yourself, a parent.

You think…gosh…that was like a prison.

The prison analogy

I  recall  a client who ended up in prison (for an extended period of time), I would go in to see him.  The only thing I could ever have offered him was support and friendship, there was no advice or technique that would have changed his situation of being stuck in a prison. Interestingly, many children clients have used the prison analogy when speaking of their school related issue.

Offering Support instead of trying to change

For the most part, parents would be doing their children a huge favor if they stopped attempting to sort out ‘the situation’ and instead simply offer their support to the child.

Is this Situation changeable by you?

The thing to consider, is this situation changeable by you. Unless this is a situation that could actually be changed by you – do nothing and simply offer support – be there for them.

Giving the child the courage to carry on – Simply be there for them!

The moment you can come to your child from a place and attitude of “I know school is tough and I am here if you need me or wish to chat about stuff, mostly, I will not be able to change anything physically but you can always lean on me for support”…This is by and large the only intervention which  will help your child and give them the courage to keep going.

The consequence of constantly offering advice

On the other hand, offering advice and techniques can create the illusion that there is a way out of a mostly impossible situation. This  ultimately creates more frustration and anxiety both for the parent and for the child.

Read more about the researched studies done by Robinson & Harris on the topic of ‘parental involvement’.

What you could tell your child now…

As your child is about to enter another new school year, you will likely be hearing complaints around the child’s concerns about the new teacher(s), friends, curriculum etc. In these cases, it’s especially important to avoid arguing and accept that what your child is facing is by all means difficult. There is absolutely no point of trying to reassure your child by saying “I’m sure s/he will be a nice teacher, it’s going to be okay”. It does make sense to talk about the challenges they are facing  while pointing out why you think they have what it takes to do their best in this situation.


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