Q:My son is 11 years old and is starting to become moody and snappy over the last couple of weeks. He cries when we talk about going to school and sometimes tells me that he is scared on Sunday night and Monday morning. Do you think he will be okay?
A: I’m wondering if this is the first time he has expressed concern and fear about returning to school or is this pattern with him that you have seen before? Some degree of anxiety is normal about going to school, especially on Mondays, but there may be a more serious underlying cause. It clearly sounds as if he is experiencing anxiety about the upcoming change in his routine. Some children experience anxieties toward the end of the summer, after school vacations and sometimes even on Sunday evenings when they think about returning to school.
The majority of students who have difficulties with school are between the ages of eight and thirteen. They may report vague physical complaints, appear withdrawn, sad or even panicky on school mornings. Other children are more verbal about their worries and may have tantrums or outright refuse to attend school.
The reasons for the resistance are quite varied. There are some children who resist or refuse to return to school because of separation anxiety. These children tend to be younger and not accustomed to being away from home and/or their parents. Some children tend to have social difficulties and feel uncomfortable, shy and fearful in the school setting. They may have trouble expressing their feelings and will need guidance and support to verbalize their thoughts and fears. Bullying, academic difficulties or exclusion social circles may intensify the child’s fears. We’ll talk much more about bullying in next month’s column.
Still other children may feel a need to stay at home to “look out ” for a parent or sibling, particularly if the home environment is stressful or unsafe. Parents and caregivers should not expose children to adult conflicts and should provide reassurance to children that family members will be safe.
I have some thoughts and suggestions for you….
- Inform the principal, teacher and school adjustment counselor that your son has some fears and anxieties about school. They will be able to provide the support and encouragement in school to ease the transition. Your son will be able to check-in with them during the day and perhaps take breaks from the classroom if necessary
- Make your drop-off at school or the bus stop quick and positive. Don’t linger and prolong the separation. Leave with a smile and words of encouragement.
- Talk about things that your son can look forward to throughout the day.
- Be sure to support his involvement in extra-curricular activities that will boost his confidence.
- Help your son to be organized and prepared for school. Anxiety and stress is often made worse by disorganization and confusion. Review homework assignments and create a positive studying environment. The more prepared he is, the less stressed he’ll be!
- Explore the possibility that your child may be bullied at school or on the Internet. Kids that are bullied are often too fearful to tell an adult. If this is the case, request an immediate meeting with school officials.
- Most importantly, keep the lines of communication open. Talk about his fears, worries and concerns. Let him know that he is not alone and will soon be in a new, positive routine.
If you still have concerns about his adjustment to school, contact a professional who specializes in childhood anxiety and phobias. Your family physician may have some helpful advice or referral information.
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