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Anxiety Attacks

Elementary School Expert Advice from Barbara Potts

Q: My seven-year-old is experiencing anxiety attacks in school, and it is getting increasingly worse.

His teacher labeled him a perfectionist because he gets frustrated when he sees something new or feels that something is too difficult. He's afraid that he might get an answer wrong or not be able to read a word. He breaks down and cries in class, and his teacher said that she won't put up with it. The situation has gotten so bad that he can't stop the tears, and she makes him move his desk to a corner of the room. She has given him no encouragement, and I'm afraid that if this goes on any longer that he'll be scarred for a while.

He's a bright boy, and she's recognized that but hasn't dealt with the issue very well. We're having our third conferences with his teacher and the counselor this week. The counselor said that we have two options: to keep trying to work this out with the teacher and my son, or to recommend that he be moved. The principal will also be present at this conference. I would like some concrete evidence that my son's crying has been handled very poorly, and that this is why the situation has gotten so out of control. This has never been a major issue like it is now.

A: A lot of things change with the move from first grade to second. The curriculum is more difficult, children are expected to work more independently -- and at their desks -- for much of the day, and teacher expectations for behavior and classwork increase.

You say that this has never been a major issue before. Was it a minor issue? Has your son always been sensitive and worried about making mistakes, or is it just this year? Some teachers handle sensitive children better than others.

Many principals do not believe in moving children to another classroom to solve a problem, and you may need to work things out with this teacher for the rest of the year. It's great that you have involved the school counselor -- perhaps he or she could give your son some individual time or involve him in a small group to help him cope with his worries about making mistakes. Also, it could be worked out that your son could go to visit the counselor when he realizes he is getting upset.

The teacher has stated that she can't put up with your son's crying. Ask if she would be willing to try for a week to ignore his tears if he starts to cry. Many times when a crying child has attention focused on himself, it is very difficult to get back in control of his emotions and stop crying. If she could ignore him, perhaps he could regain control all by himself.

Talk with the school counselor about the possibility of your son needing additional counseling outside the school. The counselor or your pediatrician can help refer you for additional help.

More on: Expert Advice

Barbara Potts has worked as an elementary school counselor for many years. She has a BA in psychology from Wake Forest University, and an M.Ed. in Guidance and Counseling from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.


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