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Gerardo Castillo Ceballos, School of Education and Psychology of the University of Navarra

S.O.S, my child has school phobia

Sun, 29 Sep 2019 10:02:00 +0000 Published in Montañes Newspaper

When the typical childhood fear becomes a phobia it becomes dysfunctional; the child feels unable to control his fear.

School phobia is the total or partial inability of the child to go to high school as a result of an irrational fear of some circumstance in the school environment. It is logical that it worries parents, since it usually has serious consequences. One of them is the delay of the child in the programming of each subject, thus increasing the probabilities of school failure. In addition, there may be a deterioration of their social relations, being displaced from their peers group .

The child refuses to go to school not because of laziness or lack of motivation, but because there is a psychological problem behind this refusal. The phobia arises mainly when the child enters school, although it can occur at any other time during schooling.

 The mere idea of going to high school for the first time usually produces anticipatory anxiety in the child. The transition from the home environment -with the attachment to the mother-, to coexistence with a wide group of unknown children, where he/she is just one more, under the orders of one or more teachers, is painful and can be traumatic.

There are very significant symptoms that show that the child suffers from school phobia: physiological symptoms: sweating, vomiting, alterations in sleeping habits; emotional symptoms: crying and tantrums.

It is a good idea to prepare the child for his first day at school: visit the school before classes start, getting to know some of his future teachers, the classroom, the playground, etc. so that everything is familiar to him; make him look forward to seeing something nice for the first time, for example, a backpack subject dog patrol; let him see his parents calm and smiling, so as not to transmit his own fears or uncertainties to him.

In spite of this, it cannot be ruled out that on the first day he may return saying that another child took away the sandwich that his mother prepared for him with so much care, leaving him, in addition, a souvenir in the form of a scratch... Parents should not complain, because these are inevitable things that prepare them for life. And they should not think that children who hit are always the children of others...

 The phobia may resurface after a vacation period or a change of course or high school. Also due to the appearance of some precipitating factors of subject psychosocial, such as school failure, grade repetition or bullying. 

There are also precipitating factors of subject family, related to parental behavior. For example, allowing the child to stay at home on a whim.

The attitude of the parents is fundamental when it comes to detecting and dealing with a school phobia problem. They should not allow the child to get away with not going to school, but neither is a rigid and imposing position advisable. Parents should show an attitude of understanding and acceptance of what is happening to the child, but, at the same time, of non-approval of the child's claim not to go to school, because that is the best therapy.

In a gentle but firm manner, parents should insist on the child's immediate admission or return to school. It is also important for parents to help the child outside the home to spend more time with other boys and girls his age and not so much with them. In this way, he will acquire the appropriate social skills to relate to his peers from class.

 The attitude of the teachers should be tolerant and understanding, but at the same time firm about the importance of going to high school every day. The school should not overprotect student with school phobia, but facilitate things as much as possible, collaborating with parents.

It is important that teachers use positive reinforcement for the child's behavior, praising his or her achievements and progress in this area in a subtle way, so that the child does not feel different from his or her peers.

A gradual adaptation should be made, starting with two or three hours at school and gradually increasing them.
In any case, parents should not be anxious about this transitory problem. Some great figures in history had school phobia, for example, Edison, Einstein and Steve Jobs. Their main phobia arose after entering school, for two reasons: they were gifted students who were bored at class, both because they did their homework before the others, and because the teaching was verbalistic and bookish, with an abuse of expository and theoretical classes.