All Adolescents and Adults Were Once Children without Phobias
Any phobia is an unnatural, unreasoning, out of control and out of proportion fear. It is fear on steroids. Fear induces a fight and/or flight reaction. Whilst fear is a normal response to a real threat or one imagined, there are serious lifestyle disadvantages with having any phobia. Anyone with a phobia can’t help him or herself. Imagine someone with a sudden unreasoning, out of control, out of proportion willingness to fight or flee. Anyone with a phobia therefore needs help, and that is also overwhelmingly true if that person is a school-phobic child who, by definition, has almost no control over their school environment – having had no say in its choice in the first instance.
But how do phobias develop? They are learned through mimicry, instruction by parents and caregivers, and unpleasant experiences. At birth every human infant only has two ‘phobias’, which are more instinctive, self-preservation reflexes. They are actually called reflexes: they are the Startle and Moro Reflexes, i.e. new-borns are startled by sudden loud noises, and they have an instinctive body response when they are dropped a short distance. That changes within the first four to five years of life, as it has been found that children in that age-group all have a variable number of unreasonable fears/phobias which they adopted since they were newly born.
These phobias range from fear of dogs, fear of doctors, dentists & similar settings, fear of the dark, and school phobias and so forth.
School phobia, which is now called School Refusal, may or may not be a form of separation anxiety. Nothing is either pure black or pure white with humans. There is a substantial overlap whenever such classifications are attempted. School phobia has a power to affect the child’s long-term overall development in most other spheres of life and thus warrants more in-depth analysis.
Having said that about overlap in human classification attempts, two types have been identified by researchers: 1. Type 1 and, 2. Type 2, into which group truancy and delinquency have been added.
School Phobia/Refusal Manifestations
| Type 1 Type 2
1. Sudden onset Gradual onset
2. Father competes with mother at home Father has no interest in home
3. Associated with death or recent injury, illness No tragedy in child’s past
4. Child in elementary school Child in middle school
5. Well-adjusted parents Both parents mentally ill
6. Good relationship between parents Discord between parents
(Taken from Kennedy, W.A. Journal of Abnormal Psychology,70,286.)
What To Do About A Child with School-Phobia
First, it must be noted that this is often a multifactorial problem having to do with both subjective and environmental causes. These may be parents and the home situation, caregivers, abusive/violent teachers, fellow-pupils (eg school bullying). These all have to be investigated if a true solution is to be found. So a (neutral) psychologist/psychiatrist must be part of the team as a starting point. And all participants who may be the triggers to the problem must complete a School Refusal Assessment Scale.
To Summarize, if concerned about School Refusal/Phobia in your child, help is available:
- Enlist a psychologist to coordinate all aspects of the corrective project,
- Identify ALL possible role-players in the problem, such as the subject, parents, home situation, teachers, school mates etc and also, remember that substance abuse is becoming increasingly problematic in such situations,
- All must complete the School Refusal Scale.
For a more rounded view of school phobia read here.