How to cope with school anxiety


By Meredith Gettleman, LSW, Family Service Youth Therapist

School can be stressful at times for everyone. For some individuals, however, school is not only stressful - it triggers anxiety that impairs functioning and academic success. Many factors contribute to school anxiety for children and adolescents. Some common factors include pressure to get good grades, struggles to keep up with and understand classwork and/or homework, fears about speaking in front of the class, doing poorly on a test, making mistakes in front of classmates, and acceptance from peers. The importance of doing well in school and how this can have an impact on future success is drilled into children’s brains from a young age. It is no wonder some kids begin experiencing stress and anxiety about school early on. To help you and your child manage these difficult moments, below are some tips on dealing with school anxiety.

For students:

  • Get enough sleep and eat well. It can do wonders for helping you self-regulate, cope, and concentrate when at school.
  • Learn what works best for you and your learning experience – for example, some students need a break after school to decompress before doing more work; some need absolute silence to get work done. Everyone is different. Figuring out what is best for you when it comes to completing work during and after school can reduce stress and anxiety, and help you succeed.   
  • Challenge irrational thoughts. Even though you did not get the grade you wanted on that test or paper, this does NOT mean you are not smart. There is always room for improvement. Ask yourself what you can do differently next time. Try your best – that is the most important.
  • Talk to your teachers/school staff and get extra help when you start to struggle. It is okay to need extra support. Teachers are typically happy when you come to them for help.
  • Learn deep breathing exercises, and other relaxation techniques. You can use these strategies to help calm you down when you are feeling anxious or begin panicking.

For parents/caregivers:

  • Talk to your child. Let them know that you understand school can be stressful, that you are there for them, and will listen nonjudgmentally. Open communication is key and your child needs to know they can come talk to you if/when they are ready.
  • Help them identify what triggers their anxiety (i.e. tests, homework, a specific subject, etc.). Once they are aware of what triggers their anxiety, they can then work on ways to cope with this anxiety and get extra support from teachers and caregivers if necessary.
  • Advocate for your child to get extra help at school or outside of school if they are struggling, such as getting a tutor or meeting with the school counselor.
  • Reach out for professional help if your child is refusing to go to school or is still struggling after other academic and emotional supports are in place. Therapy can help your child learn effective ways to cope with anxiety now and in the future.

No matter what is triggering your child’s anxiety, it is important to be supportive, listen non-judgmentally, and work together to find ways for your child to manage and cope with their anxiety.  School is stressful and can produce anxiety for many. It is okay to need extra support. The sooner you are able to identify what triggers your child’s anxiety, the sooner they can learn how to manage it and continue on the path to reach their full potential!