Helping Children Who Fear School

By Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D.

A kid can be just as phobic about school, or math class, or writing a sentence as another child might be about dogs. What can be done to help children who fear an aspect of schooling, if not school in general?

Deal With the Fear

Children and teens who fear school can be helped. But it usually requires either a collaborative effort between a mental health counselor and an educator or an educator who has been trained to manage anxiety disorders.

For a child to learn to master his fear about school, that fear must be addressed directly. It needs to be the focus of the lesson, not seen as a bothersome obstacle to the “real” stuff of school. As long as the child is phobic, lessons on dealing with the phobia are the real stuff. If the child can master the phobia, chances are he’ll be able to learn the curriculum as well as any other child.

Steps for Managing a Phobia

There are well-developed programs for helping people desensitize themselves to objects or situations they fear. Whether the phobia is a fear of flying, a fear of heights, a fear of dogs, or a fear of school, the steps are pretty much the same. Essentially, a counselor develops a highly individualized series of steps to help the person get closer and closer to the thing he fears and to tolerate it for longer and longer periods of time. Methods for managing anxiety are taught and reinforced. As the person gets practice in managing his fear, he learns that being in the feared situation is indeed manageable and that he won’t die. He learns ways to feel in control. And he learns that he is a person who can face a fear and get over it. These are life lessons that can lead to feelings of confidence and competence. And a confident, competent person can do just about anything—even school.

The Story of Jake

Jake had difficulty with fine motor skills in preschool that continued throughout most of his time in elementary school. Work with an occupational therapist helped him learn how to hold his pencil and how to write. Still, holding the pencil and making it go the way he wanted it to go was awkward at best and his handwriting was next to illegible.

 

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, M. (2006). Helping Children Who Fear School. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 27, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/helping-children-who-fear-school/000294
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    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
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