Skip to main content

Advice on coping with school anxiety from WVU Extension Service experts

Morgantown, W.Va.— Summer is over and the kids are back in school. For many families, it’s an exciting time—but for some children, it’s filled with anxiety as the transition brings several new changes in routine, according to former Monongalia County West Virginia University Extension Service Agent Eric Murphy.

“A lot of things are changing—from mealtimes and sleep schedules to meeting new teachers and classmates,” said Murphy. “While hearing complaints or seeing resistance from your children can be frustrating, it’s important to acknowledge their anxiety and find the root of the issue in order to help them adjust.”

Pay attention to the signs.

Signs of children being worried about school can be physical, emotional or behavioral. Often they’ll complain about an upset stomach or become unusually clingy, especially in young children. Older kids may show their anxiety by displaying sudden outbursts or becoming withdrawn.

“While it’s common for first-time school goers to be nervous about meeting new people or separating from parents and familiar routines, kids who have been to school may experience anxiety as well,” said Murphy. “If you notice signs of anxiety in your child, regardless of age or whether or not he or she is a first-timer, you need to determine if the child’s anxiety is based on fear of the unknown or if the issues goes beyond that—like poor classroom performance or bullying.”

Murphy also suggests that parents consider monitoring their child's social media if they suspect their child is dealing with anxiety.

“There may be signs of social challenges that a child is experiencing,” said Murphy. “Social media outlets could be used as an "early trouble recognition” tool.”

Determine the cause.

According to Murphy, common causes of anxiety include:

  • Being bullied or teased
  • Negative experiences in the classroom
  • Feeling inadequate for not knowing the answers
  • Not having fashionable, up-to-date clothes
  • Losing papers and books or not completing homework
  • Parental pressures about school achievement
  • Embarrassment about being uncoordinated in sports
  • Significant family problems or changes

Prevention is key.

Murphy says preparation and prevention are keys to easing anxiety.

“Be positive and uplifting about the new school year,” said Murphy. “Practice a goodbye routine, talk about their day, make sure they have all of the school supplies they need and send encouraging notes with them in their lunchbox or backpack—do things that motivate them to look forward to what the school year brings.”

Know when to find help.

If you can’t seem to help ease your child’s anxiety after discussion and positive reinforcement, Murphy suggests it may be time to seek professional help.

“If you’ve tried everything and the anxiety still interferes with your child’s enjoyment in other areas of life, it may not hurt to talk to a mental health professional who can help teach relaxation and coping skills to reduce anxiety,” said Murphy.

The WVU Extension Service is a primary outreach division of West Virginia University. With offices in each of the state’s 55 counties, Extension faculty and staff develop and deliver programs in leadership, rural and community-based economic development, youth development, workforce development and health education.