The role of the school nurse keeps changing. Students still come into the nurse's office when they are sick or hurt, but it may be more complicated these days. There are times when a child may come to the nurse and say that they have a stomach ache. While it could be something more complex, it may also be anxiety.
Recognizing Signs of Anxiety
More and more students at all age levels are battling some type of anxiety. In children, anxiety may look very different from the outside. For the student, it may make them feel sick, have a headache, or feel overwhelmed. They may behave differently, be defiant, or shut down. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that one out of every twenty children who are 6 to 17 have been diagnosed with anxiety or depression.
When a child comes in complaining of a headache, and they do not have a fever or other evident illness, anxiety may be the cause. Rather than send kids back to class, school nurses are now taking more time to talk with them to see what may be going on. Most students trust school nurses and are willing to open up to them.
A Safe Space to Decompress
If parents have talked to school nurses ahead of time about their child and potential anxiety, it can help the process. Teachers can work with the school nurse to allow them to go down to the office to decompress. Assuming there is no other space in the building, it is often a safe and quiet location for them to get calmer. With time spent in the nurse’s office, many students will be able to refocus and head back to the classroom to resume work.
One downside of using a nurse’s office to help children with anxiety is that not all schools have a full-time nurse. Budget cuts and shared nurses are a reality which many have to contend with. Thanks to this, nurses are concerned that some children may be turned away from a safe space which they may desperately need. Students need school nurses now more than ever. Not only are they needed to give medical support, but also potential mental health support.
Does your school have a safe space for stress breaks in the nurse’s office? Please share how this works for students who need to utilize this during the school day. If you do not have one, is there another location where kids may go if they are struggling with anxiety.