Parents of very young children might expect their little ones to feel nervous and scared of going back to school after the summer holidays, but parents of tweens and teens would probably be quite shocked to see their youngster struggle with similar fears.
However, many youngsters of all ages have chronic anxiety about going back to school which can cause huge problems for both the child and the parents. There are ways to overcome these fears, but the parents will need a lot of patience.
At my two hypnotherapy clinics in London and Berkshire, I see children every week with School Phobia. For some children, its just a short lived fear that was perhaps associated with some incident at school – but for others it can be a deep seated problem that can go on for weeks, months or even years, if left untreated. Usually the phobia starts at around 7-8 years of age but doesn’t always show up until the child starts secondary school. School phobia often appears with general anxiety disorder or separation anxiety disorder, they all seem to go hand in glove.
Most children who have school phobia will also present with other physical symptoms, such as: headaches, tummy aches, nausea and vomiting and even diarrhea. These children are usually very good academically and actually want to go to school – but can’t! Children who are skipping school and playing truant have no physical symptoms, they are usually not interested in school at all and therefore are not doing that well academically. So – there is a big difference.
Factors that might cause the child to have school phobia:
- Bullying or shame over a stressful event at school
- Death in the family (or even a pet)
- Parents separating or getting a divorce
- Returning to school after a long break or time off sick
- Move to a different school
- Problems socializing in school
- Fear of failure (some children think they have to be perfect at everything)
School phobia can soon turn into school refusal and this makes life extremely difficult especially if both parents work and there is no one at home to look after the child.
Suggestions to help the child overcome school phobia:
It will only make things worse if the parents get cross with the child or insist that he/she goes to school and could even start the child on a journey of self- harm.
The first thing to do is:
Have a Conversation with your Child – Be empathetic, perhaps share some of your own stories about your school days and your worries. Ask gently if there is anything worrying him or is he being bullied.
Relaxation and breathing exercises – Deep breathing exercises and visualization techniques are excellent tools to reduce anxiety. Help your youngster find music, books, or meditations that they can listen to every day before school or even during school.
Get a routine – As when they were little, teens also like structure and routine. Ensure your teenager gets enough rest by making sure of a nightly bedtime routine and establish a morning schedule that will help them prepare for the school day.
Keep your child involved in activities – Many teens who struggle with school phobia end up withdrawing from friendship groups. Encourage them to stay involved in their weekly groups, club sports teams, and other social activities, so that they can still benefit from these sources of support.
Keep the teachers in the loop – Be sure teachers and administrators know about the situation and communicate ways that they can be active supporters.
Finally, mental health professionals – Can help you, along with your teen’s school officials, create a re-entry plan for school, if necessary, with the child coming in to school for just a few hours to start with, then gradually increasing the time.
Or, you could bring him or her to one of my clinics for some therapy to overcome the school phobia: www.focus-hypnotherapy.co.uk