Posted on August 22, 2019

As the new academic year approaches and a certain amount of school-related anxiety is normal among students, parents need to monitor their children’s behaviour, according to Dr Saleem al-Nuaimi, a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist with Hamad Medical Corporation’s (HMC) Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS).

With the new school year approaching, many children and teenagers could be experiencing a rush of varied emotions, HMC points out in a statement. “The beginning of a new school year can be a challenging time for young people and can trigger severe stress and anxiety. Educational environments play a dominant role in young people’s intellectual, emotional and social development and children with mental disorders such as anxiety can face major challenges. It’s important for parents to be vigilant and carefully monitor their children,” says Dr al-Nuaimi.

While school anxiety is not a psychiatric diagnosis, when the condition is severe, it may be a symptom of an anxiety disorder and could signal the need for professional intervention, the statement notes. Worldwide, 10-20% of children and adolescents experience some form of a mental disorder before the age of 18. According to the World Health Organisation, half of all mental illnesses begin by the age of 14. If untreated, these conditions severely influence children’s development, their educational attainments and their potential to live fulfilling and productive lives.

Dr al-Nuaimi says while it can be difficult for parents to identify anxiety in children, common warning signs that a child may be distressed about returning to school include making excuses not to go and expressing worrisome thoughts. “Some children who experience anxiety may refuse to go to school, or their anxiety may manifest in physical symptoms, such as headaches, stomachaches, nausea or diarrhoea. Other children may repeatedly ask the same questions that centre around troublesome thoughts such as ‘What if I get a bad teacher?’ or ‘What if I get bullied?,” says Dr al-Nuaimi. He says its normal for children to feel worried or anxious from time to time.

Anxiety is one of the most common mental health concerns for children but, unlike normal anxiety, an anxiety disorder interferes with the child’s school, home and social life, he adds. “If the anxiety is starting to interfere with the child’s ability to go to school and results in other symptoms such as excessive crying, aggression/temper outbursts, sleep or appetite disturbance, avoiding leaving the house, avoiding social situations, and no longer participating in activities they use to enjoy, it’s time to get assistance from a professional,” says Dr al-Nuaimi. Dr al-Nuaimi advises that there are several things that parents can do to help reduce or stabilise school-related anxiety, including being empathetic and listening to their child’s concerns.

He recommends reassuring the child that it’s normal to feel a little scared in new situations and says ensuring the young person is eating well and getting enough sleep are also important. “Be empathetic and listen to your child’s concerns. Help them solve problems by putting things into context through posing questions like ‘What are some things that you can do if you find yourself feeling worried?,” says Dr al-Nuaimi. “Make sure your child is sleeping well and transitions back into a good sleep cycle at least a week or two before the start of school. Ensure they are eating balanced meals with healthy snacks. Avoid serving fast food, high sugar content foods and artificial foods.”

Dr al-Nuaimi also recommends trying to help the child focus on the positive aspects of going back to school, such as spending time with their friends and learning new things. He suggests that parents and their children go and see the school together and meet their child’s teachers before the start of school. Further, he stresses the importance of not supporting a child in avoiding school and says the more proactive parents are about investigating the source of their child’s anxiety, the better. Dr al-Nuaimi says the longer a child is left to struggle with anxiety alone, the harder it is to achieve lasting recovery.

HMC’s CAMHS is a specialised multi-disciplinary service for children and young people up to the age of 18.

source: Gulf Times