Middle school is an exciting time of change and self-discovery. That being said, it is not uncommon for some children to experience anxiety as they transition into middle school and begin taking more independence over their education.
During this time, parents may find that they need to take a more active role in helping their young learners identify and manage these feelings. Learning the causes of anxiety and being able to identify the signs a child is struggling with stress are key to figuring out the best approach to tackling such feelings.
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Fortunately for parents and caregivers, there are telltale signs to look for when identifying a child’s struggle with stress and anxiety. This struggle can present in one or many ways, including:
- Inattention and/or restlessness
- Sudden separation anxiety or clinginess
- Sudden stomach aches, headaches or trips to the school nurse
- Failing grades or incomplete work
- Retreat from social activities
If left untreated or unassisted for too long, more serious behaviors can present themselves in the wake of stress and anxiety. Some of these more serious indicators to look for include:
- Physical aggression
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- Changes in appetite and/or eating behaviors
Fortunately, there are many tactics parents can employ to help their children work through feelings of stress and anxiety. Taking advantage of the resources and partnerships offered by their child’s school can help caregivers navigate the new and sometimes murky world of adolescent anxiety and stress.
Sources of Stress and Anxiety for Middle School Students
If your middle schooler is experiencing anxiety, it’s important to identify the source of that anxiety and take steps to reduce it. Below is a look at some of the most common sources of stress that middle schoolers might experience.
1. Change of Location
One of the most common causes of stress and anxiety for middle school students is often the most straightforward—a change of place. Moving from the comfort and familiarity of an elementary school to a new and unfamiliar middle school can naturally push a child outside of their comfort zone. Similarly, a middle school student approaching high school might feel the same way about their pending next step. Ensuring that your child feels supported and heard during this transition can help to assuage their concerns.
2. The Realities of Distance Learning
The emergence of COVID-19 in the past year and the shift to distance learning has forced students of all ages to become technologically savvy relatively quickly as they rely on online platforms from Zoom to Google Classroom to learn from home and complete their work. While this has become second nature already for many students, distance learning is an entirely new way of learning, and it’s only normal that some students might be overwhelmed by the fact that on top of learning, they must essentially learn a new way to learn. Identifying ways of supporting your child’s education without the use of screens can be an excellent way of reducing their screen time and reminding them that this is temporary.
Middle school is a time of self-discovery. Children are not only discovering their existing role within their family, school, and greater community, but are realizing that they have the agency to change this role if they see fit. As children begin to flex these muscles, it is not uncommon that they might experience growing pains associated with changing friendship dynamics and more. Learning to advocate for themselves amongst their peers, and away from the watchful gaze of their parents allows children to increase their sense of independence, but can also instill a sense of anxiety and stress they hadn’t experienced before.
As students enter middle school, or prepare for high school, they will find that their workload increases by leaps and bounds. They stop “learning to read” and begin “reading to learn,” and with that comes hours of homework, substantial projects, and preparation for standardized testing. That’s enough to cause adults a fair amount of anxiety and stress, so young learners need help to better manage their time and schedule to meet the new workload head on.
Tips for Easing Middle School Anxiety
1. Establish a routine.
Children of all ages respond well to established routines. The same way a set bedtime schedule soothed your child as a youngster, so too will your middle school find comfort in maintaining a routine. Children find comfort in the certainty of a routine, and activities like exercise, healthy heating, proper sleep and relaxation can all be incorporated into a daily/weekly regimen to help students feel in control and manage their new responsibilities effectively and in a way that reduces stress. These routines provide children with the confidence to manage current stressors, and the confidence to meet new changes/roadblocks that may come their way.
Communication is key when helping children with stress and anxiety. By simply asking questions, caregivers can help students identify the stressors in their lives, and work with them to develop coping mechanisms to handle the roadblocks that they encounter. The simple act of identifying a stressor gives children a sense of control in that they can avoid them – like avoiding situations or people that cause them anxiety—or work through them—like the stress that accompanies test taking after lack of studying, or conflicts with friends.
Ultimately, communicating with your child and acknowledging that their feelings are real and valid will help them feel secure and will bolster their sense of confidence as they face their stressors and challenges.
3. Work together with teachers.
As the individuals who work closely with your child throughout their middle school tenure, your teachers should be the first line of defense when it comes to battling stress and anxiety. As the eyes and ears of your student’s school, they likely have more insight into how their student is behaving at school, and what could be causing their anxiety or stress.
4. Get support.
Reaching out to your student’s school is always your best resource for supporting your child. Schools employ counselors and administrators trained to spot the signs of stress and anxiety, and have a vast toolbox of tactics to help students and parents manage stressors inside and outside of school.
For example, at Friends’ Central School, Student Support Services is here to provide students and their families support and counseling. These individuals work directly with you and your child’s teachers to help your child work through stressors to become a well-rounded young learner with the coping mechanisms to navigate the stress and anxiety in middle school and beyond.
Empowering Your Child for Joy-Filled Learning
Middle school is a time of significant change for many students, but this does not mean that it must be a time of increased stress or anxiety. If you’ve found that your child is having difficulty transitioning into middle school, there are steps that you can take in partnership with your child’s school to resolve the issue and set them on a path toward a life-long love of learning.