by Carol Chandler-Wood
As a child, I would be so excited about the first day of school that I couldn’t sleep the night before! Many children are fortunate to have such a positive school experience like I did, but for some, school is something they dislike.
What are the signs of school stress? When students worry about school, it can affect them physically by causing headaches or stomach aches. Sometimes students will fake illness to get out of going to school. They may feel butterflies in their stomach or like they are going to throw up. Some students actually do! They may be having trouble sleeping, and if they are, they will likely feel grumpy and tired during the next school day. If students are stressed out, they might have a hard time making decisions. For example, in the morning they may not be able to decide what to eat, wear, or pack for lunch. They may procrastinate putting their things together for the next day. This causes them to not be prepared so they may miss the bus or their ride so they are late arriving to school. Staying home may seem like a good choice, but it just makes it harder to go to school the next day because they will start the next day behind in their academics and they may begin to feel overwhelmed.
For students who do not like school, it is important to determine why. Students may not like school because a bully is bothering them or because a kid they do not like wants to hang around with them. Perhaps a student does not get along with one of his or her teachers or may feel different from others or worry that he or she does not have enough friends. Sometimes students do not like school because there is a problem with their classes and course work. Maybe the work is too easy and they are bored or maybe it is too difficult and they do not feel as smart as other kids and feel overwhelmed and hopeless. Reading may be difficult, but they are expected to do a lot of it. They may be getting farther and farther behind in their studies and it seems as if they will never catch up. Some young students will have such severe separation anxiety from their mom or dad that they feel they cannot attend school. Once students and/or their parents have determined why they do not like school, the necessary steps can be taken to improve their feelings and school experience.
It is important to find help. It’s a good idea for students who do like school to talk to someone about this problem. They can talk with their parents, a relative, teacher, or school counselor who can help them. If severe enough, students may need to talk to a professional counselor outside of their school and family. Another suggestion is students can write down their feelings about school in a journal as it is a great way to let their emotions out which may be suppressed. If students are feeling disorganized or like they cannot keep up with their schoolwork, teachers and school counselors are available and want to help. If all of a student’s subjects seem really difficult, a school counselor can help them sort things out and obtain additional help if needed.
Do the following to feel better about school. Have students write down everything they do not like about school. Then have them list the things they enjoy about school, even if it is only recess and lunch. Have them identify what they can change on the list of what they do not like and begin to ask some questions. For example, would remembering to do homework help them to feel more confident if they were called on in class? Could they find ways to show off their special interests and talents? If they made just one new friend, would they feel less alone? If they have helped someone else feel less alone, would that cause them to feel better? Which activities could they try that would help them meet new friends? Would receiving outside academic assistance help reduce their stress and improve their confidence and motivation? Of course, they may not be able to change everything about what they do not like about school because s bully may not simply disappear or reading may always be somewhat of a challenge, but they can focus on what can be changed.
Parents should talk positively with their children about their anxieties, try to relate to them, and understand their concerns. Parents can be empathetic and through conversation enable the student to not feel dumb or weird for not liking school. A positive attitude in parents is very important because parents who are anxious communicate their anxiety to the child.
If children fake illness, doctors recommend that parents should not confront them or accuse them of lying. If a student says his or her stomach hurts or makes up some other vague, invalidated symptom, do not say the child is making it up because he may try even harder to convince you he is ill. Encourage the child to go to school. If you do allow him to stay home, make sure the experience is not too enjoyable by having him stay in bed all day and all evening. Students need to learn early on if they stay home sick, they will be in bed all day with no television, video games, or other extracurricular activities. There can be no rewards for getting better at 3 pm. If it is not addressed, faking illness can become a chronic problem.
Unless a child suffers from a legitimate anxiety disorder and needs to seek professional help, the best policy for parents to follow is to be understanding, but firm, and insist the student goes to class. It should not be a negotiable matter about going to school. Reassure your child that you know school can be hard or making friends can be difficult, but in the end, let them know they are going to school without exception, it is their job, it is worthwhile, and then try to help them deal with whatever they are anxious about.