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Your Child and Anxiety: School Stress Starts Early

Student Stress Starts Early. The Problem: Premature Pressure by Parents, Peers

Elementary School continued...

Signs of elementary-school stress include:

  • Fears and nightmares. "It's not the thing they fear but the fact that they are more fearful," Bryant says.Stomachaches and headaches. These kinds of complaints show that kids are stressed. "Parents are right in thinking that there is something more to it than a physical illness," Bryant says. "But it is not that the kid is just making it up. They may want to avoid something, but they are really feeling it. It may be their way of trying to cope with too much stress."
  • Negativism and lying. "One way of dealing with this is accepting the lie without exaggerating it as a problem," Bryant advises. "Say, 'It would be nice if that were the case.' You give them credit for a good idea. That can be very effective. The parent doesn't accept the lie and doesn't reject the child's feelings. It keeps the parent and child in conversation. You recognized where the lie came from -- the child really wishes it were true."
  • Withdrawal, regressive behavior, or excessive shyness. Know your child's temperament. Not all children mature at the same pace. Some children are slow to accept new things. "If you know your child angers more easily or gets more aggressive or upset than other children, help them find some kind of outlet," DeBord suggests. If your child needs to move after school, suggest an after-dinner bike ride. If he or she requires something calming, suggest listening to music.

"When you tuck your kids into bed, or at bath time, whenever there is a one-on-one time, use open ended questions and to listen," says DeBord. Kids need something concrete. Instead of saying, 'What did you do today?' ask about lunch, or what story they heard, or which friend they played with today. Say, 'Tell me where you played. Were there balls and equipment? Did you play in groups?"

Middle School

Middle-school children are passing through the doorway to adolescence. By all accounts it is a very difficult period. With so much changing, middle-school children may feel frustrated by their inability to handle situations they used to handle with ease.

"The transition to middle school is where the peer dynamics change entirely. Quite often it is a very abrupt change," Bryant says. "It can be pretty painful. In junior high, there must be a debriefing time. Our kids come home really stressed and we need to talk them down. It is a time to listen, to say, 'Yes, it is really rough and that is hard to deal with.' Give them that you hear their pain, and they are safe at home and don't have to come home to parents giving them grief."

If that sounds simple, don't be fooled. It's still important to set limits. The key is patience.

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