School Anxiety

School Anxiety, p.4

It's okay to reward children for taking positive steps toward independence. For example, put a sticker on your son's chart every day he attends school without tears or clinging, and when he earns a certain number of stickers, take him on a special outing.

Q: When should a child get professional help?
A: If for several weeks you've tried everything we've discussed and the anxiety interferes with your child's enjoyment of other areas of her life -- she's having difficulty sleeping regularly, is isolating herself, or is always worried or sad, for instance -- then it's time to have her evaluated by a mental health professional. School anxiety is not a psychiatric diagnosis. But when the condition is severe, it may be a symptom of an anxiety disorder.

We commonly see separation anxiety disorders, for example, which occur when a child has difficulty being away from those who are closest to him. A child with a social phobia, also common, fears social situations. Often these kids feel intensely scrutinized and worry that they'll do something embarrassing. Some are fearful of speaking in front of the class, while others have trouble even walking up to the blackboard. And many kids have generalized anxiety: chronic, excessive worrying about a range of subjects. These kids are often perfectionists, so their struggles may be internal. After a while, though, many kids with anxiety disorders try to avoid school because that's where they feel most overwhelmed. When anxiety is untreated, it can lead to depression.

For kids with mild to moderate anxiety symptoms, treatment usually begins with cognitive behavioral therapy, which teaches relaxation and coping skills to reduce anxiety and can result in improved behavior over several months. If symptoms are severe, doctors may prescribe medication, which can produce some results within two months.

Whether you consult a social worker, a psychologist, or a psychiatrist, choose someone who specializes in working with kids your child's age. And be sure that this expert, your child's teacher, and you work together as a team. Finally, remember that kids see their friends attending school; they want to be able to do that too. Some just need extra help to overcome their fears.

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Copyright © 2003. Reprinted with permission from the September 2003 issue of Child magazine.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

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