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Anxiety in the Classroom

Your child is experiencing anxiety in the classroom. This experience can make your child feel frozen, which in turn decreases your child’s ability to learn the information being taught.  While we never want our children to experience high levels of anxiety, the classroom is one of the last places we would want our children to be anxious.  

So, how do we identify anxiety in the classroom? Unfortunately, identifying anxiety in a child at school is not always a straightforward task. Symptoms of anxiety often mimic symptoms of other difficulties, such as ADHD, learning disorders, and oppositional behavior. In order to provide the best care to a child, we need to observe behaviors closely and try to identify the root to the behaviors.

What are some behaviors to look out for that may be a result of anxiety?

Here are a few common ways that anxiety presents itself in the classroom: 

1.     Attendance problems/Trips to the nurse. Anxious kids may protest going to school due to the anxiety that arises when they are there. They also may frequently ask to go to the nurse once they are at school. Children experiencing anxiety may express that they feel sick due to experiencing stomachaches or other physical symptoms. If this is happening on a regular and consistent basis, these physical symptoms may be a result of anxiety rather than actual illness.

2.     Inattention and restlessness. While we often think of attention difficulties and restlessness as being related to ADHD, these behaviors may also be a result of anxiety. Anxious children may have difficulties attending to the lesson or sitting still when they are preoccupied with worries swarming in their heads.

3.     Not answering questions or asking for help. Children experiencing anxiety may be overly concerned with their answers being exactly right, and therefore may not share information with the rest of the class. Children experiencing social anxiety may be acutely concerned with what their peers and teachers think of them. When children are experiencing difficulties with Selective Mutism, they often “freeze” up and are unable to provide verbal responses to questions.   

4.     Unfinished work/Difficulties in certain subjects. If a child has not been completing work that was assigned, this could be a sign of anxiety. The same goes if a child is struggling in a certain subject at school and having difficulties completing the work in a specific subject. The child may either not want to turn in work that isn’t “perfect” or may be overwhelmed by intrusive, anxious thoughts that are distracting him from getting his work done.

By no means is this list exhaustive, as anxiety has many different expressions. However, if you notice your child exhibiting any of the above behaviors or others that are concerning, you might consider the possibility that the issue is stemming from anxiety. Ultimately, anxiety can be extremely disruptive in multiple areas of a child’s life, and the classroom is often one of these areas. The good news is this: if we are able to pinpoint anxiety as the root to the difficulties that our children are experiencing, we can provide the appropriate care in order to help our children conquer the anxiety that’s hindering their success. 

- By Dr. Lindsay Haig, PsyD -