Google+ Mom to 2 Posh Lil Divas: School Anxiety - How Do You Help Your Child Deal With School Fears?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

School Anxiety - How Do You Help Your Child Deal With School Fears?

Things have been a bit hectic around here. Emotions are running high and this Mama is feeling a bit stressed out and over protective of her girls. The past few weeks my mind has been a bit scattered and even now, it's hard for me to even sit here and type even these first few sentences.

Why? Where to begin? How to explain? How to share without sharing too much? My Oldest Diva is having a rough time at school - not academically but emotionally. She is unhappy, anxious and nervous in her classroom environment and it's gotten so bad that she is showing physical symptoms like upset stomachs, headaches, etc. Her school anxiety is very real. It has developed over the past month and half  and is of great concern to me.


Academically she is doing great and I have nothing against her teacher personally, it simply seems as if this particular classroom just isn't a good fit for my daughter. She is an emotional child and very sensitive. Things affect her deeply and are not easily forgotten. My heart is breaking as I watch my usually happy and enthusiastic girl transform before my eyes into a girl that doesn't find any joy at school anymore.  This is new for us. She has always enjoyed school before now. She always gotten along well with her teachers and her classmates. This anxiety is unchartered territory for us. I am trying to figure out how I can help her thrive academically and be happy emotionally at school? She has lost this & more than anything I want to help her find it again, before it's too late.

These early years at school set the foundation for everything to come. I do not want her to be "turned off" of school in the 1st grade due to this anxiety. Can you imagine the lifetime of struggles we would have? As a teacher, I know that these years are so important, so crucial. You can spark a child for life or distinguish their flame. I have seen it happen. I do not want to see her flame extinguished. I want my happy and excited girl back.


I went to the school and once I was able to speak to the Administrators and voice my concerns they were very understanding and offered us a few options (for this I am very grateful!). One of our options is to change her current class. Do it, you might quickly say. It's a no-brainer. If this class makes her feel so anxious, move her. It makes sense, right?

Yet, I struggle with the decision. Why? This is a big move for our girl. My daughter is very sensitive. She is afraid of the "unknown" (this is a girl who will not enter another room in our house by herself) and moving now would mean starting over for her. This would be something she would also have to deal with - leaving the friends she has made and being back at square one. When I spoke to her about it, she cried. She told she was afraid to go to a new classroom. Yet, when I ask her if she could be happy staying where she is - her answer was no. The anxiety is very real for her. It has made her fearful.

My gut tells me that having a fresh start may be a good thing for her, in the long run.  She has these fears and anxieties that are wrapped up in that classroom - for whatever reason. Maybe a fresh start will present a clean slate so to speak. I don't doubt that the first few weeks might be difficult for her socially but she is a friendly girl and I know that she will make friends given some time. I just worry about adding to her school anxiety by thrusting her into a new situation. I want her to feel better, not more anxious.

So parents & teachers - what would you do? How do I deal with this new school anxiety? My biggest concern is for my daughter's emotional well being. I want her to be happy and excited about school. If faced with such a situation, what would you do?

I can not tell you the sleepless night I have endured fretting over how she is feeling and generally worrying about my girl. I want to make the best decision for her. I think I have gotten to the point where I am over thinking it.  For every positive, I find a negative, etc. Know what I mean? Please tell me I am not the only crazy Mama that does this. I so need to hear that I am not alone.

As we struggle with our issues, I am sure you can forgive my lack of content here. My mind is focused elsewhere right now. Please keep my little girl (and me) in your thoughts & prayers. All I want is my happy and excited girl back.


Bern


Clipart was found via goole free images and is courtesy of  www.marktoon.co.uk.

40 comments:

  1. We went through this with my son. I know how awful it is. Talk a lot with the school, don't dismiss a psychologist and here is a recent post I did on books for kids coping with anxiety. Thinking of you and your sweet girl.
    http://karasclassroom.blogspot.com/2012/09/books-for-children-with-anxiety.html

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    1. Thank you Kara. I will check out these titles & I appreciate you taking the time to share them with me.

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  2. Aww - little peanut. to her AND to you. This sounds incredibly hard.

    Have you asked her why she's not liking school? Maybe she ca provide some insight into what's going on that you haven't thought of.

