Great Student Suffering from Anxiety, Doesn’t Want to Go to School

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Reader’s Question

My daughter is 8 years old and has been refusing to attend school lately. This has surprised my wife and me because her teachers have always told us what an excellent student our daughter is. She has always received good reports in every academic field, and her teachers speak highly of her. Our daughter is an extremely conscientious, quiet and obedient child.

However, my wife and I have always noticed our daughter to be somewhat anxious, and her anxiety has appeared to increase greatly during the past year. She worries a lot about her school work, our health (my wife smokes), her own health, her popularity with friends, and especially about the possibility of such events as wars, natural disasters, or terrorist attacks occurring, or becoming a victim of robbers or kidnappers.

Our daughter has always had a vivid imagination which she uses to conjure up impending disasters. For example, the last time there was a very heavy rain fall, she was reluctant to attend school because she was worried that the rain would cause a serious flood, the destruction of buildings, and injury or death to people (including us and herself).

My wife and I have also noticed our daughter not sleeping well in the past 6-7 months. It takes a long time for her to fall asleep, and she often wants to stay in our bed at night. As a result, she often feels tired during the day. She complains about stomach aches, and she frequently experiences sweaty hands, trembling, breathing difficulties and a ‘lump in her throat’.

Recently, she has found it difficult to concentrate or answer questions at school, and she simply tells us that her mind “goes blank.” We wonder what to do.

Psychologist’s Reply

It’s not uncommon for children to have vivid imaginations. Nor is it uncommon for children to struggle with fears and anxieties. But sometimes anxiety can become debilitating. It also frequently fuels a vicious cycle whereby the anxious person avoids anxiety-evoking situations — which only reinforces the notion in their minds that the path to security and control is avoidance.

There are many effective treatments for anxiety available. And although medication is sometimes necessary or useful, in the long-term, more comprehensive approaches are the most desirable, especially approaches that use state-of-the-art cognitive-behavioral methods. Such strategies generally provide broader and more lasting benefits.

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Anxiety can also accompany a mood disturbance such as depression, and it can co-exist with or exacerbate other problems. Anxiety and/or depression can interfere with normal sleep patterns, impair concentration, and affect a person’s usual disposition. So, it’s always a good idea to have a qualified professional assess the situation and to commit to a comprehensive plan of care. It’s also important for a child to feel supported and comfortable disclosing the various factors that might also be contributing to her level of stress and exacerbating her symptoms. With appropriate support and help, such problems are not only often resolved but also can be a starting point for a person to gain an increased sense of personal efficacy.

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