Dealing with Childhood Anxiety

We’re into the first official full week of school. Most kids have already settled in. For my daughter, I don’t even think there was a dividing line between summer and school. She takes it all in stride.

But what if a child doesn’t take it all in stride? What if the anxiety of going back to school (or starting any new activity) is too much for that child? How do you ensure a smooth transition?

Here are some ways courtesy of The Hincks-Dellcrest Centre to help make the transition a smoother one:

Understand the basis of your child’s anxiety

Are your child’s worries general and not based on past experience?  If she feels vaguely that “no one’s going to like me” or “I’m not smart”, she may be struggling with the transition back to school overall, rather than experiencing anxiety about something specific.  Validate the child’s feelings by showing that you hear and understand them, then help her to remember the actual positive experiences she has had in the past.  “Remember how much fun you had at school last year when you and your friends played on the playground ?”  Focus on times when your child experienced success.

Does your child genuinely have something to be anxious about? If he is remembering unresolved issues from the previous school year, such as being the victim of a bully or experiencing academic challenges, then a parent needs to support the child’s reintegration back to school with a plan of action (see below).

Plan of action for a smooth transition

If your child is going back to school with specific concerns about bullying or academic performance, have a clear plan and explain to your child how things can be different this year.  For example, have arrangements been made for a different classroom, new teacher, or more in-school support?  Talk to your child in a concrete way about how people will be helping her to ensure this is a successful school year, and what she should do if she still has concerns along the way.  Reassure your child that together you can handle any situation that comes up.

If there is not yet a plan of action, thoroughly discuss your child’s worries with her, brainstorming all the ways that things could have been done differently last year.  Then speak to her teacher or principal to come up with a plan.  Having a strategy in place will ease your child’s anxiety by giving her a level of comfort that things can get better.

When to get help

Give your child the first few weeks of school to settle in. If worries aren’t gradually decreasing, or they are interfering with other areas of life – your child has trouble sleeping, has changes in her eating habits, or has a sudden “clinginess” to you as a parent – you may want to seek help.  Start by talking to your child’s teacher about your concerns.  You may also want to consult your family doctor or a mental health professional.


2 thoughts on “Dealing with Childhood Anxiety

  1. Catherine Burden (@AlwaysARedhead)

    Years ago when my son started grade one, he would cry every morning, not wanting to let go of my leg. We would pull him off my leg and he would go into class. Funny thing was, once he was in class, there were no tears, he had fun, but every morning of the school year, this behaviour went on. When grade two came around, he still didn’t like school, but there were no tears.

    1. Nancy Post author

      I wonder why that was? Was there something about his grade one environment? My son was the same at his last daycare. Miserable ever time I dropped him off. But fine moments after I left and fine all day. We eventually determined that he didn’t like the large group where everyone was the same age because there was too much chaos and too much competition for attention. We have since switched him to a smaller daycare with a variety of age groups and now he doesn’t cry when we drop him off. We’re considering this issue for him when he starts school next year. He may not do well in the regular school system, in which case we’ll look into an alternative.


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