During every school year, there are children who develop school phobia, sometimes referred to as school refusal. They attend school at the beginning, but as the year progresses, it becomes more and more difficult for parents to get them out in the morning. This problem requires careful detective work since each situation is unique. The conventional wisdom regarding school phobia used to be to get and to keep the child in school at all costs.
This attitude may have been a mistake. When a child cries and protests, it is important to determine why. Something may be very wrong at school or at home. In this age of child abuse, children's fears should be taken very seriously.
There is always the possibility that they are based on reality.
When their parents are going through a separation and subsequent divorce, many young children develop school phobia. It does not take much detective work to discover the reason.
They lost one parent and are afraid of losing the other while they are away at school. Since young children are very concrete thinkers, it is difficult to convince them that a parent will not disappear. If it happened once, it could happen again.
Since young children are very concrete thinkers, it is difficult to convince them that a parent will not disappear.
In addition, some children take everything they hear literally. Mother may say something like this in the morning: "I don't know how I'll get through this day". " Everything is a mess."
Or, in the case of divorce, mother or father may be very sad and upset.
Some children feel that their parent may not be able to cope unless they are there to help.
This concern is carried into school. Once they finally get to school, they worry and want to go home again to see if everything is okay.
Children are sometimes helped to get through these difficult times by the school encouraging them to invite their parent to lunch.
Somehow, the children feel comforted by seeing that the parent did manage to survive without them, even it is only for half a day. They do not seem to have a problem with saying good-bye after lunch once they understand and agree that this will happen.
Knowing that the parent will be there for lunch, makes it easier for them to go to school in the morning too.
Once they are reassured, they eventually may not need or even want the parent to come to school except for special occasions.
Playing detective may involve going with the child along his usual route to school to determine if that is the source of the problem.
Sometimes a child has to pass a house where a particularly nasty dog or a person who is a bully lives and he is frightened every day. Or, it may be that he has been changed to a different bus with a new driver and is afraid he will forget his stop and be lost forever. There are many other possible scenarios which could be uncovered by good detective work.
Once you know the problem, you can help the child with the solution. Parents, who work close enough to school, might request permission from the school to invite their child out to lunch once in awhile. It provides an opportunity for parent and child to talk to each other in a pleasant atmosphere. This is especially helpful for parents who get home late and do not have much time to spend with their children.
It also helps children who are anxious about losing a parent, or perhaps did lose a parent through death or divorce. School phobia can best be solved with patience and understanding. Telling children they should not have their fears is very helpful.
Adults can be most helpful by acknowledging their children's fears whether they are based on reality or not and talking them over with the children.
Our children deserve no less from us.
First published in 1997