School anxiety can present itself in a variety of forms. You may notice an inability to perform on tests, overall classroom achievement decreasing, an unwillingness to attend school by increased claims of illness, and just an overall negative outlook towards their school career. Prior to seeking professional help, consider the following approaches.
1) Talk About It - Your adolescent may surprise you just how much they are willing to tell you if you ask. Question if something upsetting happened, possibly an incident of bullying or teasing, which are both very common reasons for school anxiety. Also reach out to the teacher, and express your concerns. Ask questions about their behavior in the classroom and in the passing periods. Think about changes at home that could possibly be weighing heavily on their mind. There are times that incidents that have little effect on us as parents, have a big impact on them due to their perception of the events.
2) Reinforce Previous Positive Results- Remind your student of times that they overcame an adversity or challenge and the end result was positive. Focus on the actions that they were able to take, regardless of their feelings. By doing this you are demonstrating to them that positive actions can result in positive feelings that will trump their anxiety.
3) Routine- Set up and stick to a routine for homework completion at home. Adjusting from the days of one or two teachers to an onslaught of different faces, personalities and expectations can be incredibly overwhelming for students. Having the safety net of a set routine at home, ensures them that they will have a period of time on a daily basis that they have your attention to ask questions and seek solutions.
4) Set Realistic Goals - If a child is continually making failing grades, expecting a jump from a "D" to a "B" may be unrealistic at that point in time. Set small incremental goals and reward them. Find what your student considers to be their monetary motivation and increase it in equal increments to their achievements. In other words, do not set goals that are unachievable and do not over reward for underachieving. Adolescents can see through the smoke and mirrors. They know when they have or have not genuinely earned something.
5) Model a Spirit of Gratitude - Often anxiety for adolescents can come from feelings of social inferiority. "Susie has beautiful clothes, perfect smile and a big home. Johnny has a new truck and is friends with everyone." On a daily basis remind your child that they are a child of God by speaking words of encouragement and praise for the gift that they are from God. Model your gratefulness for your blessings by giving thanks daily for the small things that God has provided. Allow your adolescent to hear this and be a part of your praise and worship. This teaches your child to focus on the haves in his or her life and not the have nots. They will soon learn what is truly important in life.
If you have tried these suggestions for several weeks and the anxiety continues to disrupt your student's daily life, it is time to seek professional help. School anxiety is not a psychiatric diagnosis. Yet, if it is severe enough, it could be a symptom of an anxiety disorder.