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Tips for Easing School-Time Anxiety from a Mom Who’s Been There

on Tue, 09/02/2014 - 10:52

By: Amie Butchko 

From day one, my son Nick had school-related anxiety.  My happy-go-lucky little boy was transformed into a hand-wringing, hive-ridden worrier.  I truly expected him to bounce on the bus - happy to finally be like older siblings.  Yet what occurred was much different: my son clinging to me as I insisted he board through closing doors; me with tears in eyes, my hands covering my face as neighbor-moms gathered quietly for support as the bus drove away. 

Admittedly, such occurrences continued through 3 grades, revealing a more than usual case of separation anxiety.  But, along the way, I learned many ways  to keep the bubbling-up of emotion under better control - for my child, and for me. 

Simply put, some kids have anxiety - about school, or just in general.  According to articles like The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry’s Children Who Won’t Go to School and Pub Med’s Stress in Childhood, most of the time, school separation anxiety passes quickly.  Sometimes, it’s a little more stubborn and complex, but generally can be helped with a few savvy parent-tricks.  If you have a school-reluctant child, try these quick strategies to ensure he/she not only gets through the day, but is armed with better coping skills for life.   

Don’t Waiver.  School’s a must.  Never let your child stay home if feigning illness, or “just because.”  Be positive, talking up the pluses  of school – even if it’s for a fun activity happening at school or a small treat at lunch.  Make departures quick and matter-of-fact, being careful not to feed drama.  However, do hear your child out and validate feelings as important.  I listen to Nick at bedtime each night, reviewing the day.  But when it’s time for school, he goes! 

Give Your Child Every Advantage.  Helping your child be prepared can go far in building confidence, instead of losing nerve.  Make sure he/she gets enough sleep, eats breakfast, and is ready for daily activities.  Schedule play dates with classmates and if your child struggles with learning, find fun ways to reinforce lessons without adding pressure.  My son particularly loves the Essential Skills Advantage website

Talk to the Teacher. The teacher is your best advocate in managing anxiety.  Communicate concerns, ask for help, and rule out potential bullying or other class-related issues.  Trust in the teacher’s expertise. Most kids can adapt once they are in their class!

Allow Time for Play.  School, extra-curricular activities, homework – it’s a lot! Try not to over schedule, and allow for leisure time every day.  For Nick, playing fun games with friends made him feel successful and gave him a break from anxiety, helping him return to responsibilities recharged. 

Get Savvy. You will learn over time, what routines work best.  Driving with our pug to the bus helps us!  “Pickles” barks when Nick leaves the car, necessitating a quick jump-out.  Also, pulling to the front of the line allows Nick to see his friends playing, prompting him to join in – and control tears.  Live and learn.

Get Help.  Childhood anxiety and depression are serious.  If problems persist, consult your pediatrician. Explore resources like Web MD’s Is Your Child Depressed? or NYU Medical Center’s Understanding School Refusal for more information.  School psychologists can also be of valuable help.  Nick meets with ours monthly, giving him a break from class and allowing objective discussion with a professional.  Such things keep a pulse on the situation should further steps become necessary and keeps you remembering, you’re never alone.   

Amie Butchko is a former teacher, busy mom, wife and freelance writer who tackles issues of parenting, education, medicine and religion.  She lives in Warwick, NY, with her husband and three kids.  Visit her website at