During the school year children may experience feelings of anxiety from academic pressures such as testing, presentations, being called on in class, homework, and general daily activities that happen during the school day. While some anxiety may be helpful and motivating, anxiety can become problematic when it interferes with everyday functioning.
Academic anxiety refers to the feelings of worry, tension, or dread associated with academic settings, tasks, and pressures. This is different from general anxiety, which is a normal feeling of nervousness, worry, or uneasiness that everyone experiences throughout their lives.
Signs of Academic Anxiety
*Although these could vary depending on the child, here are some of the most common signs to look out for.
Complaining of frequent headaches, stomach pains, or other physical pain with no known medical cause.
Avoidance behaviors like refusing to get dressed or get out of bed, trying to miss the bus, etc.
Worrying about school and no longer making time for things they enjoy.
Showing changes in sleep and/or eating habits.
Mood changes such as irritability, being more tearful, having temper tantrums more often.
Acting out in class.
Having an “I don’t care” attitude about anything related to school.
Sweating, shaking, or fast breathing when talking or thinking about school.
Clinging to caregivers upon leaving house or being dropped off at school.
Repeatedly asking the same questions such as “Can I just stay home? Can’t we do homeschooling?”
Crying at school.
Asking to go to the nurse and/or calling caregivers to be picked up from school.
Purposely avoiding school on presentation or exam days.
Withdrawal, extreme shyness at school that may indicate poor peer relationships or bullying.
Ways to support and empower your child:
1. Maintaining Healthy Routines:
Consistent routines help children know what to expect, allowing them to feel more secure, calm, and focused.
Nutrition – Eating healthy meals/snacks and drinking enough water daily is fuel for the body and mind and supports a child’s physical and mental health.
Rest – Proper sleep helps the brain retain and recall information.
Play – Unstructured time to play, unwind, and be creative is imperative for development.
Balance – Encourage exploration of interests and hobbies so school is not their only focus.
Physical Activity - Taking breaks and being active improves mood and focus.
2. Study Smarter:
Knowing how to properly study, and be organized, can help reduce anxiety.
Break big assignments up into smaller, more manageable pieces.
Find a quiet space and remove distractions like TV and phone.
Use a planner to help with time-management, prioritization, and organization.
3. Practice Relaxation Strategies:
Introduce new relaxation (coping) strategies when your child is calm and can handle new information. Avoid teaching during times of high anxiety. Remember, what works one day may not work another, so encourage your child to try different strategies.
Deep Breathing - improves our ability to concentrate and better handle our emotions by slowing down our heart rate, allowing our muscles to relax and calming our minds and bodies.
Grounding - helps us focus on the present moment— rather than our worries—to help calm our bodies and minds.
Journaling - a safe and private way to explore feelings and de-stress. It may be tempting to try to find out what they are writing about, but it’s important not to look at their journal unless they share it with you.
Develop an open line of communication with your child and have regular conversations about their feelings.
Ask open ended questions and allow them to share their honest feelings.
Keep your cool. Try not to pass along any of your own anxiety.
Help them learn to manage their feelings, not avoid them.
Acknowledge their feelings so they feel understood.
Focus on the effort, not the outcome.
Instead of saying...
“Have you studied enough? Are you worried you’re going to fail?”
"How are you feeling about that class?”
“Tests always made me feel uneasy. I hope you don’t get overwhelmed and forget everything you’ve studied.”
“I know you have been studying so hard and will do your best.”
“I get it. You’re nervous to
present in front of your class.
Let’s ask your teacher if you can
do something else.”
“It’s normal to feel nervous. How about you practice presenting it in front of me so that you feel more prepared tomorrow?”
“Don’t worry about it— you’ll
“I can tell this is important to you and that you’re feeling overwhelmed.”
“I know you’re nervous to read
out loud in front of your class.
I’ll email your teacher to ask if
they can skip you”
“It’s normal to feel nervous. Let’s take a few deep breaths together, and then you can practice with me to help you feel more prepared.”
“When I was in high school, I
was always stressed about
getting all A’s.”
“I know how much you’ve been studying.”
“I’m so proud of your high
“I’m really proud of how hard you have worked this year.”
If you are concerned your child may have academic anxiety, speak to your child’s pediatrician and school about additional support that may be available. You are not alone.
If your child is needing support with managing their academic anxiety, schedule a free consultation with us today, so we can learn how Hearts Connected can best serve your child and support your family. Book a free consultation here.
References: Strong4Life.com in partnership with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta