When A Child’s Anxiety Trigger Is Her Class Teacher

My 7 year old has been suffering with anxious episodes for the last few months. Last week, we discovered the cause – her class teacher. That makes the whole situation quite difficult as she will continue to see her teacher almost every day for the next 5 months.

Unfortunately, Jenny’s class teacher is a force to be reckoned with – very much the “no nonsense, strict rules” kind of approach rather than the motherly, encouraging approach she has experienced with earlier teachers. For some kids, the tough love method is exactly the motivation they need. For Jenny, it sends her into a quivering wreck.

Some background

Let me start by saying that I trained as a primary school class teacher . My brother is a teacher, and my mum and Grandad were both teachers, so I have a great respect for the profession and a good grasp of the pressure they are under. I know that every teacher has their own methods and ways of doing things. I am also not the sort of parent who likes to interfere.

But my daughter is seven years old and two weeks ago, she told me that she wishes she’d never been born.

Sensitive child walking holding umbrella - when your child's anxiety trigger is her class teacher

Year 2 SATs

In England, all children are tested at the end of year 2 (age 6/7) to assess their Maths and English skills. These exams (SATs) are set externally but marked within school by the class teacher. The idea is to get a snapshot of the child’s current level of achievement.

They are not about pushing a child to attain a particular goal.

However, these test results are also used to gauge a school’s performance – how well the class teacher is teaching, how the school compares to others in the area, how the children have been developed by the school. This puts a lot of pressure on teachers who, often unknowingly, pass that pressure onto the children in their class by making the the tests sound important and scary.

Throughout school, Jenny has always been exactly where she needs to be – not a high flyer and not lagging behind – but recently she has been falling behind with her writing. It turns out, Jenny is too worried to write because she’s panicking about her SATs. She’s worried that she’ll get the answer wrong and she’s worried that the class teacher will shout at her.

She fusses around, stares into space, chats about the work – anything to avoid putting pen (pencil) to paper. She is terrified that a wrong answer, even a wrong spelling, will result in a roasting from Mrs Harriet.

The anxiety rises within her and she freezes like a rabbit in the headlights.

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An unfair trade

So the anxiety trigger had been identified and a meeting with the class teacher was booked.  I hate confrontation but Jenny needed me to fight her corner. The thing is, my daughter’s mental health is more important than some stupid test score or the school’s academic reputation.

Class teachers may get results by pushing and pressurising little ones, but long after the 2018 scores are released and forgotten, we’ll still be dealing with a child who believes she is stupid, who is terrified of taking exams, and who can’t look her friends in the face because of a deep feeling of inadequacy.

This has to stop!

A visit to the class teacher

Hubby and I sat down with the class teacher. We were prepared to do battle. We had briefed ourselves in the car of our main points and had a handwritten list in case we got lost halfway through. This teacher needed to know what she was doing to our precious daughter…!

And yet the meeting didn’t go like that at all!

Mrs Harriet listened attentively and nodded gravely as we explained our predicament. She was shocked to hear that Jenny was unhappy in school and that she was afraid of being told off.

As I look back on my own teaching days, I remember that sometimes you can be so wrapped up in trying to get things done that you don’t notice how abruptly you’re coming across. This would wash over most kids but Jenny is a sensitive one and she had taken it to heart.

The very next day, Jenny’s class teacher pulled her on one side and reassured her that she would not be punished or shouted at for getting something wrong. It is something we, as her parents, have told many times, but she needed to hear it from her teacher.

The change in my little girl since then has been phenomenal.

She has stopped sucking on her lips and she has started making eye contact. She has even voluntarily done some writing (a story) of her own.

School written work is still a struggle as she procrastinates and seems to forget what she’s writing, but it’s not a battle anymore. Things are improving – we are on the up.

When your child's anxiety trigger is her class teacher- child on climbing frame

Tackling anxiety head on

That simple reassurance from her class teacher has made a world of difference to Jenny. But there are other strategies that we’re using to tackle this anxiety too, and I believe it’s a culmination of it all that is starting to chase the fear away for her.

