Blog: Five Tips For Reducing School Anxiety

Susan Stiffelman

My daughter is an anxious and shy child, but by third grade, I would have thought she would be over her school anxiety. She isn’t. We are just starting the second week of school and so far she has had a meltdown every single morning. Last year it took almost six weeks for her to settle in. Any suggestions for helping her adjust?

There are some kids who can’t wait for a new school year to begin. They love getting their school supplies, choosing their first day outfit and eagerly rush off to be reunited with their friends. But many children are distraught as they face the beginning of school. These are the kids who have epic meltdowns as you try to get them dressed, or worse, need to be dragged out of the car to walk to their classroom.

Here are some ideas that may help your daughter adjust:

• Be kind. No doubt mornings would be a lot easier if your daughter could just get over her anxiety. But if you want her to be open to your help, start by letting her know that you genuinely understand that she’s having a hard time adjusting to her new class — and that you care. Kids are much more responsive to our input when they sense our compassion instead of our irritation.

• Give her a way to stay connected with you. Many children feel less anxious when they have tangible reminders of you that they can see, smell or touch. Send your daughter with one of your scarves, or a bracelet she can wear of yours that will help her feel you’re still “with her,” even for the hours that the two of you are apart.

• Future-pace her day. Just as athletes often visualize themselves making three-pointer shots or scoring a touchdown, children benefit from picturing themselves happy at school. Invite your daughter to close her eyes and listen, as you walk her through an imaginary school day where she is smiling, having fun with friends, having fun with the class hamster or jumping rope at recess. By helping her get more familiar with a positive school experience in her imagination, she may find it easier to have one in real life.

• Limit the unknowns. Rather than save decision-making for the morning when her anxiety level may make it impossible to choose what to wear or have for breakfast, establish routines that do much of the prep work (what outfit to wear, cereal vs. eggs) the night before. The more predictable your mornings are, the easier it will be to fall into the routine of getting ready and out the door.

• Build on prior successes. Remind your daughter of other difficulties she has overcome. When faced with anxiety, many children do well when reminded of other times they have successfully faced their fears. Let her help you come up with a list of times when she did something she didn’t think she could.

Hopefully, these ideas will help your daughter adjust more quickly this year. Best of luck!