    My answer isn't going to be the mainstream one.

    My oldest has always been a very anxious child. He's still extremely nervous to try things, go places, or be a part of any group. I still give him plenty of opportunities to socialize and connect with other people and peers - but it's a safe place and I let him tell me how he's feeling, what his concerns are, and encourage him to give things a go. I don't make him be an extrovert - I let him hid in the corner in silence if he chooses.

    But, I didn't send him to school. I was going to, but after he had a panic attack, clinging to my leg, during JK registration and I realized I couldn't do this every day - I kept him home. He's 8 now, in Grade 3, doing brilliantly in his schoolwork, and he's still his happy, silly self who is growing in his ability to try new things.

    For example, this past summer, a neighbour kid invited him over to play - and he went. Something he would have been freaking out over in the past.

    You don't HAVE to choose school if it's not a match for her. You already teach her so much at home.

    Again as you try to figure out what's best for your wee one.

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    1. Thank you for your comment. My daughter has always enjoyed school. I believe her current classroom isn't a good fit for her emotionally. Academically she is doing great but her emotions are all over the place. I am hoping we can help her calm down and get back to her old self before it gets any worse.

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  3. I'm so sorry she's going through this, school is supposed to be an amazing place you never want to leave and can't wait to go to. We wrote a post about Big Worries and Little Worries with kids recently that might help her a little bit. http://theeducatorsspinonit.blogspot.com/2012/08/wemberly-worried-kevin-henkes-virtual.html

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    1. Thanks for sharing this Kim. I am trying to address her very real fears and help her deal with them. This is all very raw for her and I just wish I could wave a magic wand and take it away.

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  4. My thoughts & prayers r with u & ur family

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  5. My thoughts & prayers r with u & ur family

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  6. I just "met" you through pinterest, but my heart goes out to you. I have a son who sounds so similar. We experienced a similar heart wrenching situation in Pre-k. My heart won out & we moved him. If was better for him & and he began to do much better. Ultimately I learned to trust on his resiliency to grow & cope with change. And continue to work on giving him tools to cope with future changes. Now he just transitioned into K and is doing great! Hope that helps.

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    1. Thank you Anna. It's heartbreaking isn't it? I'm so glad that your son is doing well now. I am trying to find ways to help her cope and hopefully be a bit more resiliant with time.

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  7. It is so sad that a first grader would have that much anxiety over anything. My thoughts and prayers are with both of you. {hugs}

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    1. I agree with you. At 6 she should be carefree - there is much time to fret and worry later in life. No need to start now.

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  8. Sending you and your little one lots of hugs. The same thing happened to my daughter in 1st grade. She went from being a child who would fight to go to school when she was sick in Kindergarten to a child we had to pull kicking & screaming from bed every morning, dress her as she fought us, etc. This was not my child. She had always been a very mellow, trying to please type child - would never think to try to strike out at us - this changed her to the soul. Unfortunately, her personality is also one where she does not easily share her feelings, thoughts, etc so I had no idea where it was coming from. I went to the teacher as I thought it had to be an issue with kids being mean. She is a very shy child & does not easily make friends. I had lots of playdates trying to help her make friends. Things did calm down a bit by January, although we had an occasional rough day here & there. I was a classroom volunteer so was there weekly plus went to have lunch with her on those hard days, which I know is not an option for a working mother. In hind-sight, I now realize that it was the teacher. She was strict (not mean) but I did not see that as a problem at the time. She never said anything negative about the teacher & I honestly believed it was just the fact that she wanted a "bff" & did not have one as the other children did. They were nice to her but she was basically invisible. Thankfully, she had a wonderful "warm fuzzy" teacher for 2nd grade & does again for 3rd. I now realize that is what she needs - someone who truly cares, shares his/her life with the class & wants the class to share theirs. I regret not doing more for her. Since your daughter is friendly & makes friends easily, my vote is to move her. However, try to find out teaching styles & personalities (talk to past parents if possible) first to make sure that it will be a better match. You don't want to move her, only to have a similar situation present itself. For the future, talk to your child's current teacher (each year)to explain some of what happened so when they make the placements for the following year, they are aware. Believe me it has made the world of difference. I was scared to death to send her off to 2nd grade because I finally had my happy joyful child back over the summer. The teacher really does make the difference. I know it is not an easy decision & I wish you all the best. Know you are not the first to go through this & thankfully, children are resilient. Good luck! You are a great mommy - don't forget that in the midst of everything & remember to show her lots of extra love.

