Blog: Why is my kid not smiling on the first day of school?

Diane Wilson Image
Thursday, August 20, 2015
This undated photo provided by Rebecca Wilson shows her daughters Alex, 9, left, and Winter, 5, showing off their new backpacks for a new school year. (AP Photo/Rebecca Wilson)
This undated photo provided by Rebecca Wilson shows her daughters Alex, 9, left, and Winter, 5, showing off their new backpacks for a new school year. (AP Photo/Rebecca Wilson)

The photos fill my Facebook feed - kids smiling from ear to ear, so excited to head back to school. You can't help but admire the photos of the cute children ready to conquer the world.

But amongst those smiles, you'll find kids just like my daughter.

Why is my daughter so upset? She suffers from severe anxiety, and heading back to school does nothing but bring her sheer terror.


This started at a young age for my daughter. I first noticed it when she was 2.

We tried to put her in dance, and she cried and cried. I don't think she ever made it through the entire dance lesson without crying, and without me basically taking the class.

We chalked it up as separation anxiety. But as she got older and entered preschool, the crying turned into fear with anything unfamiliar she did. I knew something was wrong. My husband and I would do what any parent would do: we researched, tried therapy, read lots of books, and just tried to comfort our daughter as much as we could to ease her anxiety.

My daughter doesn't just have anxiety when it comes to school. Her anxiety manifests in basically anything new and unfamiliar. If we go to a birthday party, she will not participate. If we put her in swim lessons, she will not take them.

Deep down inside you can tell she so badly wants to participate, but her anxiety takes over and she is willing to miss out on the fun, as the unfamiliar grounds just cause her so much stress.


I am by far not an expert of what works and what doesn't, but what helps us get through those stressful situations is the reactions from so many who have been in our shoes, or at least someone who is understanding.

Until you have a child who suffers from anxiety, you could be that parent who looks at her and us like we are all crazy. Trust me when I say I've gotten the looks like, "What is wrong with her?" "Why is she still crying, she's 6?" "You can't control your child?"

Throughout our journey, we have been blessed with so many wonderful teachers who "get" anxiety and realize how to handle a child that suffers from it. The best approach for my child is to understand what makes her anxious and to show her comfort and compassion to get through it.

The most amazing reactions come from other kids. It warms my heart to see my daughter's classmates see her so upset at drop off or getting on the bus in the morning and they immediately run over to her and put their arm around her and say, "I'm here, it's going to be okay." While she is still crying, trying to face her fears, she loves having the support.

As I prepare my daughter for 1st grade, I can tell she is already anxious. She asks me every day when she has to go back to school. Not because she is excited, but she is already worried. She's already telling me she is going to cry and doesn't want to go.

The unknown is what scares her. She has no idea who her teacher will be, who her classmates will be, and what classroom she is in. I tell her it's okay if she cries, and it's okay to be scared. I remind her of all the fun she had last year, and just because she's in a new class with a new teacher, she still is in the same building and can always go back to visit with her favorite kindergarten teacher who brought her so many smiles.

I'm hopeful this will be the year I get a big smile on the first day of school. If not, it will be alright as I know on the last day of school, I get this:

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