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School Anxiety

Rachel McGuffey, M.D., Lexington Clinic Pediatrics 


With the beginning of school right around the corner, many kids will begin to show signs of anxiety. School anxiety can begin from day 1 or start sometime during the school year.  

School anxiety can stem from many reasons. Some common reasons are the following:  

1.       Fear of separation from parents

2.       Fear of the teacher—perceiving as mean or unfair

3.       Fear of bullies at school

4.       Fear of failure  

Some children experience an embarrassing moment at school and will develop school anxiety from that incident, feeling that people will laugh at them.  

Children with school anxiety most commonly exhibit this through vague complaints. These complaints can include headaches, stomachaches, dizziness, or nausea. These complaints most frequently occur on school days and disappear when school is out or on weekends.  

If you suspect your child is having school anxiety, you should be sympathetic, yet firm.  The longer your child stays away from school, the harder it is to have them return. You should first take your child to your pediatrician to make sure there is no physical reason for your child to have the complaints. With the onset of school, stomachaches can occur due to constipation from fear of using the restroom at schools. A child with headaches could have allergies from the school environment or difficulty with reading the board.  

Once you have established that there is no physical reason for the complaint, then create a plan for keeping your child at school. Discuss the fears your child is having and figure out ways to help them deal with that fear. Involving teachers and guidance counselors may be necessary to help alleviate some of the fears of the child. For bullies, talk with your child’s teacher and ask them to particularly watch the interactions with that child and see what is going on.  

Establishing outside activities for your child can be helpful for anxiety also. This lets your child have independence from home and also gives an outlet for those who fear failure to find things that they are good at.  

For children with severe anxiety, a stepwise approach may be necessary for return to school.  Start with taking the child for shorter periods of time, slowly working towards full return to school. The most important thing is getting your child back to school.  

In closing, remember that your child’s fears are real. Be sympathetic and understanding, while explaining to your child the necessity of returning to school. Remind them it is required by law and that you cannot let them stay home. Also, let them know your plan for helping them deal with the anxiety so that they know that something is being done.