(1) Coloured paper

I wanted to make writing fun for Jenny again so I bought some lined paper in different colours. Also, some children struggle with reading and writing because their eyes focus on the white spaces instead of the words – using coloured paper can help to combat this.

(2) One-on-one dates

Hubby and I have both set aside time to spend solely with Jenny. This can be anything from walking home together, to going swimming, to playing a board game. We don’t use these times to discuss the issues, but instead to lavish her with our undivided attention so that she knows she is valued and worthy.

(3) Bedtime stories

We used to do a bedtime story every night with the girls. Recently, it has been a low priority – we’ve not done it if they’re late to bed or hubby and I are feeling tired. We have reinstated bedtime stories as a compulsory part of bedtime, and agreed that Jenny and Charis will have separate story times. This means Jenny is having a story that is more age-appropriate, grabbing her attention and stretching her vocabulary. It’s also some one-on-one time at the end of every day.

(4) Let it go

We have tried to give her a bit more breathing space and overlook smaller infringements. She is going through a lot at the moment and is bound to act out a bit more than usual. I believe she needs the reassurance that she is loved even when she is misbehaving. A house of negativity where I am constantly nagging her is not helpful right now so if we don’t manage to get homework done this week, so be it.

(5) No decisions

The first anxiety-tackling mummy-daughter date we went on was a disaster. We went shopping and Jenny was overwhelmed by the choice – she started panicking about buying the “wrong” thing. I’ve realised now that decisions are difficult for someone who is anxious – they worry about what to choose. So I am limiting decisions as much as possible. I am getting clothes out the night before so they’re ready and waiting for her. I am giving her the choice of two cereals rather than the whole cupboard.

(6) In it together

The meeting with the class teacher went far better than we could have hoped. But it was more than just resolving the conflict – it was a message to Jenny that we’re there to help her fight her battles. We’ve got her back. If she comes to us needing help, we will listen and do whatever we can.

When your child's anxiety trigger is her class teacher - young girl being carried by her daddy

I don’t claim to have all the answers. These are the things that are working for us, and it’s very much a trial-and-error process. Do you have any tips or advice for dealing with an anxious child? Have you or your child ever have a class teacher you didn’t get along with? Let me know in the comments section below – I love reading them.


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When A Child's Anxiety Trigger is Her class teacher... and how to fix it! Here are 5 activities to help a child suffering with school-related anxiety. They need coping mechanisms to deal with anxiety and support


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  1. 3

    Oh bless her. My son also had a very no-nonsense teacher in reception and again in year 2 and she made him so miserable. I’m glad talking to Jenny’s teacher had such a positive outcome. We went and spoke to J’s teacher and we were left less than impressed. Since he left her behind in the infants he’s been so much happier. #blogcrush

  2. 4

    I am so glad tp hear that the meeting with the teacher went well. How stressful for Jenny. As a teacher (who has just left the profession) it makes me so very sad to hear about little ones struggling with their mental health because of SATs. That is not how it shoudl be. I hope she continues to feel happier and less anxious

  3. 5
    The Modern Father

    My wife is a teacher, though in middle school (not sure how that translates to the UK; it’s roughly ages 11-13.). She’s a band teacher, so has a classroom of 40 or more students with loud noisemakers. She often gets the opposite response, perhaps because it’s easier for a band student to hide in class. Notes go out to a student’s teachers about their behavior, and she’s usually the one saying, “Wait, that’s not the Sally I know.”

    I do wonder how much of school behavior is based on fear and anxiety, especially given the all the testing pressures and the constant message that what you do as a pre-teen will set your path for life.

    I’m glad that your daughter’s teacher made the necessary adjustments and took the time to pull her aside and reassure her. And even better that you were able to identify the source of the anxiety and address it. #BlogCrush

  4. 6

    Poor Jenny and poor you,Lucy. As a teacher I HATE to hear this…but you did the right thing in speaking to her teacher as she obviously had not even realised that Jenny was feeling like this -which I find incredible if I’m honest!-. Poor little sausage to be so worried about getting things wrong and not writing anything. Testing at primary level is so wrong. We all know this but we are forced to do this as we have a stupid government ….ahhhhh. Anyway…back to the point…my daughter used to love school but hated to be ‘on show’ like on a stage and she used to lick her clingers and then rub her eyes causing very sore eyes! In the end, her anxiety was so bad that I had to do something. We enrolled her in speech and drama lessons 1:1 with a lovely teacher. She loved it! And thrived. So for a year she continued this and at the end of it she entered a competition and spoke in front of an audience! Since then, although shy, she has been fine. I hope you find what Jenny absolutely loves because that may help her find a focus. Good luck. Xxx #b.c

  5. 7

    Poor Jenny, I think you are doing all the right things and I just hope it all settles for her soon and her anxiety settles. I have similar problems, my 10 year old is currently doing year six SATS and as a confident, happy girl who has always loved school you would think this would be a breeze. But now, her teacher is now hothousing the kids and putting a lot of pressure on them, they’ve been asked to stay behind after school, go to school during half term and now give up their Saturday mornings to go to school. I’ve said no to everyone, the three pages of homework every day is enough of a struggle. I really need to go and speak to him but it’s been difficult. Then my seven year old (Summer baby, so year 3) is having trouble with bullies and his teacher. The teacher thinks he is the trouble maker because the bullies are always getting him into trouble, and even though we’ve spoken to her things haven’t got any better. It’s all causing so much stress 🙁

  6. 8
    Rhyming with Wine

    Goodness me Lucy – I can only imagine how hard it must have been to hear Jenny say that. I really admire your way of dealing with it and the incredible support and strength that you have given. It’s lovely how attentive and understanding you are of her needs and I’m so pleased that she is feeling much better and now has the encouragement she needs from her teacher. Thank you for hosting #blogcrush lovely x

  7. 9

    Bless her. It just breaks your heart when such a little person feels such stress. You just want them to playing and having fun, but the world doesn’t let that happen really. My son is year 2 and at the moment doesn’t seem to have registered the impending SATs, but oh the drama over whether and when he would get his joining licence. He was sobbing about it. I am glad that you have been able to help her so much

  8. 10
    Sara @ Magical Mama Blog

    Well done! Sometimes, all it takes is a little communication with the teacher and problems can be solved. I wish more parents would take this hands on approach rather than punishing their children for falling behind or scoring low. You really did the right thing investigating the problem and helping to fix it! Parenting praises to you!

  9. 11
    Hayley @ Mission: Mindfulness

    So much to comment on here! As you know I am a teacher but I HATE our assessment system and what it is doing to our children (and teachers). I can see at secondary school level the stress being passed between teachers and students and the teachers must be so careful about this but as you say it’s tricky when they are at their limits themselves! My son is also in Year 2 and I am soooooo pleased that the word SATS doesn’t even get uttered in his classroom. They have no idea that what they are or that they are being prepped for them and will just be told it’s a special day or 2 when the time comes…. But don’t even get me started on testing 7 and 8 year olds – you are much more diplomatic about it than me – I think it’s LUDICROUS – our children’s wellbeing is suffering because of government measurements that aren’t even accurate guides when the data is published as there are so many variables at play…. I have a ranty post in me about this definitely!!! xx Anyway, what I am very pleased to hear is that the teacher was so receptive and helpful and that your daughter is feeling much happier as a result – yippee – these conversations are SO important. #Blogcrush xx

  10. 13
    Tracey Bowden

    What a relief that the meeting with her teacher went well. I’m so glad this has helped. When my daughter first started primary school it was noted that she would never start anything first.. She would look around at what others were doing so she didn’t get shouted at for doing it wrong. With the right teacher. she moved past this and is now doing well in secondary school. #blogcrush

  11. 14

    I am so glad to read things are getting better for Jenny and that your meeting with the teacher went well.. I think it is crazy that year 2 pupils are expected to sit exams and it’s not really surprising how Jenny has been behaving, my 4 year old worries about doing things wrong so I’m sure he will probably feel similar to Jenny when test time comes. Sounds like you are doing everything you can to help her though, she’s very lucky to have such wonderful parents xx #blogcrush

