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July 23, 2015

School phobia

Q: I have a young student who refuses to come to school and seems to have school phobia. What are your thoughts on this?

A: It is important to recognize that school phobia or school refusal involves anxiety and fear. If the team thinks in terms of anxiety it might be easier to get at the reason for the fear. Phobias are not rational, so children can't really be talked out of it or scolded out of it.

If the child actually makes it to school, a good idea is to have a trusted adult meet the child at the door. Having a safe or trusted adult in the school is always a good idea for an anxious child - someone who will take the worry seriously.

Relaxation (deep breathing, stretching, yoga, exercise) should be introduced through out the child's day since high levels of anxiety cause physical symptoms such as trouble breathing and panic symptoms. You can use a 5-point scale check in to teach the child to think about his or her own level of stress throughout the day.

It is important to protect the child from bullying or teasing that might be happening on the playground or in the lunchroom until you determine the problem.

Friendships can increase resilience in children, so a small friendship group would be good. A whole class might be too much, even one friend can be emotionally protective.

Interviewing the child is best, but if not possible, a structured observation in all school environments might be needed to determine the source of anxiety.

Generate ideas for how to make this child feel important and successful at school. Something related to a favorite passion or skill is good.



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