Back-to-School Anxiety – A Persistent Problem

As millions of children across the country settle into the new academic year, it is important to keep in mind that for a variety of reasons, going to school is an unnerving and scary prospect for many children.

A recent study found that almost two-thirds of children in the UK felt anxious, nervous, or stressed due to school. The study – conducted by Oxford Home Schooling[1] – surveyed 1,000 children aged between 5 and 16 and highlighted a host of negative emotions felt by them in relation to going to school. In addition to the feelings mentioned above, many children also pointed to sadness (30%) and anger (27%) as emotions they felt when at school, with almost a fifth of them saying they were actually scared to go to school. Another interesting finding was that girls tended to experience negative emotions connected to school more than boys.

Bullying has been a major problem in school environments for many decades, and although measures have been taken to address this issue in recent years, it remains quite common in British schools. According to research, at least one in five 12–15-year-olds experience some sort of bullying in a school environment[2]. The effects of bullying (and also cyber-bullying) can be severe, causing not just depression and anxiety but also eating disorders, tendencies to self-harm, and even suicidal thoughts.

But even in the absence of bullying or other forms of harmful behaviour, school can be an intimidating experience for many children. The constant flow of homework, tests and exams can sometimes feel overwhelming, and it is important to recognise this fact and show empathy for what children are experiencing. Very often, it is sufficient just to listen to their needs and show understanding for the stress that school can cause them. However, it is also important to realise that school-related anxiety is often linked to – or is an added layer of stress in – an already anxiety-ridden life which many children nowadays are experiencing. With so much daily news about natural disasters, conflicts, a worsening economy, and other disconcerting events, it’s no wonder that many youngsters are in a constant state of worry and stress.

While some children do end up needing counselling to help them deal with school-related anxiety, most do not. However, this does not mean that they do not need support or empathy when events or circumstances connected with school cause them anxiety. As a mother of a 12-year-old, I know how easily the pressure of exams or in-class rivalries can cause a child to become stressed about their performance or their classmates’ opinions of them, and that is why I always look for signs of anxiety my child may be displaying. In my experience, showing understanding and discussing emerging issues related to school almost invariably help deal with the problem. Therefore, with the first day of the new academic year almost upon us, it is important that parents and guardians remain vigilant in looking for signs of stress which in this day can cause anxiety and other negative emotions which their children may be feeling, such as being withdrawn, headaches, tummy aches, lack of appetite, bedwetting, and irritability. Our children always want to please us with their performance at school, and it is incumbent upon us to ensure that any problems they encounter during their school years are addressed in a timely and appropriate manner. Opening channels for our children to communicate these emotions with us reduces the impact of repressed feelings that could materialise in bigger issues later down the line.



More Articles