  12. 15

    I felt so said when I read that Jenny said she wished she was never born. No child should ever be made to feel like that. I remember taking my SATs but back then there wasnt much pressure at all on students the way it is now. It’s such a tender age and what is reflected now i believe sets the foundation for the future but if only the education system understood that. Well done for speaking to the teacher, I’m glad it went well and you’re combating this. I use to have a teacher in primary school who I use to passionately hate, he had Favourites and would pick on those students he thought weren’t good enough! I hope when my daughter goes to school she doesn’t come across the likes of him #BlogCrush

  13. 16
    Alice | Letters to my Daughter

    What a great outcome with her teacher and I’m so glad jenny’s feeling better already! It’s amazing what the right words from the right person can do for your mental health, but heartbreaking as a parent that you can’t always be that right person! #BlogCrush

  14. 17
    Patrick Weseman

    Glad the meeting went well. As a teacher myself, I always start off with “Rules and No Nonsense” and ease off during the year. I am known for being Firm, Fair, Honest and Demanding but as the year goes on the students learn about my fifth tenant which is Caring. #BlogCrush

  15. 18
    Fi Anderson

    You had me gripped from the title! A very stressful revelation that you handled admirably! I was so relieved nearing the end of the post how dramatically you tackling the issue head on changed Jennys mindset. You’re an amazing advocate for your daughters ♥ #blogcrush

  16. 19
    Liberty Henwick

    Wow, well done, that must have been a terrifying prospect heading in to the meeting but it sounds like it has reaped so many rewards. The coloured paper is a good idea, I’ve never heard of that before. I hope she continues to grow in confidence, so heartbreaking to hear your own young child saying she wished she hadn’t been born. xx #Blogcrush

  17. 22

    As a parent of an Aspie woman of 22, the most important thing is not the teacher or the writing, but the fact that you not only listened to your child but you addressed and ‘fixed’ the issue. That trust is invaluable in the many hurdles she will face, knowing that you will help will give her the confidence to share her anxieties with you.

  18. 23
    Malin - Sensational Learning with Penguin

    This is a very touching post, Lucy. I’m so happy to hear that things are improving for your little girl! It’s impossible to be happy when your child is miserable… All your strategies sound really great, love the individual bedtime stories. And as someone who doesn’t like making decisions, that. Oh yeah, the breakfast choice thing, or any other kind of choice for that matter, can sometimes also be made easier by using visuals (pictures of each choice). Hoping everything keeps going in the right direction. With such loving support from her parents, I’m sure it will xx

  19. 24
    Welsh Mum Writing

    I’m so glad you shared this on #ablogginggoodtime. It must have been so challenging but I was so relieved to read that the meeting with the teacher was helpful. We have had a similar experience with our two year old in nursery – not an individual’s fault per se but like many busy educational /childcare environments that sometimes the needs of individuals or noticing our own behavior goes overlooked. We’ve made good progress but after a really stressful few weeks I can see that we have probably created a difficult environment for our little one and some anxious behaviours have reemerged. This is a welcome reminder to take stock of what we are doing sometimes. I’m definitely going to try some of your tips. Thanks again for sharing.

  20. 25

    This must have been so hard. My 5 year old has started really worrying about school (she has always been a bit of an anxious child) and it is so hard to know how to tackle it. She worries that she cant do the work (she has a big fear of getting things wrong) and thinks that she will get told off if she asks for help. Having three children often I do worry that she doesn’t get enough one on one time and your post has really highlighted the importance of it. Thanks for sharing on #ablogginggoodtime

  21. 26
    Catherine Green

    My daughter is currently preparing for Yr 2 SATS as well, although I don’t believe she has anxiety about it. We are fortunate that she loves her teacher and he uses jokes within lessons to keep the children engaged and relaxed. His method must be working because I happen to know that some of my daughter’s friends do have anxiety and all are appearing fairly laid back about their upcoming tests. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the matter.

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