Updated: Aug 24, 2022
In this FAQ series, we asked clinical psychologist Catherine Gallagher “how can I make my child go to school if they are anxious?”
Like any anxiety provoking situation, there are a number of factors we need to consider to reach this desired outcome of going to school. Firstly, we need to understand what anxiety is, and the impact that it's having for your child. Secondly, we need our children to learn strategies that can help them deal with the anxious feelings when they arise. As parents, we need to learn them too, so that we can truly support our child. And the final thing, we actually have to make a start, to support them, to break the cycle of avoidance. So in other words, get them into school.
This may not come as a surprise to you, but people don't get over school avoidance through continuing to avoid school. So yes, the pathway for them to return to school is to actually get them into a rhythm, or habit some may say, of going into that school environment, with support strategies of course.
Sometimes that support can look like pretty firm parenting, but to really make a positive impact on their anxiety around school, we've got to get them back into the building. This will mean that their narrative, that school is dangerous and they can't cope, gets chipped away at. They learn that they can be in that environment, even if they feel uncomfortable sometimes, because they have the resources, strategies and the skills to manage those feelings. They may even start to have some fun...hopefully!
Now, a wee caveat at the end here; it is incredibly important to recognise that is aimed to help with anxiety provoking situations. However, for some young people, the school environment has actually become quite dangerous. If there is significant bullying taking place, or issues that are making school a significantly difficult place to be, we need to know about that. It's important to know about your child's world, and to be in communication with school. With all of this information, it can be much easier to work out if there is actually something dangerous, or if it is strictly anxiety having an impact. In that case, we know there are things we can do.