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Helping Children Who Fear School

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.

Helping Children Who Fear School

Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D.

Marie Hartwell-WalkerDr. Marie Hartwell-Walker is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. She writes regularly for Psych Central as well as Psych Central's Ask the Therapist feature. She is author of the insightful parenting e-book, Tending the Family Heart.

Check out her book, Unlocking the Secrets of Self-Esteem.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, M. (2020). Helping Children Who Fear School. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 14 Jan 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 14 Jan 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.