By Leah Campbell | Medically Reviewed by Alex Klein, PsyD | July 26, 2021
"School anxiety isn’t at all uncommon, but how can parents help?
Most parents can probably remember dealing with some level of school anxiety in their own childhoods. Maybe it was over a test you weren’t prepared to take. Or it could have been a disagreement with friends that left you feeling anxious about facing them in the halls.
Whatever the case may be, you may have had knots in your stomach at the thought of going to school.
Kids today experience the exact same thing, but at a level that is potentially higher than ever before.
After all, kids today have to deal with the impacts of social media seeping into their real-life social interactions. They’re facing ever-increasing academic expectations. They’re up against a rise in bullying.
And in a world that’s slowly reopening, yet still feeling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, many may also be experiencing a loss of social skills and anxiety around a return to school after over a year of online learning.
It’s no wonder that the estimated prevalence of anxiety among children ages 6 to 17 has increased over time — from about 5.5% in 2003 to 7.1% in 2016.
Plus, evidence suggests that children and young adults experienced an increase in anxiety symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 7.1% of kids between the ages of 3 and 17 have been diagnosed with anxiety. For 2% to 5% of kids, that translates into anxiety-based school refusal — one potential result of unaddressed school anxiety.
In other words: School anxiety isn’t at all uncommon. But how can parents of kids with school anxiety help?
What is school anxiety, exactly?
There are quite a few types of anxiety that children may experience, many of which may translate into school anxiety. These include:
For preschoolers, it may have more to do with separation anxiety and a fear of being away from mom, dad, or other caregivers. This may result in tantrums at school drop-off and trouble relaxing throughout the day.
By elementary school, school anxiety could be related to any of the above types of anxiety.
A student this age may not yet have developed age-appropriate social skills and may have anxiety about school as a result, or they may spend excessive time worrying about academic expectations — to the extent of not wanting to go.
Middle schoolers are beginning to develop a social hierarchy that can result in an increase in bullying and various friendship turmoil, all of which can contribute to school anxiety.
And by high school, students may be juggling problems in their home lives and within their friendships and relationships, alongside mounting responsibilities like holding down a job and trying to achieve good grades for college.
At all these ages, school anxiety may result in school avoidance and refusal.
Signs of anxiety about school
According to the children’s mental health advocacy group Child Mind Institute, school anxiety can manifest in a lot of ways. Parents and teachers may notice their students are: