Every parent and guardian can remember getting jitters on the first day of school. Your child may be experiencing some similar back-to-school nervousness, but how do you know if what they’re feeling is actually something more serious? And if so, what can you do about it?

How many children experience classroom anxiety?

About 1 in 8 children experience an anxiety disorder, and more than 25% of teens ages 13 to 18 experience an anxiety disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. That can spill over into the classroom, which is an environment where kids and teens may feel less familiar and face pressure from peers and potentially from parents to perform well socially and academically.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a chronic and sometimes debilitating worry, fear or nervousness. It can be related to certain triggering scenarios, or it can be a general anxiousness that a person experiences much of the time.

For kids and teens, anxiety can affect how they learn in the classroom, how they react to higher-pressure scenarios like tests and another important component of time at school — social interaction. 

How to recognize the signs of anxiety?

An anxiety disorder is a longer-term, prolonged pattern of behavior, though kids and teens can still exhibit these behavior changes with short-term anxiety.

 It’s possible that kids and teens lack the awareness to understand that they are experiencing mental health challenges due to anxiety. It’s also likely that they lack the communication skills to verbalize their feelings and may use their behavior to show that they’re struggling. Here are some anxiety warning signs.

  • Avoiding activities at school or in social situations
  • Changes with grades and academic performance
  • Isolation
  • Prolonged nervousness
  • Changes in mood, sleep or appetite
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability and tenseness

Younger children may also be clingy, cry and could complain of a stomachache or headache.

How can I help if my child is experiencing anxiety, especially school-related anxiety?

It’s helpful to talk to your child about their feelings and what they think may be causing anxiety. Is it situation-related? When is the anxiety heightened? You could ask your child if they think the anxiety stays at school or if it carries over into other areas of their life, and if so, why that may be.

Try to listen first and take in information with an open mind. It can be hard to hear that your child is suffering or that they may feel pressured by educators, peers or even by their own parents and guardians. It takes courage for you and a kid or teen to address their feelings, but only then can progress be made.

The next step: Talk to teachers and school counselors. Educators want your child to succeed academically and socially at school. Depending on your child’s needs, they can come up with individualized education plans that could include accommodations for testing, for instance.

Schools can also refer parents and guardians to more resources, including Ellipsis. With Ellipsis’ complete circle of support and community-based services, we can help your child and family come up with coping strategies that help them in the classroom as well as long-term efforts that can help with anxiety.

Never hesitate to reach out at EllipsisIowa.org/contact-us.