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More children are starting school depressed and anxious – without help, it will only get worse

The ConversaionBy: Dr Ameneh Shahaeian, Learning Sciences Institute Australia (ACU)

This article is part of a series that draws on the latest research on back to school transitions. In it, experts explain how best to prepare children for school, and counter difficulties such as stress or bad behaviour.

Starting school for the first time can be stressful. Children are suddenly thrown into a foreign environment, juggling the pressure of learning new academic skills and establishing relationships with peers. Some thrive, but others may need support through this transition.

Our study found that at the ages of six to seven, which is just after the time children start school, 14% of Australian children had noticeably high levels of emotional problems. Emotional problems generally refer to depressive and anxiety symptoms, somatic (physical) complaints such as headaches, and withdrawn behaviours.

There are roughly 1.5 million children aged six to seven going to school in Australia. This means around 200,000 of them are dealing with some kind of emotional problem. These problems become worse as the children progress through school. We found that three years later, when the same cohort of children were ten to 11, an additional 60,000 had developed symptoms of depression or anxiety.

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