School is a scary place to be in for a child who barely steps out of his home without his or her parents or a twenty-four hour caregiver. When your child says he is scared of school, his fears are real and must be dealt with calmly.
When your child is attending school for the first time, he may suffer from separation anxiety, especially when a child has never been away from either parent for more than an hour of their life at a stretch.
What should parents do?
First, talk to your child and try to identify causes – real or unreal, logical or illogical. He may be so pressurized by his own fears that he develops psycho-emotional illnesses such as headaches which could be induced by the stressful condition of having to go to school when he does not want to.
Accept what he says without judgment – be careful not to render a ‘Don’t be silly’ because his fears are real to him and should be to you too, from his perspective. Assure your child that you will walk through the problems together. While he is out of control of his senses and emotions, you must never be.
If your child is sobbing away, one good way of getting him to stop is to ask him a question and then tell him that you cannot hear him through his crying. Because of his need to communicate, his tears will stop quite automatically and he will be able to talk. Experienced teachers would use this delay tactic to dissuade a child from crying.
Inform the teacher as soon as possible of your child’s condition. Ask to be allowed into class if he shows real signs of distress such as screaming and clinging on to you. If the school does not allow this, understand it from the school’s side.
Imagine if all the scared children are in one class. Will the teacher or the classroom size be able to handle twenty screaming children and their parents?
Usually once a child arrives in the classroom, an experienced teacher would surround him with caring and assuring classmates. Soon, the child will forget his fears and be involved in the activities.
Avoid promising telephone calls because once such a habit is formed with a child, it will be hard to break. His anxiety level may rise especially when you have a job to keep and he cannot reach you on the line.
Usually when the child is immersed in the school activities, time flies and soon it will be time for you to pick him up.
It is also a great stress on you, the parent! But take heart, especially if your child is an only child or was an only child for years before the second one came along. Be very patient; get the child to talk about positive experiences in the school and what he did.
If he complains of anyone bullying him or the teachers being very fierce, just relay his fears to the teacher calmly. You do not need to feel apologetic about your child’s fears. A good teacher who has genuine interest in the child will find a way to help the child out. As the teacher has many pupils to take care of, the teacher may have felt the need to be stern to naughty ones and thus appear ‘fierce’ to a more timid child. A caring teacher will find a way to work around the problem.
If in another scenario, your child has been in school for a period of time and comes home one day and says he is scared of school – well, that is a different problem altogether. One possibility is that he is facing a new teacher or a bully in school.
Another possibility is that as a parent, you have set him a goal he feels he cannot achieve and since he is not able to tell you honestly because he is afraid of you, he chooses to put the ‘blame’ on a neutral party, such as the school or someone associated with it.
Talk to your child. Notify your child’s teacher if another child is involved and let the teacher handle the situation at the school.
In the worst scenario, if your child has been victimized by schoolmates and possibly teachers, transfer your child to another school and give him a clean slate to work on. Make sure you are impartial and monitor your child’s emotional health closely in the new school. Teach him skills to handle bullies because he may face them all his life if he is timid.
The school environment should be conducive to happy learning for the child. Do not allow fear, real or unreal to rob your child of a wonderful childhood experience. Understand and support your child. You will surely find a school head that will understand your child’s needs from your viewpoint and work through your child’s fears and needs with you.