PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Chances are that we all experience some form of anxiety in our lifetimes. Some people handle it better than others, and some might be too young to even realize what they’re experiencing.
Three words – back to school – can often make some kids and parents very excited, but for others – those words can trigger severe stress and anxiety.
“It’s very typical, and the beginning of August is when it really starts to crank up for the kids,” said Jen Jencks, assistant director of Lifespan’s Pediatric Behavioral Health Emergency Services.
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“It really does depend on the age,” Jencks added. “The very first thing to do is to help a kid understand that they’re feeling anxious. It sounds very straightforward but most kids, especially the younger ones, don’t really understand what’s going on. They just feel very uncomfortable, and that creates more anxiety because they want it to go away, they can’t make it go away.”
Recognizing the signs of anxiety in your child – ones that you may see at a very young age – is one of the best ways to help your son or daughter cope and try to control it.
“Around 8 years old, if you think about what they’re going through developmentally, that is when the school gets a lot more difficult, about third grade is when they change the way they teach kids,” Jencks explained. “They are asked to take on new skills that some are just not developmentally ready for. But also the social demands. You really see it particularly with girls, really get exponential by third grade.”
“But certainly once puberty hits and even pre-puberty, you can see changes begin to really exponentially take place too because the brain is growing, their bodies are growing, the social landscape is really changing,” she added. “There’s so much going on that anxiety just has a great environment to thrive unfortunately.”
If you allow your child to stay home from school due to anxiety, Jencks said it’s best to let them know you plan to call their pediatrician about it and call the school to set up a meeting. Also, tell them that while they’re home you’ll be practicing some strategies to help with the anxiety.
“You want to keep them focused,” said Jencks. “Maybe you’ve given in, but you also want to keep them focused on what they can be doing to solve the problem. If they are staying home and watching movies or texting with friends or doing enjoyable things, then it can feel more like they’ve won and they haven’t made progress in working with their anxiety.”
Jencks strongly recommends cognitive behavioral therapy as an initial treatment plan. As always, you should discuss that and any other options with your doctor. Jencks also said she’s seen a real increase in schools making an effort to address and recognize anxiety in the classroom.
Has your child experienced anxiety connected to the classroom? We want you to join the conversation and let us know how you handled it, any the resourced that helped, or what you’re still struggling with. Visit the WPRI 12 Facebook page to share your thoughts.