Ask Joanna: A Therapist’s Advice on School Anxiety

My child had a lot of anxiety at school, but is much better now that it’s summer. Does that mean I should homeschool?

I don’t think school is the problem. I think your child’s anxiety is the real bully here. 

It’s likely that something in the school environment made your child nervous. For the sake of explanation, let’s say eating at school made your child anxious. Your child may have been experiencing worried thoughts, full of what I call “cognitive distortions,” that triggered an anxiety response around lunchtime every day:

  • “What will I eat for lunch?” 
  • “What if I can’t find anything I like?”
  • “What if it makes me sick?”
  • “What if I get sick in the classroom and everyone makes fun of me?”
  • “What if I can’t make it to the bathroom in time?” 

Now that it’s summer and the trigger (lunch) is removed, your child’s anxiety may be avoided until school starts again– or until there’s another situation with uncertainty or discomfort. In other words, the anxiety is still there even if lunch isn’t. In fact, research shows that anxious kids seem to lack three skills:
Ability to tolerate uncertainty

  1. Ability to tolerate uncertainty
  2. Ability to solve problems independently
  3. Ability to autonomous

Luckily, we don’t need to wait until school starts later this month or next to beginhelping your child learn these skills, beat anxiety and take back control. Start by considering:

  • Are there activities, situations, routines, chores and/or people you avoid because they may make your child anxious? 
  • Do you change routines or schedules to accommodate your child’s anxiety? 
  • Do you make excuses for why you are the only one who can do certain things for your child? (For example, you’re the only one who can put your child to bed.) 

If you answer yes to any of these questions (even if it’s “yes, but I don’t mind’), you may be part of the problem. All of these are examples of accommodation. By allowing your child to avoid situations that make him or her uncomfortable, afraid and/or nervous, you’re unintentionally fertilizing your child’s anxiety.

Rather than accommodating your child’s anxiety, it’s more effective to convey the message that “you may be uncomfortable/unhappy, but I know you can handle it” (or, as I say in my house, “it may suck, but you can do it”). This approach reinforces your child’s coping skills and gives him or her the confidence in that, while it may not be a great experience, your child can manage it. 

You see, the goal isn’t to eliminate anxiety, but to help your child manage it. And by reducing accommodation and helping your child face his/her discomfort, you are helping him or her meet real-world challenges now. And in the future.

If you’d like more specific or additional advice about your child’s anxiety, give me a call at 216-600-8696 or contact me online now. Together, we can develop practical strategies and tools that will help your child manage anxiety beyond school. These lessons are for life.

Joanna Hardis is a guest blogger for Northeast Ohio Parent, a monthly publication for parents in the Greater Cleveland/Akron region. Check out her Northeast Ohio Parent posts at

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