What it looks like, and why it’s often mistaken for something else
What You’ll Learn
- What might #anxiety look like at #school?
- Why is #anxiety sometimes confused with other problems like #ADHD or #learningdisorders?
- What physical symptoms do anxious #kids get?
- Quick Read
- Full Article
- Inattention and restlessness
- Attendance problems and clingy #kids
- Disruptive #behavior
- Trouble answering questions in class
- Frequent trips to the #nurse
- Problems in certain subjects
- Not turning in homework
- Avoiding socializing or group work
#Anxiety makes #school hard for #kids. It might also be hard to notice. #Anxiety can be confused with upset stomachs, acting out, #ADHD or even #learningdisorders. And there are different kinds of #anxiety that might come up at #school. #Kids may worry about everything from separating from #parents at drop-off to speaking up in class to feeling like their work has to be perfect.
#Teachers may think a #kid has #ADHD when they’re restless or aren’t able to focus on the lesson. But it could be #anxiety. Some kids don’t want to go to #school especially after a summer or holiday break. This can also be #anxiety. Throwing tantrums in the classroom or asking the same questions over and over are other ways #anxiety can show up at #school.
Some #kids really want to participate, but when they’re called on they just freeze up. Other #kids want their work to be so perfect that they don’t end up turning in their homework at all. #Teachers may think those #kids don’t care or have a #learningdisorder. To make things more confusing, #kids with #learningdisorders may also have a lot of #anxiety before they are diagnosed if they are falling behind at #school.
#Anxiety can also take the form of physical problems. #Kids with #anxiety get headaches and stomach aches a lot. Sometimes when they get really anxious, they have trouble breathing or feel their heart racing. Anxious #kids end up in the nurse’s office a lot.
Sometimes #anxiety is easy to identify — like when a #child is feeling nervous before a test at #school. Other times #anxiety in the classroom can look like something else entirely — an upset stomach, disruptive or angry #behavior, #ADHD, or even a #learningdisorder.
There are many different kinds of #anxiety, which is one of the reasons it can be hard to detect in the classroom. What they all have in common, says neurologist and former #teacher Ken Schuster, PsyD, is that #anxiety “tends to lock up the brain,” making #school hard for anxious #kids.
#Children can struggle with:
- #Separationanxiety: When #children are worried about being separated from caregivers. These #kids can have a hard time at #school drop-offs and throughout the day.
- #Socialanxiety: When #children are excessively self-conscious, making it difficult for them to participate in class and socialize with peers.
- Selective mutism: When #children have a hard time speaking in some settings, like at #school around the #teacher.
- Generalized #anxiety: When #children worry about a wide variety of everyday things. #Kids with generalized #anxiety often worry particularly about #school performance and can struggle with perfectionism.
- #Obsessivecompulsivedisorder: When children’s minds are filled with unwanted and stressful thoughts. #Kids with #OCD try to alleviate their #anxiety by performing compulsive rituals like counting or washing their hands.
- Specific #phobias: When #children have an excessive and irrational fear of particular things, like being afraid of animals or storms.
Here are some tips for recognizing #anxiety in #kids at #school, and what might be causing it.
Inattention and restlessness
When a #child is squirming in his seat and not paying attention, we tend to think of #ADHD, but #anxiety could also be the cause. When kids are anxious in the classroom, they might have a hard time focusing on the lesson and ignoring the worried thoughts overtaking their brains. “Some #kids might appear really ‘on’ at one point but then they can suddenly drift away, depending on what they’re feeling anxious about,” says Dr. Schuster. “That looks like inattention, and it is, but it’s triggered by anxiety.”
Attendance problems and clingy #kids
It might look like truancy, but for #kids for whom #school is a big source of #anxiety, refusing to go to #school is also pretty common. #School refusal rates tend to be higher after vacations or sick days, because #kids have a harder time coming back after a few days away.
Going to #school can also be a problem for #kids who have trouble separating from their #parents. Some amount of separation #anxiety is normal, but when #kids don’t adjust to separation over time and their #anxiety makes going to #school difficult or even impossible, it becomes a real problem. Kids with separation #anxiety may also feel compelled to use their phones throughout the day to check in with their #parents.
Acting out is another thing we might not associate with #anxiety. But when a #student is compulsively kicking the chair of the kid in front of him, or throws a tantrum whenever the schedule is ignored or a classmate isn’t following the rules, #anxiety may well be the cause. Similarly, #kids who are feeling anxious might ask a lot of questions, including repetitive ones, because they are feeling worried and want reassurance.
#Anxiety can also make #kids aggressive. When #children are feeling upset or threatened and don’t know how to handle their feelings, their fight or flight response to protect themselves can kick in — and some #kids are more likely to fight. They might attack another #child or a #teacher, throw things, or push over a desk because they’re feeling out of control.
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Trouble answering questions in class
Sometimes #kids will do perfectly well on tests and homework, but when they’re called on in class #teachers hit a wall. There are several different reasons why this might happen.
“Back when I was teaching, I would notice that when I had to call on someone, or had to figure out who’s turn it was to speak, it was like the anxious #kid always tended to disappear,” says Dr. Schuster. “The eager #child is making eye contact, they’re giving you some kind of physical presence in the room like ‘Call on me, call on me!’ ” But when #kids are anxious about answering questions in class, “they’re going to break eye contact, they might look down, they might start writing something even though they’re not really writing something. They’re trying to break the connection with the #teacher in order to avoid what’s making them feel anxious.”
If they do get called on, sometimes #kids get so anxious that they freeze. They might have been paying attention to the lesson and they might even know the answer, but when they’re called on their #anxiety level becomes so heightened that they can’t respond.
Frequent trips to the #nurse
#Anxiety can manifest in physical complaints, too. If a #student is having unexplained headaches, nausea, stomachaches, or even vomiting, those could be symptoms of #anxiety. So can a racing heart, sweaty palms, tense muscles, and being out of breath.
Problems in certain subjects
When a #child starts doubting her abilities in a subject, #anxiety can become a factor that gets in the way of her learning or showing what she knows. Sometimes this can be mistaken for a #learningdisorder when it’s really just #anxiety.
However #anxiety can also go hand in hand with learning disorders. When #kids start noticing that something is harder for them than the other #kids, and that they are falling behind, they can understandably get anxious. The period before a #learningdisorder is diagnosed can be particularly stressful for #kids.
Not turning in homework
When a #student doesn’t turn in her homework, it could be because she didn’t do it, but it could also be because she is worried that it isn’t good enough. Likewise, #anxiety can lead to second guessing — an anxious #child might erase his work over and over until there’s a hole in the paper — and spending so much time on something that it never gets finished. We tend to think of perfectionism as a good thing, but when #children are overly self-critical it can sabotage even the things they are trying their hardest at, like #school work.
You might also notice that some anxious #kids will start worrying about tests much earlier than their classmates and may begin dreading certain assignments, subjects, or even #school itself.
Avoiding socializing or group work
Some #kids will avoid or even refuse to participate in the things that make them anxious. This includes obvious #anxiety triggers like giving presentations, but also things like gym class, eating in the cafeteria, and doing group work.
When #kids start skipping things it might look to their #teachers and peers like they are uninterested or underachieving, but the opposite might be true. Sometimes #kids avoid things because they are afraid of making a mistake or being judged.
Dr. Schuster notes that when #kids get anxious in social situations, sometimes they have a much easier time showing what they know when #teachers engage them one-to-one, away from the group.