“My child has anxiety and is anxious about so many things, so how can school help?” This is a question many parents ask and they should ask it. Because, the beauty about school is that there are many resources available.
Some resources are people in the school. The teachers, support staff, counselors, and even the custodians and kitchen staff. Other resources are ways to support through educational tools, communication services and even special spaces in school. Parents and schools can partner together to help kids with anxiety.
Kids are in school for approximately 7 hours a day. Just being in school can create some anxiety in students. They interact with many people and have many different transitions during the day. The busyness of school brings new challenges such as: schedules, teachers, classmates, homework and social situations. It makes sense that there will be moments of anxiousness for kids.
Who’s Available to Help?
The “who” for resources at school might be a teacher, school counselor, school advocate, principal, friends, or a school nurse. There are many people that can help support your child and family at school.
Parents usually start by partnering with their child’s teacher. This makes sense because they know your child the best. They see each day how well your child copes with school stress.
In addition to the teacher, most schools have a counselor or social worker who supports kids emotional health. Counselors are wonderful resources for parents and kids. Often kids make good connections with other support staff as well. They get to know the school nurse, para-professionals, the office staff, kitchen staff and even custodians. Any adult in the school building can be an advocate for your child.
Parents who partner with schools open the door to allowing many adults be positive role models for their kids. The best part of partnering with the school is that support can be provided to all kids.
What Can School Do to Help?
Partnering with school begins with you and your child’s teachers talking about your concerns. Schedule a meeting with your child’s teacher to create a plan for actions. You probably can share the strategies you use at home to help your anxious child and the teacher can use those strategies. Your child’s teacher will also share tips and strategies that they’ve found helpful at school.
It’s important to have a plan for your child. You may want to meet regularly with the teacher, or counselor, to update your plan and share successes and challenges. It’s important for kids that similar strategies are used at home and at school. This leads to more success!
Tools to Help At School
Teachers, counselors and other school staff have access to many tools that can help to soothe your child’s anxiety at school. You may have tried some of them, but here’s a list of common tools.
- Something special from home (small stuffed animal, piece from a favorite blanket..)
- A familiar face (checking in each day with a special adult)
- Breaks during the day (scheduled time to take a walk, go see a supportive adult)
- Coming to school early so the child misses the crowd of kids.
- Walking in with a friend.
- Extended time for tests.
- Breaking down assignments into smaller pieces.
- Modified assignments.
- Frequent check-ins.
- Timer so they can see the time for transitions.
- Word banks and equation sheets.
- Visuals to help with the schedule for the day.
- Preferential seating.
Discuss these tools with your child’s teacher to see what would work best for your child’s needs.
Where Can My Child Go For Help?
Sometimes a child needs a calm space with some of their tools to calm down. School can help with that. Your child may have a place at school where they feel most relaxed and secure. It could be the nurses office, a quiet spot in a common area, visiting with a special adult in the building or stopping to say “hi” to the principal.
Recognizing where their happy place is and going there can be scheduled into their day. Most importantly, it’s about finding a safe space for them so when they are anxious there’s a plan. Where a child goes to relieve their anxious feelings is really important because the goal is for the child to stay at school. Anxiety can cause kids to refuse to attend school. Your child’s plan should help to keep your child feeling safe and secure at school.
Signs of Anxiety
Understanding the signs of anxiety that are unique to your child is an important part of the plan you and their teacher create. Your child may show different signs at home than they do at school. So be sure to talk to the teacher about how kids show anxiety at school.
Here are some common signs of anxiety that occur at school:
- Squirming in his seat and not paying attention.
- Attendance problems.
- Disruptive behavior.
- Frequent trips to the nurse.
- Struggling in certain subject areas.
- Not turning in homework.
- Avoiding socializing or group work.
- Running out of class.
- Yelling or screaming.
These are all signs that may happen at home and also at school. It’s important for the parents and school to partner and communicate.
By observing these behaviors and talking about what is seen at school and home, solutions can be had. At school we call these interventions. The interventions are different things that will be tried to support the child.
Usually it’s best to try a solution for at least 4 to 6 weeks to see if it is working. Starting with one or two is best so you know if it is working. If it is not working then teachers try another one.
Some schools have a team of people that consist of teachers, school psychologist, behavioral specialist, special education teacher and school counselors to brainstorm different ideas on how to support the child.
What if My Child Doesn’t Want to Go To School?
When partnering with school it’s important for the parents and school staff to use the same language to support the child. This helps them feel safe and know the expectations. This isn’t easy.
It’s important that you stick with the expectation of going to school because if you waiver at all they will wonder if it is safe. Some things to say:
- You wish you could stay home today, I hear you.
- It can be hard to go back after a weekend at home together. Lots of kids feel that way.
- Today is a school day. It is okay to cry. You are going to school. I will help you get ready. I am not going to change my mind.
These are also phrases that the school staff can say for consistency and so your child knows they are safe at school. It’s also important to tell your child that you will be home when they get there. Reaffirming for them that they’ll be safe and you are always on their side.
School is tricky. There are tons of rules, expectations from teachers, many social situations, and it can be noisy and overstimulating. It’s important for parents and the staff at school to acknowledge your child’s feelings. More importantly, it’s ideal to partner with the school so that your child has the best experience possible each day. School can help with anxiety in many ways. Make sure to utilize all the resources available.
Build a relationship with your child’s teacher. They can be a wealth of information and your most valuable partner in your child’s success with anxiety.
How Can School Help My Anxious Child?
By Dr. Kim Grengs, Ed.D., Parent Coach