Looking back, Daisy saw signs of her daughter’s anxiety as early as second grade. But it wasn’t until middle school that her symptoms began making life extra challenging.
“As middle school started, she started to isolate more and was unwilling to put herself into new experiences,” Daisy shared.
Anxiety Doesn’t Always Look Like Anxiety
For Daisy’s daughter, anxiety didn’t look like most people expect it to—fast talking, nervous pacing, etc. Instead, her daughter became withdrawn, afraid to try anything new. She refused to join any extracurricular activities, even ones she seemed interested in.
Eventually, she even stopped participating in family activities she’d previously enjoyed.
“She was fearful of going to restaurants, long car rides, movies, and vacations,” said Daisy. “We went a lot of places without her.”
Signs of School Anxiety
Adelle Cadieux, a clinical pediatric psychologist at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, wants parents to know that withdrawing from social situations, an unwillingness to engage in new experiences, and a reluctance to join extracurricular activities are all signs of anxiety — signs parents often miss.
“Your child may not say ‘I’m anxious,’ but may make statements about not wanting to do something or statements about not liking an activity,” says Cadieux.
Cadieux shared some other common symptoms of anxiety at this age:
- School refusal
- Decrease in school performance
- Increase in behavioral problems at school
- Increased irritability
- Increased defiance, at school and socially
- Changes in sleep
- Poor self-esteem
When is it Time to Intervene?
You know it’s time to intervene, says Cadieux, when your child’s anxiety is interfering with their ability to function at school, at home, or socially.
“For example, if getting your child to school each day has become a combat zone, it’s time to intervene,” says Cadieux.
Additionally, if your child seems to be struggling in school, withdrawing from friends or activities, or generally having a difficult time, you should consider intervening.
How to Help Your Anxious Middle Schooler
Find an undistracted time (in the car, at dinner, or at bedtime) to talk to your child and ask how they’re feeling. But don’t just talk: Being a good listener is vital.
“Try to avoid dismissing the feeling or telling your child they shouldn’t feel that way,” Cadieux recommends. “Acknowledge their feelings. Maybe even repeat what you heard them say so that your child knows you understand.”
If you have tried everything you can think of, and really aren’t sure what to do, it’s time to reach out for additional help, says Cadieux. You can contact a therapist, your pediatrician, or a school counselor.
For Daisy’s daughter, starting therapy, combined with anxiety medication, has been very helpful, and her mom has started to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
“Anxiety may be something she will always have to manage,” says Daisy, “but I am hopeful.”
Wendy Wisner is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, Family Circle, and Parenting, and is a frequent contributor to Your Teen Magazine at www.YourTeenMag.com.