Overcoming School Phobia

Has getting your kids to school in the morning become a constant battle? Do they refuse to go to school, or do their absolute best to avoid it? Are you at a loss for how to address this problem?

Don't worry—you're not alone. Many parents face a similar struggle, to varying extents. Some children don't like getting up early, while others are dealing with school phobia. You may be wondering, what is school phobia? Let’s explore what school phobia entails and how you can help your child overcome his or her anxieties…

First, school phobia is more than just your child saying that he or she doesn't want to go to school once in a while, just to miss a class or sleep in that morning. School phobia is a serious emotional problem that creates distress for you and your child. It is usually a sign of an underlying mental health struggle, like anxiety or depression. School phobia can affect kids and teens of all ages. Young children may be facing separation anxiety as they attend school regularly for the first time. Preteens or teens may be afraid of going to school and running into a bully, or a mean teacher. Whereas some children are simply distressed about being away from their parents all day.

What are the warning signs?

Some subtle signs of school phobia include complaining about physical pains to avoid school, frequently going to the nurse's office without a real reason, having trouble getting out of bed, and refusing to attend school activities or talk to peers. Sometimes, children or teens will complain about a certain person who they are anxious about seeing at school, or a specific situation which makes them nervous.

How do you help a child or teen with school phobia?

  1. Determine the underlying problem –
    It's important to get to the heart of the problem first, so that you can figure out how to help your child. The best way to do so is to take a team approach. Talk to your child's teachers and school counselors about his or her behavior and consider getting a medical evaluation to pinpoint the mental health issue which is causing the school phobia.

  2. Practice relaxation –
    A great way to help your child manage anxiety while at school is to teach him or her relaxation techniques. You can practice deep breathing or mindfulness together at home. Then, your child can employ those strategies at school when he or she needs them most.

  3. Get consistent sleep –
    A lack of sleep, too much sleep, or inconsistent sleep schedules can worsen a child's school phobia. Children and teens benefit from about 8 to 10 hours of sleep. Help your child establish a consistent bedtime routine, so that he or she goes to bed around the same time each night.

  4. Support your child –
    Sometimes kids just need to talk about their worries and get it off of their chest. Give your child the opportunity to speak about what’s causing the worry if he or she wants to talk about it. Be a good listener by acknowledging your child’s feelings without judgement. Then, offer advice about how to deal with situations that are troubling him or her.

  5. Try DBT therapy –
    DBT, or Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, is a proven effective method that helps your child identify negative though patterns. Some children seek a safe space, like a therapy session, to express themselves without fear of judgment. It’s very beneficial for them to have a nonjudgmental, impartial person to bounce ideas and situations off of. Then, through practice with a therapist, your child will learn skills to replace negative thoughts and behaviors with postive, more effective ones.

While school phobia can't be dealt with overnight, there are options for children and teens who face distressing school anxieties. School doesn’t have to be such a fearful place any longer! Make school drop-offs easier for you and your child by addressing and managing his or her anxiety. Over time, your child can overcome his or her school phobia.