Middle School Counseling

Anxiety Management Plan

When students are facing periods of intense anxiety which is limiting their ability to attend classes and/or school, the following plan should be implemented as early as possible. The plan has three components:

  • Parental Strategies and Support
  • Student Management Guidelines
  • Procedural Steps for School Personnel

Parental Strategies and Support

When children refuse or avoid school – “in the moment” tips for parents.

  • A key to success is rapid intervention; the longer the behavior occurs, the harder it is to treat. Avoid the temptation to see how they feel in a few days, etc. These situations can unfold quickly, so taking action is important.
  • If there is no medical reason to be absent, your child should be at school. Anxious students often feel actual physical symptoms of illness (headaches, stomachaches etc.). It is important to recognize that these are common symptoms of anxiety. Students will often exclaim they are truly ill or this is different from other stomachaches, headaches, etc. Unless there is a fever or vomiting, your child should be at school. In the rare case that they are ill (and not just anxious), the school nurse will determine if they can remain in school.
  • Let your child know that, while they may feel sick in the morning, staying home and avoiding the issues will make the problem worse. Make it clear to your child that you expect them to be at school unless they have a fever or are vomiting. Make sure your child eats breakfast. Bread products will help to absorb acid; avoid fruit juices.
  • A firm, caring and quick separation is usually better for both parent and child. The more you discuss, argue, cajole, etc. the more the student will usually dig their heels in.
  • The parent should attempt to discover if there is a specific problem causing the refusal, but school mornings are NOT usually a good time for this conversation. Express care and concern and set aside some time to discuss the concerns later in the day. If your child is able to pinpoint a specific concern (such as worry about tests, teasing, etc.), then the parent should immediately talk to their teacher about developing an appropriate plan to solve the problem.
  • Set clear expectations AHEAD OF TIME regarding the rewards and consequences of both attending and staying home from school. The morning of school is NOT the time to discuss these issues. Attempts to discuss concerns and/or issues related to school attendance at this time will exacerbate the anxiety.
  • If your child refuses to attend school, calmly remind them of the predetermined consequence. “OK, but remember, you will not have access to any electronics or your telephone and cannot see friends until after you return to school”.
  • If your child does not board the bus, drive your child to school if you are able. If they refuse to get out of the car, please come to the main office and ask staff to locate Mrs. Fajen, Mrs. Maynard, Mrs. Angell or your child’s guidance counselor.
  • If your child refuses to get in your car, consider having another family member bring your child to school.
  • If your child does stay home then rewards such as snacking, tv, toys, etc. should be eliminated. Inform the school that your child refuses to attend. Parental attention should be reduced to a minimum level of care; giving extra attention to a child who refused to attend school makes them more likely to refuse again.
  • An important reminder: School anxiety is common and very treatable. Many children may have started to avoid school for one reason (e.g., fear of being disciplined by a teacher, feeling socially inadequate) but are now staying home for another reason (e.g., access to video games, lack of academic pressure, etc.). Helping your child to relax, develop better coping skills, improve social skills, using a contract, etc. are all examples of possible treatments.
  • We will likely recommend that you have your child evaluated by the pediatrician to rule out medical issues.
  • We may also recommend outside counseling. Short term cognitive behavioral therapy can be extremely beneficial in helping your child develop strategies to manage their anxiety.