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Ask Dr. Marla: Dealing with School Anxiety


My eight-year-old daughter often becomes anxious around homework and school issues. She says she hates school and complains that her stomach hurts. I’m worried that maybe she is depressed or has a learning disability. What can I do?


It is important that you are recognizing the association between school and anxiety issues. Your daughter is also quite verbal and able to clearly tell you that she does not like school and that her stomach hurts, which is not an unusual complaint with anxiety. These complaints are fairly common and you do indeed want to find the best tools to help her.

You however have made quite the leap to a learning disability and depression as possible causes – both of which are entirely different entities. The first step I would encourage you to take is to speak with your healthcare provider so you can be reassured that there are no underlying diagnoses here. Given her clear expression on the relationship between school, homework and anxiety, it is most likely that she has some school-related anxiety.

Your reflection of being calm and caring will be very reassuring for your daughter. Sit down with her and see if you can help her put words to what about school and homework she finds anxiety-provoking. Speak with her teacher to get an idea of her activity at school, her behaviour at school and her involvement in learning activities.

Often when parents themselves get anxious or frustrated, it fuels the problem for their child. Together you can decide how best to conquer the individual issues, but first you need a clearer idea of what the issues are and what makes her anxious. Does she have a friend to connect with on the playground? Is she social in her classroom setting? Does she require some help in organizing what work needs to be completed at home? Is there an unrealistic expectation of the homework load?

Help your daughter set up a homework routine to help her feel in control of the homework. Knowing how much time she should be spending and how to structure that time is helpful. As a result you will have a better idea of how to make sure she is getting a healthy balance of play time and work time.

Got a question? Submit it to Dr. Marla.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, November 2013.

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