You might not think so but children in elementary school experience anxiety just as adults do. The exception is that they may show it in different ways. While some have the classic symptoms of rapid heartbeat and breathing, others display it through behaviors that make a parent and teacher wonder what exactly is happening. Some of it can be classified as separation anxiety for those entering school for the first time and some of it can be caused by other stressors that may be present throughout the elementary school years. Here are some ways that you can recognize a child in this age group experiencing anxiety relating to school, understand the underlying causes, and deal with the problem.
There are several ways to recognize anxiety in an elementary school child. Teachers and parents should be alert to the following behaviors:
- Being negative
- Having nightmares
- Unreasonable fears
- Physical symptoms of anxiety (rapid heartbeat, sweating, dizziness, etc.)
- Not wanting to be separated from the parent (separation anxiety)
A child experiencing anxiety relating to school may tell bizarre stories that are not true at all. You will be able to recognize fabrications and dealing with them will be discussed later in this article.
Anxiety in this age group also causes negativity and withdrawal. Negativity is odd for young children starting school because they are usually upbeat about the new experience.
Of course the anxious child takes his or her anxiety home and will have unreasonable fears as well as nightmares. To the child, these fears are real and they want to avoid the situation causing them.
Anxiety in elementary children has its underlying causes. It is mostly due to developmental issues related to:
- Social skills
- Handling threatening situations
- Teachers and parents unfamiliar with the problem
Children at this young age have not fully developed their social skills so they are unsure how to relate to new people. They are also learning how to practice self-control in new social settings where they have to suppress their urges for the good of the group.
Then there is probably the strongest cause of anxiety and that is how to handle new threatening situations not experienced when the child was pre-school and at home in a safe environment. This is typically the first exposure to the school bully who is bigger and tougher than your child—at least in his mind anyway.
Believe it or not, parents and teachers can be the cause of anxiety in their children as well. This is when the parents and teachers are anxious themselves because they don’t understand the anxiety of the child. The anxiety of these leaders rubs off on those children susceptible to it.
Dealing with It
Anxiety of this nature must be dealt with so that the child can get to the business of learning and feel unthreatened while at school. Some of the ways to do this are:
- Explaining the situation
- Exposing to independence well before the first day of school (for separation anxiety)
- Teaching self-relaxation techniques
- Keeping yourself from becoming anxious
- Indifference to lying
- Providing a way of venting frustrations (physical activities)
Communication lines must stay open between adults and the child. Part of communication is for the parent and teacher to always explain the situation to their children. For example, some adults today may have been in elementary school the day American President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Because he was a popular President, multitudes of Americans were very distraught over this and teachers came into elementary classrooms after lunchtime with tears in their eyes. The anxiety would have rubbed off on the children if the teachers did not explain fully what happened.
When a child fabricates stories and tells far-fetched lies, it is recommended that parents and teachers neither acknowledge the lie nor shut it down. In fact, it is better to just let the child keep talking because the child is merely expressing a desire for something to be true. This applies to non-malicious fabrications of course. However, by doing this, lines of communication stay open between adults and the child.
It is important to deal with anxiety issues related to elementary children going to school early in their program. Otherwise, valuable learning time gets lost in the problem. Use these ways to deal with the problem of anxiety and your children will enjoy school as they should.