Some students face school anxiety as they head back to class
It's back to school time for many central Indiana kids.
For some students, this is an exciting time. For others, the back to school jitters may be more serious.
School anxiety is an extreme form of anxiety. Child psychologist Dr. Ann Lagges at Riley Hospital for Children - IU Health told Eyewitness News that more children deal with school anxiety during the school year than people realize.
Raising five children keeps Deborah Spech quite busy.
"With every child, you learn something new," said Spech.
As the Carmel mother prepares for her kids to head back to school, the former teacher admitted she gets the back to school jitters thinking about one of her own kids back in the classroom.
"I knew he knew all the kids. He knew the teacher. It was just something that was just he was just too stressed about to be able to do it. Those were the red flags early," said Spech.
Before her child starts school each year, Spech has a conversation with his teacher about his school anxiety.
"I'd say if there was going to be an oral topic, please don't make him go first. Let him go first. Let him be part of the class participation for a while," she said.
"Anxiety disorders are for the most part the most treatable psychological childhood conditions," said Lagges.
Lagges has been helping Spech's child cope with his anxiety for several years. She said nearly 25 percent of her clinic patients are dealing with school anxiety.
For some students, school anxiety is so debilitating, the child can't even walk into the school.
"Perhaps on the first day, all a child is capable of doing is walking into the building and then walking out. It could take weeks before that child can remain in the school," said Lagges.
School anxiety is often connected to an underlying anxiety disorder. Lagges also said girls tend to be more anxious than boys.
The doctor stressed school anxiety is not related to bullying. The anxiety her patients feel is a false fear response.
"You always want to differentiate between fear that is related to real danger and fear that is related to a false alarm where there is no real danger," said Lagges.
The psychologist said these are some red flags for school anxiety: physical complaints, sleep changes, appetite changes, and unexplained crying.
Spech said she saw many of these signs with her son, which is why she sought professional help early.
"We've been going through gradual process to help him develop strategies to help him be successful at school; to recognize what is causing him to be anxious and to see if we can give him skills to help him participate to the best that he can," she said.
Lagges says when working with a child with school anxiety, she will often role play classroom scenarios to have a child speak out loud on a topic or talk in front of a group.
If you think school anxiety may be something your child is dealing with, it's best to talk with your pediatrician first.