Are There Social Causes for School Anxiety?

What stresses you beyond exams

Test anxiety is quite common
Test anxiety is quite common, but it's not unavoidable!. Creative RM/Nancy Honey/Getty Images

It's common for kids of all ages to experience school anxiety school-related stress. This is often most apparent at the end of summer when school is about to start again, but it can occur year-round. Where does the stress and anxiety come from? Social, academic, and scheduling factors play a major role, as do hidden environmental stressors. 

Social Stressors

Many kids experience some level of stress or anxiety in social situations they encounter in school.

While some of these issues provide important opportunities for growth, they must be handled with care and can cause anxiety that must be dealt with.

Teachers

A good experience with a caring teacher can cause a lasting impression on a child's life—so can a bad experience. While most teachers do their best to provide students with a positive educational experience, some students are better suited for certain teaching styles and classroom types than others. If there's a mismatch between student and teacher, a child can form lasting negative feelings about school or his own abilities.

Friends

While most students would say that friends are one of their favorite aspects of school, they can also be a source of stress. Concerns about not having enough friends, not being in the same class as friends, not being able to keep up with friends in one particular area or another, interpersonal conflicts, and peer pressure are a few of the very common ways kids can be stressed by their social lives at school.

Dealing with these issues alone can cause anxiety in even the most secure kids.

Bullies

Things have changed in the world of bullies since I was a kid. The good news is that the days of teachers looking the other way and parents leaving kids to deal with bullying on their own are mostly over. Many schools now have anti-bullying programs and policies.

Though bullying does still happen at many schools, even those with these policies, help is generally more easily accessible than it was years ago.

The bad news is that bullying has gone high-tech. Many students use the Internet, cell phones and other media devices to bully other students, and this type of bullying often gets very aggressive. One reason is that bullies can be anonymous and enlist other bullies to make their target miserable; another reason is that they don't have to face their targets, so it's easier to shed any empathy that they may otherwise feel. There are ways to combat "cyber-bullying," but many parents aren't aware of them—and many bullied kids feel too overwhelmed to deal with the situation.

Many adults find themselves overwhelmingly busy these days—work hours are getting longer, vacations are shortened or skipped, and people find themselves with little down time. Sadly, our kids are facing similar issues. Here are some of the main scheduling stressors they face:

Overscheduling

Much has been said in the media lately about the over-scheduling of our kids, but the problem still continues.

In an effort to give their kids an edge, or to provide the best possible developmental experiences, many parents are enrolling their kids in too many extra-curricular activities. As kids become teens, school extracurricular activities become much more demanding. College admissions standards are also becoming increasingly competitive, making it difficult for college-bound high school students to avoid overscheduling themselves.

Lack of Family Time

Due in part to the busyness of kids’ lives and the hectic schedules of most parents, the sit-down family dinner has become the exception rather than the rule in many households. While there are other ways to connect as a family, many families find that they’re too busy to spend time together and have both the important discussions and the casual day recaps that can be so helpful for kids in dealing with the issues they face. Due to a lack of available family time, many parents aren't as connected to their kids, or knowledgeable about the issues they face, as they would like.

Not Enough Sleep

According to a poll on this site, a large proportion of readers aren't getting enough sleep to function well each day. Unfortunately, this isn't just a problem that adults face. As schedules get busier, even young kids are finding themselves habitually sleep-deprived. This can affect health and cognitive functioning, both of which impact school performance.

Not surprisingly, much of the stress of school is related to what kids learn and how they learn it. The following are some of the main sources of academic stress for kids:

Work That's Too Hard

There's a lot of pressure for kids to learn more and more and at younger ages than in past generations. For example, while a few decades ago kindergarten was a time for learning letters, numbers, and basics, most kindergarteners today are expected to read.

With test scores being heavily weighted and publicly known, schools and teachers are under great pressure to produce high test scores; that pressure can be passed on to kids.

Work That's Too Easy

Just as it can be stressful to handle a heavy and challenging workload, some children can experience stress from work that isn't difficult enough. They can respond by acting out or tuning out in class, which leads to poor performance, masks the root of the problem, and perpetuates the difficulties.

Learning Styles Mismatch

You may already know that there are different styles of learning—some learn better by listening, others retain information more efficiently if they see the information written out, and still others prefer learning by doing. If there's a mismatch in learning style and classroom, or if your child has a learning disability (especially an undiscovered one), this can obviously lead to a stressful academic experience.

Homework Problems

Kids are being assigned a heavier homework load than in past years, and that extra work can add to a busy schedule and take a toll.

Test Anxiety

Many of us experience test anxiety, regardless of whether or not we're prepared for exams. Unfortunately, some studies show that greater levels of test anxiety can actually hinder performance on exams.

Reducing test anxiety can actually improve scores.

Certain aspects of a child's environment can also cause stress that can spill over and affect school performance. The following are some stressors that parents may not realize are impacting their children:

Poor Diet

With the overabundance of convenience food available these days and the time constraints many experience, the average child's diet has more sugar and less nutritious content than is recommended.

This can lead to mood swings, lack of energy, and other negative effects that impact stress levels. (This article can tell you more about stress and nutrition and how to ensure your family gets proper nutrition even when you're busy.)

Noise Pollution

Believe it or not, noise pollution from airports, heavy traffic, and other sources have been shown to cause stress that impacts kids' performance in school. (See this article for more on how to reduce stress from noise pollution.)

Lack of Preparation

Not having necessary supplies can be a very stressful experience for a child, especially one who's very young. If a child doesn't have an adequate lunch, didn't bring her signed permission slip, or doesn't have a red shirt to wear on "Red Shirt Day," for example, she may experience significant stress. Younger kids may need help with these things.

Lack of Sleep

As schedules pack up with homework, extracurriculars, family time and (hopefully) some down time each day, kids often get less sleep than they need.

(How much sleep does your child need? Operating under a sleep deficit doesn’t just mean sleepiness, it can also lead to poor cognitive functioning, lack of coordination, moodiness, and other negative effects. (Read this resource for more on the importance of sleep, and consider helping your family adopt some habits for better sleep.)

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