School Anxiety

Helping Your Child Cope With Anxiety In Middle School/High School

Most children will have anxiety about starting Middle School or High School. They worry about being good enough for sports or other electives, being smart enough for their preAP or AP classes, and fitting in with peers who all seem taller, prettier, smarter, more socially savvy than they are. Each year brings new anxiety and most children will have some degree of anxiety and worry on their first day of school, even when it’s not their first year of Middle or High School or even if they have many friends going with them to the same school.

How to help your child cope on his first day of school?

Explain to your child that absolutely everyone will be anxious on their first day of school. Try to attend every orientation event and social event prior to the start of school and visit the school building as many times as possible prior to the start of school. Once you get your child’s schedule, walk the hallways with your child. The most common fear expressed by children about starting Middle School or High School is that they will get lost on the way to classes.

Start transitioning your child to the school wake/sleep schedule a few weeks prior to the start of school. Wake them half an hour earlier every day until they start waking at their normal school wake time a few days prior to the start of school. This will ensure they are not going to school for the first week sleep deprived and anxious from sleep deprivation.

Allow your child to choose any outfit he wishes for the first day and any breakfast he wishes for the first day. Wake her a few minutes prior to usual wake time so she is not rushed and feels confident and calm before going to school. Have him listen to some music or watch some TV or his favorite YouTube channel before leaving.

If your child’s anxiety is very high, consider discussing this with a school counselor or seeking advice from a child psychologist to help your child transition positively. Children who feel successful starting in a new school will continue to do well throughout the year.

How to help your teen feel that she fits in?

The most common worry for teens is fitting in with a new, and usually much larger group of peers. Adolescence is the time when teens struggle to find their identity and struggle to figure out which group of peers they wish to fit in with. Schools have multiple groups for teens to try and there will always be a group that will accept your teen. Reassure your child that he will absolutely find peers and acceptance. Encourage her to express her interests but also to try new things. Adolescence is a good time to experiment and try new hobbies. Encourage him to try different extracurricular activities, based on not just abilities but also interests. Especially, encourage children to try something outside of what their group of peers is doing, as often teens get stuck choosing activities based on whether they will grant an automatic acceptance to a clique.

How to help your child fit in with his looks?

Pre-teens and teens become more aware of their looks and what others think of their looks. Hairstyles (and colors), makeup, certain styles of clothing give kids both an individual and group identity. Boys and girls feel pressure to look or dress a certain way to be accepted. Make sure to recognize their need to belong and feel accepted and express understanding of this need. Don’t comment negatively on their clothing/looks/hair. Remember, you were a teen once and also conformed to peer pressure to look a certain way. If you don’t like the way your child dresses or does her hair, explain to her what your concerns are in a calm way and see if you can compromise between your standards and her needs to look in such a way to belong to her group.

How to help your child feel she is smart enough?

There is tremendous pressure on pre-teens and teens to achieve and take a greater number of standardized tests than ever. Schools focus increasingly on preparing children for college and pushing for higher scores on standardized tests. Psychologists see an increasing number of children with stress-related medical disorders as early as Middle School. Many teens spend most of their free time inside studying for hours in order to compete for their top 10% rating at their High School.

As academic competition heats up, remind your teen that colleges don’t just accept kids with top grades, they also want a well-rounded happy individual who will succeed for 4 years. College acceptances are based on many factors, not just on all As in AP classes. Make sure your child is able to carry the load he is carrying. While many parents desire a top college choice for their child, being a parent also means ensuring your child has good mental and physical health. If your child becomes so overwhelmed and burned out by fighting for college admission, that she is constantly ill and depressed, you are not teaching her important life lessons about coping with stress.

When to get professional help:

Sometimes, stress, anxiety and worry about school become too severe for a teen and family to cope with. If your child’s anxiety is so high that she can’t attend school or can’t get through the day without calling you and reporting anxiety and panic, please seek help from a school counselor or a child psychologist.

Published by Dr. Elena Mikalsen

I am a Clinical Psychologist and a novelist.

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