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    1. Thank you. All I can offer is love, hugs & understanding and I am doing lots of that. I am also acting as her advocate because it is not ok for me to just have her deal with these emotions. This is very real for her and can't be ignored. I want my bubbly girl back.

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  9. You know my heart goes out to you because of what we went through with my oldest. It is so stressful and heartbreaking to see your once-happy child change so drastically because of a situation like this. I hope you continue to get a lot of feedback here and from others to help you make the best decision for your daughter. Hugs and prayers. x

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    1. thanks for the hugs & understanding. So needed today.

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  10. First off, thank you for trying to help your daughter right away like this, and not dismissing her fears or saying its something she'll grow out of if you just force her through it. I was just like your daughter, from kindergarten on. School was an absolute terror for me, ever morning going up to the school felt like an impending car accident to me. It never went away. I have always LOVED learning, I even chose to do independent studies at home, which had nothing to do with school or grades, I just loved learning. But I HATED school because of the way I felt there. It took until my junior year in high school before my parents offered to let me take as much of my classes from home as I could. I chose to take all but two classes from home and my grades flourished as did my well being.

    I have no advice for you on your daughter, though I fear I'll be looking for the same advice soon as my 4 year old daughter sounds just like yours. I just want to thank you for being an awesome mother and actually listening to how your daughter feels :)

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    1. Oh, that is my worst fear. That she suffer needlessly like this and really grow to dislike school. I don't want that. Thank you for your kind words.

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  11. My heart really goes out to you two! I've got 2 experiences I can share that may help you decide.

    My baby brother started school so eager to learn and did amazing until grade 3 when he had what my sister and I refer to as the "teacher from hell" (I'm sure she wasn't that bad but when you see your little brother cry EVERY single morning before school because of his teacher, you don't gather a great opinion of that person) Within that year he started failing subjects and even when he managed to pull through and pass to the next grade he was completely turned off school and just barely graduated high school at an alternative ed program a few years ago. I never understood why my Dad and Step-mother didn't pull him out of that class but last year after my Grandfather passed away I was with my Dad and Uncles sorting through old boxes and we found my Dad's old school records. He to had a "teacher from hell" who once told him all he would ever amount to would be trade school (up until that point he was in the top of his class, after that year he scored 50's and 60's). I'm not sure if he just thought my brother would just "tough through" it like he did or what but I often wonder what would have happened had he been switched out of that class.

    I myself not only switched classes but eventually schools due to being relentlessly bullied in Jr. High. Was it tough to leave the few friends I had? You bet. Was it tough to be the new girl? Yep, but it was honestly one of the best things that happened to me (even though we moved to a new city a year later and I started new all over again) Waking up every morning with that horrible knot in my stomach gone was worth a thousand times being the new girl. It was a good lesson for me that if something didn't feel right I didn't have to stick around. This is different than if something is hard, you work through it. Feelings are feelings and no amount of "working through it" is going to make an environment feel good if it isn't.

    I really wish you and your daughter the best! Whatever it is that you two decide on I pray that it works out for her and that she becomes that vibrant little girl again.

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    1. Thank you for sharing your experiences with me. It really helps to get insight from others. So sorry to read you were bullied. That is painful and I am glad that you were not left to just deal with it. I feel that it would be in my daughter's best interest to offer her a fresh start in a different class - for her own emotional well being.

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  12. I don't have any good advise for you, but I hope for your family to come to a solution that feels comforting to you and your daughter.

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  13. Hugs to you Bern. It's heartbreaking to hear about her anxiety. I would suggest a meeting with the school counselor, your daughter and you --possibly you can get to the root of the anziety. Talking through it with someone else is hard but they are skilled at helping children through their fears.

    If if is a personality or issue with the teacher, then if I was in this situation I would seriously consider the switch. The new class would likely be a hard transition for a couple of weeks but that sounds better than another 30 weeks of anxiety and stress for your family.

    Those early years are priceless and it's our jobs to make sure that we protect that passion of learning & school.
    Maybe before the switch you could reach out to another family in the new class and build a relationship outside of school.

