In Part 1, I described my experience with school phobia and anxiety and mentioned that I won the fight over fear. Ultimately, I continued my education and became a school psychologist in which part of my job involves working with students who have similar issues. In this post, I would like to highlight some of the strategies that worked for me and some that didn’t. I don’t think I ever would have been able to identify these strategies if I hadn’t had the experience I did in graduate school. It was an aha moment and profoundly therapeutic. It happened informally one day while I was visiting with one of my psychology professors who was a counselor.
We happened to be talking about my shyness and school phobia. She was amazed and asked me, “How were you able to overcome it?!” This was a profound moment for me. I was speechless. I had no idea how to answer her question. Mostly because, until that moment, I had no idea that I had anything to do with overcoming my fears. I thought it “just happened”. With that one question, she helped me see that I did have something to do with my success in overcoming my phobia. If your child is experiencing school phobia, help them to see that there are things they can do to overcome it. It doesn’t have to overshadow their entire school experience. Here are a few other strategies that I hope you find beneficial too.
- Face the fears–don’t escape them.If you read my first post, you’ll recall that I mentioned being required to face my fears rather than avoid them. Believe me, if I thought I could have gotten away with escaping or avoiding school, I would have but I was a people pleaser and could not bear the thought of breaking a rule or breaking my parents’ hearts. So, I went to school and endured it. Yes, there were days when I won the battle with my mother and was allowed to stay home. She did the best she could but I could really work myself up and feel ill. When I was at home, I felt safe and didn’t have to face social situations and the routine of school. It was a wonderful utopia! However, it was short-lived because going back to school the next day was inevitable, unless I was truly ill. What became of this strategy of avoidance was more homework and feeling a little lost. The positive feelings I experienced from staying home and avoiding my fear of school were very short and ultimately only added to my anxiety. However, as I became more comfortable with school and I was able to make at least one friend, I was able to have more positive experiences and school wasn’t so terrible anymore. In summary, if your child is experiencing school phobia or anxiety about school, allowing them to escape or avoid is not an effective strategy and can actually reinforce the avoidance behavior.
- Make a friend or Identify a safe person. Making friends can be hard when you are afraid to even speak, but it can really make a difference! I was able to eventually make a friend or too at school and I was much more comfortable with school. If your child needs help doing this, you can talk to the teacher, counselor, or school psychologist and they would be happy to help facilitate. The friends I made in grade school continue to be my friends to this day and I owe some of my success with getting through school to them. I hope your child can have a similar, positive experience too!
- Baby Steps. I worked with a kindergartener and her mother several years ago. The child was experiencing significant school phobia and would cry and cling to her mother when her she tried to drop her off at the door. This lead the mother to hold her and take her into the school, and up to the classroom door, and attempt to pry her off her neck so she could leave. It was awful for both the child and the mother. So, we worked on allowing her to experience success in tiny chunks, aka “baby steps”. We worked on setting small goals for making it on her own from the car to the classroom on her own. We started with mom walking her from the car and stop a short distance from the classroom. Her goal was to make it from that point to the classroom on her own. Once she was able to accomplish this on her own without running back to mom, we worked on a goal a little further away. We worked together on celebrating the small victories and she was able to see that she could do it. And she did! As a parent, you can start practicing now before school starts. You might need help with all the details, so please contact your school counselor, psychologist, social worker, or principal, as they likely begin working before school begins and before teachers come back. Also, be sure to let your child’s teacher know about his or her anxiety and what you have been working on and accomplishing so that he or she can help support your continued efforts throughout the school year. If I had the opportunity to work through my anxiety at school with this strategy, I know it would have been much easier on me.
I hope these few strategies have been helpful! If you have further questions or issues you would like to discuss, please feel free to contact me! Also, don’t forget to use the resources available to you through your school such as the ones mentioned above. That’s what they are there for!
Thanks for reading!