Anxiety is obviously a normal part of life. For kids, it’s far more likely to cause problems during certain times: the start of full-time schooling; around the age of 10 or 11; and during transitions into middle or high school.
If your child hasn’t “settled in” to school yet, it may be a sign of a bigger problem: anxiety disorder, which according to the Anxiety Disorders of America Association, affects one in eight children. One common anxiety disorder is didaskaleinophobia, or “school refusal.” It affects an roughly 4 per cent of American kids. Symptoms include:
• elaborate plans to avoid school
• illness or pain just before leaving for school, their quick disappearance if the child is allowed to stay home, and their re-occurrence the next morning
• frequent visits to the school nurse with headaches or stomach issues.
Parents often spend months chasing the source of these physical complaints with visits to pediatricians, chiropractors, allergists and other specialists. Confounding the problem is the fact that they match the symptoms of the most common illnesses that keep kids out of school. So how do you determine what’s causing these symptoms?
• Talk to your child to eliminate causes like bullying, few friends, learning difficulties or problems at home.
• If you haven’t been to a pediatrician yet, make an appointment — and don’t be afraid to ask about the possibility of an anxiety-related cause.
• Get a comprehensive evaluation from a mental health professional. This can lead to a formal diagnosis, treatment and therapy.
• Have your child’s cognitive skills tested at a certified brain training center.
Cognitive skills are the mental tools we all need to think, reason, read, remember and pay attention. Anxiety is often a symptom of weak cognitive skills. When the schoolwork is harder and the expectations are greater, students can get frustrated when they can no longer easily handle the workload. Often self-esteem suffers, and they become more withdrawn or acts out irrationally. A cognitive skills assessment can pinpoint weak skills and help in the diagnosis of the mystery illness.
While searching for answers, work on ways to alleviate the symptoms.
• If possible, keep your child in school. Absenteeism usually exacerbates anxiety.
• Continue talking with your child about his feelings, fears and stresses.
• Meet with teachers or counselors seeking input and support.
• Pay attention to patterns: Is it worse before a test? Do symptoms subside at home?
• Strive for a healthy lifestyle with nourishing meals, exercise, plenty of sleep, and limited caffeine and other stimulants.
Searching for the cause of a mystery illness can be time-consuming, frustrating, and even expensive, but keep at it. Eventually your perseverance will bring the answers you need to help ease your child into a more settled, happier and productive school year.
Michael Ginsberg is the executive director and owner of Learning Rx Brain Training Centers in Marlboro and Red Bank. For more information, call 732-444-8579 or click to visit LearningRx.com.