    As for the current teacher & administration I would be very upfront and clear as to why there is an issue. Parents need to communicate with the school so that other children don't experience the same issues. I had a friend in a similar situation and it came down to the fact that the teacher was a yeller and short tempered with her 6 & 7 year olds and many of the children were scared. I don't know the details of your situation but listening to your daughter and validating her feelings, like you are already doing, is so important.

    Best of luck to you! I hope this is just a bump in her school career. Again...hugs to you!

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    1. These years are priceless and I do my hardest to provide enriching activities and wonderful memories for my daughters. I can't have that negated by how she currently feels at school. I know we can turn this around because it's only a month into the school year. I can't wait and see what happens. I have to act in the best interest of my child right now. Thank you for your kind words and advice April.

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  14. When I was reading your story I could have sworn you were writing about my littlest darling daughter. She is the youngest of four and you just described her last school year in kindergarten. Whoa! I didn't think we would make it!!

    We found that her issues were routine and chaos!

    Routine: She likes to know what is going to be expected of her every moment! What's coming next? Gym? Music? Lunch? Is there going to be a guest in the room? Is so and so going to be absent? Doesn't like the unknown.

    Chaos: Not all classrooms are chaotic but hers was. Loud talking and noises. Even this year, the buses unload and the students go to the gym until its time for the bell. It is total bedlam in there, I've been there! She absolutely can't take it! I have ended up driving my two youngest and drop them off after the first bell so they don't have to do the chaos.

    The lunchroom falls under that as well. Too much chaos!

    That may or may not be her problem. We did see a psychologist for about 6 months and she learned some deep breathing exercises and relaxation techniques that worked for her but didn't totally resolve the anxiety, just made it bearable.

    This year is like a whole new child! Thank goodness. It did take a few weeks to get the new routine down but now its old hat. She doesn't even need her older brother to take care of her, she can do it on her own!!

    Good luck to you! I pray you find your answer soon! Don't give up!!

    mom4kids97@aol.com

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    1. Heather thanks for sharing your experience with me. My daughter is fine with noise, etc. She is a bit of a nervous Nellie about being reprimanded, is a pleaser, etc. and I think that is fueling her current issues. I am hoping we can turn this around since I am addressing it sooner rather than later.

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    2. Good luck to you! You are obviously headed in the right direction! The earlier the better!! School is supposed to be fun, right?

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  15. Both my boys have anxiety, but it impacts them differently. Younger son always takes a long time to adjust to new places, people, even familiar places with TOO many people. He literally freezes and gags a lot of the time. I did not get much back when I told his teacher that he was crying at home, and asking to be home schooled. It is better, but his grades have suffered. He is in 2nd grade BTW.

    Older son, in 7th grade this year also has Autism, inclusive classes though. He was taking an extra math class since he struggles with math and the teacher loud and yelled. At first, I just listened to his comments, but when he began to have problems speaking/almost unable to get words out, I told him to tell his other teachers. They removed him Monday from the class and switched him to art after checking with me.

    Your daughter is lucky to have you as her advocate, you are blessed to have such a great school. The elementary school we are zoned for is not so great for children with issues unless they are a behavior problem. The middle school we are zoned for is FANTASTIC- true team work, true understanding of a child's emotional issues impacting them.

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    1. Thank you for your kind words. We must be our children's advocates especially when they are too young to do it for themselves. I am not a difficult person by an means and I do not like conflict but I am willing to do whatever I need to do for my girls :) Thankfully, the school is being responsive of our concerns and has offered us options. I think we are on the right path, fingers crossed.

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  16. I went through this with my youngest. While my son had an IEP, I can't see why you can't do a dry run, around here the day before school starts the teachers start. Call the guidance and ask if you can bring them early to see the school,or meet the teacher. Take the time to introduce yourself to the principle to, so they can learn that the principle is not scary, and not just when you do something wrong. Definitely do a couple of practice mornings getting ready for school, and then you driving there, get ready the night before just like you would if you were actually going to school. After a week of practice they should be more ready for the real thing. Be patience and assure them, that every thing will go well. Good luck.

