Help! I think my child has School Phobia!

Going_back_to_school_(9536431736)If you think your child has School Phobia, you may be experiencing difficulty reaching the gate to your child’s school. As you approach and draw closer, your child could begin to display an intense fear, possibly inducing such unmistakable physical symptoms as trembling, panic attacks, distress, vomiting, even diarrhoea and, at home, sleep disturbances.

School Phobia is due to what are known as our Irrational Thinking Styles being out of synch and in need of correction, almost as with a ‘bug’ in a computer programme. Although we cannot run a simple process to cure the ‘bug’, we can instead re-train the brain to correct these Irrational Thinking Styles through methods of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Irrational Thoughts develop due to bad experiences which are then reinforced by perceived reoccurrences of said bad experiences.

In addition to Irrational Thinking Styles, we also need to look at a child’s belief system.  Children have a basic belief system which develops with maturity. However, whilst at the basic stage, children have beliefs such as: life is safe, doctors will save everyone’s life, dad will fight off every bad guy and mum will love me every day. These are what I call ‘fairy tale’ beliefs. However, what happens when Dad is hit and hurt by a bad guy, or when the Doctor didn’t save Grandma’s life or Mum becomes poorly or has to leave & go away? Well, their belief system becomes flawed and suddenly the world becomes a scary place. For many parents, they instantly know what the significant incident is that has affected their child; it doesn’t even have to be significant to anyone else. Another example of a scenario I have used is how cool the heroes look in films when they crash cars and walk away with hardly a scratch but then someone in the child’s family is involved in an actual car accident and reality is brought crashing down.

After such an incident, your child will begin to show signs of anxiety and possibly fear. When you reach the school, your child will physically refuse school, which is a reaction to the anxiety or fear being experienced. This is known as School Refusal. In addition, you may also be aware that your child finds it difficult to become separated from their main carer due to levels of fear for themselves feeling unsafe or of what might happen to you, or that they can’t cope with being left at places such as parties and with  friends in activities outside of school. This is known as Separation Anxiety.

If you feel that your child is experiencing these Anxieties, you need to contact your family Doctor and request to be referred to Child Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). Psychological support from CAMHS will help address the Irrational Thinking Styles through Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Where possible, it may be helpful to video some of the displayed behaviours in order for CAMHS to have a first-hand insight to avoid any misinterpretation when they make this diagnosis. It is important to keep your school informed of the situation to ensure that communication is maintained throughout. If you are finding that your child has become too debilitated to attend school, you are entitled to de-register your child and follow the route of Home Schooling.

By Kay Mawson,

Further support and advice can be found by visiting the School Refusal website

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I was a student studying Forensic Psychology at University when my 9 year old began to show severe signs of School Phobia. I struggled to cope, as did he, and as a method of coping I began to document it all. This turned into a blog, then into a website, and finally into a fantastic group page. Throughout our journey the information available was lax, so I was determined to use my previous experience, two degrees (BSc,MSc) & research into the condition, to then help others. I now write, advise parents and continuously raise awareness so that no one has to re-live my experience or be without the knowledge they need to understand this debilitating condition.

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