A child with school phobia is one who is normally healthy, but who develops one or more alarming symptoms on school-day mornings. He may complain of a stomachache, headache, nausea, dizziness, or fatigue. He may vomit or have diarrhea. The symptoms worsen as the time to leave for school approaches.
He may have started to fuss the evening before, and complained of not feeling well. Perhaps he had more trouble than usual going to sleep. What do you, as a concerned and responsible parent, do?
If this is the first time it’s happened, send the child back to bed and call the doctor. Try to make an appointment for that morning. If you notice the symptoms subsiding as soon as time to leave for school has passed, you have an important indication that the trouble is not physical, but emotional.
The time in bed cannot be enjoyable, or the problem will be repeated. He must lie still, no TV, no toys, until it’s time to go to the doctor. If there’s nothing physically wrong, then he goes to school immediately, even if he’s late.
The children who develop school phobia are usually good students and well-behaved in class. They probably come from loving homes and have protective parents. They may be extremely sensitive. They are suffering from separation anxiety.
They probably have not attended preschool, or seldom slept away from home. They have seldom been left with baby-sitters.
The problem worsens if there has been a recent traumatic event in the family, such as a death, severe illness, separation or divorce. The child is not so much afraid of school as he is to leave the security and familiarity of his home.
WAYS TO HELP
* Insist that the child attend school every day. Fears are best overcome by facing them. Be very firm in the mornings. Even if he cries and screams, he has to go. If you just can’t do it, get the other parent or a relative to take charge for a few days.
* At a time other than a school morning, talk to your child calmly about his fears. Try to find out exactly what he is afraid of. If it’s something specific, like getting lost, riding the bus, or not being picked up on time, do what you can to remedy the situation, but don’t waver on the necessity of attending school daily.
* If there’s a problem at school, such as a teacher who yells too much or a class bully, you may wish to have a word with the school officials. They won’t be shocked; school phobia is a common problem. The teacher will do all she can to rectify any matters over which she has control.
* If the child continues to complain of aches and pains, but they are much the same as usual, send him off. If he’s really sick, he will be sent home.
* If he’s deliberately slow and doesn’t get ready in time, or misses the bus, he must go anyway. Arrange for a drive or take him on a later bus. If you give in and let him stay home, you’ll get a repeat performance the following day.
* Help him to make friends with classmates. Have another child over to play, or for a sleep-over, or invite one along on a family outing. If your child is asked back, encourage him to go. When he gets a special friend, perhaps they could travel back and forth to school together, at least for awhile.
If the above steps are followed, and the problem hasn’t disappeared within two weeks, it’s time to contact your pediatrician again. He may wish to do a more thorough physical examination, or to give you a referral to a child psychologist. Some children can become withdrawn and depressed, or have a serious anxiety disorder which requires professional assistance.
Growing up can be a stressful and difficult time. The first few years of life have been safe and comfortable at home surrounded by the love and attention of Mom and Dad. However, slowly but surely the young one must leave the nest and join his peers in the world of academia. His future welfare depends on it.
Wise parents will attempt to ease the transition by sending the child to preschool, by leaving him occasionally with trustworthy sitters, and by encouraging him to take mini-vacations with relatives and close friends. He’ll gain self-confidence, become more independent, and learn that he can survive without his parents, for a little while anyway.
Children will spend many years in the school environment. The sooner they settle in and begin the task of becoming mature, well-educated and independent individuals, the better off they, and the whole family will be.