When a Tummy Ache Is Not Just a Tummy Ache: Dealing with School Anxiety

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The first day of school, your son has a tummy ache. You take his temperature, but you already know that what’s really ailing him is another common childhood ailment: school phobia. “Many children experience extreme anxiety when they enter new situations—new schools, teachers, classmates, and academic challenges,” says Mimi Ezray, LCSW, MPH, Coordinator of Children’s Clinical Services at Peninsula Parents Place.

“Understand that trying to avoid school is not unusual and there are many effective strategies to help ease and manage their fears,” says Mimi.

In addition to offering your children emotional support, reassuring them, and addressing their specific concerns, Mimi  says,  you can take a proactive approach at the beginning of the school year—and even before—to mitigate outbreaks of anxiety:

  1. If your child is starting at a new school, be sure that he is familiar with it even before the first day of classes. Drive or walk him over to the school, stroll the premises, and chat about all of the exciting things and people he’ll experience over the next few months. If possible, set up a time for your child to meet with his new teachers and see the classrooms.
  2. Invite your youngster to go on a shopping spree for school supplies. Get everything she needs in advance: pencils, notebooks, backpacks, lunch boxes. The trip can be viewed as a prelude of more fun to come, and it will make her feel powerful as she embarks on a new adventure.
  3. Team up with your child’s school. Consider the teachers, administrators, office staff, and other school personnel as part of the team working to make your child’s school year a success. If possible, meet with them in advance and let them know the best ways to help your child to reduce his anxiety. Tell them about him—his strengths, challenges, likes, and dislikes. Ask them to keep in touch with you on a regular basis and be open to their suggestions and strategies.
  4. Read some powerful books—and pass them along to your son or daughter. There are several, including When My Worries Get Too Big – A Relaxation Book for Children Who Live with Anxiety (author Kari Dunn Baron) and What to Do When You Worry Too Much – A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety (author Dawn Huebner), that are appropriate and kid-friendly for elementary school-age children.
  5. Connect with other parents. While you may feel as if you are the only father or mother with anxious kids, you can be sure there are plenty of others! Some school districts run parent support groups. Parents Place is also a great place to turn for professional and peer support—for yourself and for your child. Keep in mind that school anxiety affects not only younger children, but often appears, for a variety of reasons, in middle school- and high school-age kids as well.
  6. Contact us for help! Call us at 415-359-2443 to talk one of our experts like Mimi, or to find out about support groups.

Posted by Mimi Ezray, LCSW, MPH on August 29, 2013

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