It is important to identify anxiety disorders in children to ensure that they receive early mental health aid. Identifying and treating mental health needs in school and understanding children’s mental health is critically important because children spend most of their time there.
It is imperative to make mental health education part of the curriculum and train the teachers to identify mental health issues of their students to ensure these are addressed in a holistic manner. This article will focus on anxiety disorders prevalent among school-going children and highlight the importance of early interventions.
Anxiety can be confused with upset stomachs, acting out, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or even learning disorders. Some identifiable symptoms of anxiety in school children can be:
Avoiding socialising: Socialising with peers aids the process of overall development of a child. However, some children will avoid anxiety triggers like giving presentations, participating in games, eating with classmates and doing group work.
Disruptive behaviour: Research demonstrates that anxiety leads to tantrums, anger, defiance and aggression in children. In such a scenario, their fight or flight response to protect themselves can kick in and some children are more likely to fight and throw away things demonstrating low frustration tolerance.
Attendance problems and clingy children: Absence rates tend to be relatively higher after vacations or sick days because children tend to have a harder time after returning back to school. Some amount of separation anxiety is a normal part of childhood development, but it can be unsettling when children don’t adjust to separation from parents over time and their anxiety makes going to school difficult.
Trouble answering questions in class: Sometimes, children are anxious about answering questions in the classroom and consequently break eye contact with the teacher. When they’re called on, their anxiety level becomes so heightened that they can’t respond because of fear of negative evaluation by peers and teachers even though they might know the answer.
Screening is a procedure used to identify young children who may be at risk for potential mental health disorders in general and anxiety disorders in particular, which may interfere with normal growth, learning and development.
Early identification of mental health disorders through screening paves the path for early interventions. Early intervention can be remedial or preventive in nature to remediate the existing mental health issues or prevent their occurrence or further deterioration.
Early identification provides an opportunity for young children and their families to access wide early childhood programs and promotes parents’ understanding of their child’s mental health, development and learning.
Instead of awarding corporal punishment, which is an offence under the law, a school teacher needs to refer the child to a counsellor if available in school or to a mental health professional for evaluation and required interventions.
Schools with the support of families and the government need to frame holistic mental health programmes to help children grow into confident and autonomous adults and handle the challenges of daily life effectively.
Tanveer Wani is a Psychiatric Social Worker and an alumnus of NIMHANS Bengaluru. He can be reached at email@example.com.