    Terry E

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  17. I've been a teacher for 14 years, and the most important thing that I've learned is, kids need a personal connection, especially in the primary grades. Your daughter's teacher needs to be sensitive to the fact that she is having a very hard time adjusting to this classroom, and going the extra mile to make her feel at home and welcome. If that isn't happening, maybe she would be better off in the long run in another classroom. Children at that age adjust very quickly if they are in a nurturing and safe environment. I am saying this as both a teacher and a mother. My precious baby is in 1st grade, and it is tough! Sometimes he says things that I immediately think "Whoa, he shouldn't feel that way in first grade" and I immediately turn into hyper-worried mom. If he was in the situation that your daughter is in, I'm afraid that I would be very tempted to switch her classes, but first meet with the new teacher, and see if she is the warm, fuzzy type that your daughter (and LOTS of kids her age) needs. Hang in there, take a deep breathl, and know that your daughter is so lucky to have a mother that cares so much for her, there are many that don't.

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  18. My prayers are with you and your family.

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  19. My dear, I am very glad you are trying to help your daughter and listening to her fears. This is so important.
    Have you considered homeschooling? I am sure you would be great at it! You are a natural for it, looking at your website we can tell...
    I wish you the very best and I am praying for your family and for you. My heart goes to you.

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  20. Maybe coming to school early and getting settled in the classroom before the day starts for a while might help. Ask the teacher to pair her up with another nice girl. Maybe she could "help" the teacher sharpen pencils in the morning or pass out papers. Being early for events has helped my son relax. Volunteering or coming to have lunch with her might help also. Good luck!!

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  21. Awww sweetie! You are such a good mom, I know you'll figure out what's best for your little girl. These decisions are not easy but with trial and error you'll eventually figure out the right classroom fit that will help your daughter thrive!
    Hugs,
    Char

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  22. My daughter went throug this same thing starting in second grade. She used to love school to the point her bedroom was decorated like a classroom. She had a fabulous teacher but there were 27 kids in her class. It was so overwhelming for her. She would get stomachaches and headaches constantly. She missed 7 days of school in 1 month. We started with our pediatrician that recommended a pediatric therapist. The therapy combined with switching schools made a big difference. She was not happy about switching schools but she was in a class of 13 kids. She is now in 7th grade. We still struggle with the anxiety issues, and had to start her on an anxiety medication last yeat. I did not want to ever go the medication route, but the talking therapy was just not helping. Her problems are definately part of her chemical make up. She is starting to be more outgoing instead of withdrawn. A change of classrooms might be a good thing for your daughter. Good luck!

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  23. I've been reading your blog daily for a long time. So of course I feel like I know you haha. I don't know what your personal situation is with working etc, but I wanted to second the home schooling recommendation. When I first started reading your blog I just assumed you home schooled with your wealth of information and wonderfully creative ideas. I currently home school my 8 year old with special needs. I never saw myself as a home schooling parent even though I had previously taught second grade. I had lots of fears and misconceptions. I was amazed to find so many resources and like minded home schooling parents on our journey. Like I said I don't know your situation, but wanted to share our story.

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  24. We went through something like this with my daughter in third grade. It was so hard! It was awful for her and hard to watch as a parent. She was a shy child and this put her even further into her shell. Now that she is older (middle school), she is now able to articulate what was going on that year. There were undercurrents going on - both with the teachers and some bullying with a couple of students. We did not move her because we asked her if she wanted to move and she said no. That is one of my biggest regrets. We shouldn't have asked her. We should have just moved her because I think it would have been in her best interest.

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  25. Poor baby. I'm sorry this is so hard. I actually had the same problem when I was a kid. I used to throw up in the flower bed at school while I was standing outside refusing to go in. Then, when I did go in, I would always cry at nap time. (Still not sure why... it wasn't because of the nap lol) I never had problems with my teachers, just school in general. My suggestion to you would be to stick it out with her. She's having a hard time adjusting but what she needs are coping skills. Unfortunately it only gets harder as she gets in higher grades. Please don't home school. It's not a bad option but school is meant to help children grow into functional adults and, with her personality, she needs an environment like school to teach her the social and coping skills she will need as an adult. You're doing a great job. Continue reading get and talking with her school. Do not give up on her. Encourage independence and put focus on the fact that sometimes change can be good and even fun. I will pay for you abd I hope things go well

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