Whether your child is five or fifteen he may be dealing with some scary issues during his school day. School should be a safe place, but sometimes it isn't, and your child may not want to worry you with his concerns. Here are some of the things that might be making your child anxious at school, and what you can do about it.
The bigger the school, the more students there are to make other students feel isolated. We all tend to feel more isolated in a big crowd of people who aren't including us, than we feel when we're alone.
How to help:
Gently encourage your child to talk about what he does at recess or lunch or how he feels when he's in class. Let him know that sometimes we all feel lonely, even in the middle of a big crowd. Give him gentle advice about how to cope if he feels isolated and how to reach out and make friends. Encourage activities that will enable him to make more friends at school or cement friendships. Make your home an "open house" so he can bring friends around and build relationships out of school.
Youth organization DoSomething.org found that 33% of high school students reported having been in a physical fight at school in the last year. High school and middle school can be aggressive places, and even some elementary schools aren't much better. Fights break out, and often you only hear about them from the school if your child is directly involved and a teacher intervenes. A sensitive child who witnesses fights, bullying and aggression may feel nervous at school even if he's not involved. And if he is, he may not want to report what's happening for fear of some kind of comeback.
How to help:
Keep communication channels open. Ask if fights ever break out or if people get bullied, and how the teachers deal with it. Don't be afraid to approach the school if you're concerned. If you have the time, volunteering in your child's school is a great way to get a feel for the school culture. It can also help you develop a relationship with the teachers that will help you address any issues.
3. Peer pressure
Peer pressure happens at every age. It can cause otherwise good kids to bully, taunt and tease classmates. It can lead to silly but dangerous dares that involve anything from shoplifting to jumping off a wall that's just a little too high. As kids get older it can center on drinking, smoking, drugs and sex even in the best high schools and in the nicest neighborhoods. As Dr. Laurence Steinberg, author of You and Your Adolescent: The Essential Guide for Ages 10 to 25 puts it: "All of us who have very good kids know they've done really dumb things when they've been with their friends."
Talk about how normal peer pressure is, and how serious the consequences can be. Help your children develop a strong moral compass and an ability to be themselves and keep their own counsel. Be aware that out-of-character behavior is often due to peer pressure and keep that in mind when trying to get to the bottom of it.
It's frightening what some kids know about other kids these days. He has depression. She sent a nude picture to a boy. Her parents don't let her date, but she has a boyfriend. You wouldn't assume that your child has to deal with blackmail on a daily basis, but sometimes that's exactly what's happening.
How to help:
A lot of blackmail is of the 'I'll tell your parents' variety. Make sure your child knows that whatever happens, she can tell you and she really should. It will come out in the end, anyway. Yes, you may be upset, angry, or disappointed. Yes, there may be consequences, but you will still love her and you will fix it together.
5. Angry teachers
In an ideal world your child's teachers should be sources of strength and support. Often they aren't. Most of us remember a teacher we were genuinely scared of at school. Frustration can make teachers angry at a child who just doesn't get the lesson, as well as those who are deliberately misbehaving.
Keep tabs on your child's attitude toward her teachers. Who does she like? Who seems to make her nervous? Offer support and be prepared to approach the school if there seems to be a real problem. Sometimes there is a genuine clash of personalities or a misunderstanding that can be addressed via a parent-teacher conference.
As with many issues, the key is to encourage communication and gently draw your child into conversations about how his day went and what's going on in his life. Make sure your child knows you will try to help him fix what's wrong. He just has to let you know what needs fixing.