How to Navigate Classroom Anxieties
Getting your child out the door each morning can be tricky when they’re dealing with problems when they walk into the classroom. Here’s what you can do to help.
Navigating classroom anxieties: A guide for parents of school-aged children
There’s no class to teach children, or parents, about school-related concerns. Whether your goal is to forge a strong relationship with a teacher, help your young student make friends or just get the kids excited about heading out every morning, here’s how.
What to do when your child is afraid to go to school
For young kids, there’s work you can do to prevent these feelings, says Chaya Kulkarni, director of infant mental health promotion at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. “Familiarize them with the environment. Take them to the school, play in the playground a few times before school starts, peek in the windows,” she says. Introduce them to the idea of a routine. For older students, watch for signs of anxiety like stomach aches, headaches and making excuses not to attend, says Linda Cameron, professor emeritus at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto. Ask them how they’re feeling and try to get to the root of the problem, whether it’s treatment by a teacher or conflicts with peers. Depending on the severity, most schools have social workers who can help.
What to do when your child isn’t getting along with her teacher
Ask them to provide specific examples. Do they think the teacher is mean or doesn’t pay enough attention? Is that feeling the result of an overactive imagination, or piggybacking on schoolyard rumours? Touch base with other parents to suss out how their kids are adjusting to the class, or, Cameron says, “Go and meet the teacher yourself to take your own reading. Try to build a bridge, maybe by sharing your child’s concern while also getting their side of the story.”
When to do when your child has trouble making friends
Consider whether your son or daughter is sad and isolated or simply prefers playing on their own. Ask the teacher to weigh in on your child’s attitude and energy levels. Do what you can at home to reinforce the idea that school is a community by having conversations about the importance of developing friendships. And get to know the parents of kids your child expresses interest in. This will help when planning social activities.
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What to do when your child is being teased by other students
Find out the teacher’s policy on teasing and how they handle it in their classroom. “You just want your child to feel safe and cared for while at school, and we, as parents, can negotiate with teachers to create that environment,” Cameron says. If they’re being ridiculed for behaviours like bringing childhood toys to class or thumb-sucking, keep in mind that for many kids, these things aren’t just habits. They actually make children feel safer, Kulkarni says. Arrange to meet with your child’s teacher before school starts to agree on a place to keep the item so it can be retrieved when class is over for the day. And help your kids establish ways of coping with other social stresses. “Listen to your child,” Cameron says. “And keep that line of communication open.”