If you have a child who is struggling in school, he or she may be suffering from anxiety.  The reality is that many parents fail to consider that their son or daughter may be experiencing some form of stress.  The problem is that young students, being children, often have difficulty understanding their anxiety and, as a consequence, are unable or unwilling to talk about it with their parents.  As parents it is our job to pay close attention to circumstances and conditions that may cause your child to feel an undue amount of stress.

What is anxiety?  Anxiety is a condition that prompts feelings of extreme worry and nervousness. It is a normal human reaction to stressful or new situations. It is also both psychological and physical.  The psychological symptoms may show up as worried or fearful thoughts, unusual irritability, and pervasively negative thoughts with regard to particular situations.  Physical symptoms of anxiety may come in the form of stomachaches, racing heartbeat, fast breathing, headaches, or “butterflies”.  Anxiety is common in most people and is a normal and built-in human reaction to indicate that we need to be ready for action in case of imminent danger.  Anxiety also teaches us to pay attention and recognize there is a problem to be solved.  It can, however, become a real health concern, both mentally and physically, when it is prolonged and not effectively dealt with.

For children, some anxiety is useful in the development of their conscience because it plays an important role in helping them understand actions and consequences like when a child disobeys his or her parents.  It's also normal to feel anxious when there are changes that occur in the life of a family: changing jobs, schools, family structure, (new baby, new marriage etc.) or when upsetting things happen such as parents arguing or a loss of a friend.  Age is also a factor in terms of the types of worries that lead to anxiety. Preschoolers tend to worry about being separated from their parents or are afraid of the dark.  Older children, particularly pre-teens and teenagers, worry about being accepted by their peers and fitting in – not to mention the pressures from school and parents to earn good grades.

When anxiety occurs unusually often, interferes with daily life, or causes illness, it then becomes a serious problem.  The challenge with childhood anxiety is that it often goes undetected or unrecognized.  Anxiety in children can manifest itself in many different ways.  While some kids worry in silence and tend to keep to themselves, others can display reactions that include angry outbursts, an uncooperative attitude, or even aggression. Tension within the family becomes a natural byproduct since parents are often at a loss on how to best handle their child.

While some sources of stress may be considered “phases” in a child’s life, it’s important for parents to recognize and acknowledge all potential sources of anxiety.  In particular, moms and dads have a tendency to overlook the fact that their relationship with each other is crucial to a child’s sense of security – no matter the age of the child.  It’s vital to understand that separation or divorce can have a profound affect on a child’s level of anxiety and parents in these circumstances should never downplay or ignore its significance.           

If your child’s grades are suffering then anxiety could be contributing to the problem.  When situations, people, or circumstances affect a child, it’s not unusual that things such as academics become little more than an afterthought.  Pay close attention to your child’s moods and behaviour and consider the environment at home.  In addition, take the time to speak with your child’s teachers – this may give you some insight into his or her relationships at school.  Finally, and most importantly, talk with your son or daughter.  At first your child may say very little but, given time and patience, your son or daughter will begin to open up.  In order to keep the lines of communication open, be sure to never belittle your child’s worries.  If you can begin to help your child work through those things that are causing so much worry you will slowly begin to see an improvement in mood, behaviour and other important areas such as his or her attitude toward school.