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Advice from Dr. John on Anxiety
Well a new school year is upon us and we were very excited because Jason’s new teacher has a good track record and is very loving to the children. But, it hasn’t played out as expected. After the first few days, Jason wouldn’t get out of the car, pulled at mom’s hair and clung to her legs. If this scenario sounds familiar, you’re not alone. This may be a case of …“School Phobia.”
When children suffer from school phobia the fear is quite frantic. The chances of coaxing them on their way are slim; their failure to meet solutions is frustrating and their resistance to school is extreme to the point of being dangerous. School phobia is not just the fear of going to school, it is a condition that makes attendance a downright impossibility.
The reasons such a phobia develops are many and varied. The trauma triggers I’ve come across include dramatic changes in the family dynamics such as a parent disappearing from the family while the child was at school, parents arguing a lot or splitting up, a mother or father who is depressed and upset, hearing suicidal talk or an actual death within the family.
Perhaps something scary happened to that child on the way to school like being assaulted or hounded by a bully, being called names or having a “wet pants” incident.
Before we go into suggestions, have a medical check-up as there can be many physical reasons why kids can’t manage going to school. This being said, you may want to consider some of the following ideas:
* Share the problem with the teacher and be honest and open about what is happening.
* Don’t expect logical, rational means to sort the problem out, school phobia is not a rational problem.
* Don’t let your kid’s fears make you feel you’re to blame or cause you to bend over backwards to make them happy out of guilt. The real problem is that they are sinking fast and are using excuses to hide their fear.
* Don’t tell school phobic kids how to beat their phobia, let them see and feel success.
* The other side of the coin is that when they do stay at home on school days (despite everything you’ve tried), make it be as uninteresting as possible so that time off from school isn’t attractive. This means no favorite activities, electronics, fun-books or toys to keep them occupied.
* In almost every case, if you are faced with an absolute refusal to go to school or with typical sweaty, panicky behavior, then the school counselor, (or clinical child psychologist), and home-school liaison officer (if there is one) and maybe even the family doctor should be consulted. Whatever you do, don’t try hitting phobic kids out of their ‘silly’ behavior.
In Jason’s particular case the problem and answer were not that complex. Sure, his baby sister was still at home, getting all the attention (he thought), but that was no different than last year. But the big change, other than adjusting to a new teacher who didn’t know him, was that dad was changing jobs! Last year Jason saw his much beloved dad only on the weekends as his job involved extensive time away from home. Since June, however, dad has been home based – Jason wanted to be home based too and was extremely jealous of his little sister who was getting all dad’s attention. As a little part of his therapy, I introduced him to Zelly, Andi Green’s “monster who wanted it all.” Jason could identify with Zelly’s woes and we had a good laugh. Anyhow, since the beginning of this week, we’ve turned a problem into a plus - if dad’s at home, dad can take Jason to school without his younger sister. Dad also makes sure that Jason gets out of the car and goes into the school. On other days Jason goes to school with his mum and they pick up a friend on the way (to reduce the separation anxiety). It has worked wonders; Jason is so very proud of his success. With Zelly’s help and his parent’s patience he has learned that he’s not missing out on anything by going to school. In matter of fact he only misses out on everything when he’s not at school!
About Dr. John Irvine PhD:
Dr. John Irvine is one of Australia’s most renowned child psychologists. As a pioneer in his field, he has been read, viewed or heard throughout the nation. At the age of 18, he started his own one-teacher school and continued in the field, teaching in the New South Wales schools for many years before becoming a child psychologist. He is currently a consultant at the R.E.A.D. Clinic and has written several books including the WorryWoo Companion books Helping Young Children Manage Frustration and Anger and Helping Young Worriers Beat The WorryBug. Dr. John is a much sought after speaker who has been featured in various newspapers and on current affairs and TV news segments. For more information, visit Drjohnshappyfamilies.com.au
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