How to Act in Case of School Phobia
When a child feels intense discomfort and rejection at the idea of going to school, he or she is likely to suffer from school phobia. Find out how to act in these cases.
Most children and adolescents try, at some point, to avoid going to school. The reasons vary and it’s a normal behavior when it occurs in isolation. However, when this happens continuously and with great intensity, we may be looking at a case of school phobia.
When a young person expresses a great fear of going to school, parents face a really complicated situation. Is the child faking the discomfort? Why don’t they want to go to school? Should I allow them to stay at home or force them to go to class?
Let’s try to answer these questions which come up so often in these circumstances.
Before going into what we can do to address school phobia, let’s briefly explain what it is. It’s included within the specific situational-type phobias, so it follows the common criteria:
- Excessive, disproportionate or irrational fear of going to school.
- The idea of going to school produces in the child intense anxiety and a high level of discomfort. This can include somatic symptoms, such as headaches or stomach aches, as well as crying and tantrums.
- The child resists going to school by all means and, if they can’t avoid it, then they endure it at the cost of enormous discomfort.
- This fear significantly affects the child’s daily life and interferes with academic performance, social relationships, and other areas.
- The fear of going to school lasts for at least six months.
Why does it occur?
In many cases, the child’s school phobia originates from an unpleasant experience related to the school environment. They may have to do with conflicts with teachers or have difficulty relating to their peers.
However, it’s also possible that this exacerbated fear may arise simply from seeing a peer suffer from these traumatic school experiences. Or even from hearing about similar cases in the news. It’s also common for a child’s shy or withdrawn personality to predispose them to this phobia.
Exposure is key
Many parents, with the best of intentions and consideration for their child, allow them to stay home when they observe their anxiety about going to school. However, as with any phobia, it’s key that the child is exposed to it, i.e., that they go to class.
It’s precisely the avoidance of what is feared that maintains and reinforces the fear. Therefore, if you allow them not to go to school, not only will you be harming their academic performance, but you’ll also be maintaining and strengthening their phobia.
However, it’s also not about maintaining a rigid, cruel or imposing attitude toward the child. Don’t ridicule their fear, punish them, or yell at them. It’s important for them to know that you understand the fear they feel and that you’re there to help them. However, staying home will only make the situation worse.
Likewise, it’s imperative that we give the child or adolescent tools to face this feared situation. We can’t send them into battle empty-handed, as fear will be paralyzing. Thus, we have to find out what the origin of the phobia is and act on it:
- If there’s a problem with a teacher or classmate, we can talk to the school to take action.
- If our child has difficulty relating to others, it’ll be important to teach them the social skills that they lack. Likewise, if they have low self-esteem or excessive shyness, it’s best to work on their self-confidence so that they can deal with school situations.
- It’s very necessary to train the child in relaxation or breathing techniques that will allow them to reduce their anxiety level. This will be a tool to which they’ll be able to resort in order to diminish anxiety when confronting the feared situation.
Professional help for school phobia
Finally, parents, on many occasions, may not have the capacity to do all this work with their children alone. Therefore, it’s necessary to remember that there are professionals who can help enormously.
A child psychologist will work with the child and provide the necessary guidelines and resources. But, he or she will also support and guide the parents to accompany the process in the best possible way. This isn’t something you need to deal with alone.