Getting Your Grandchild Back to School

Most experts agree that the parents’ first priority is to get their child through the school doors. But the strong grip that fear has on school phobic children often eliminates the chance of full-time attendance, and threats to force his return to class don’t work either.

That is why behavioral psychologists John and Helen Krumboltz suggest that parents use the “fear reduction principle” to help their kids conquer school phobia. The principle is this: “To help children overcome their fears of a particular situation, gradually increase their exposure to the feared situation while they are otherwise comfortable, relaxed, secure or rewarded.”

One school counselor who used this principle helped a terrified 12-year-old girl master her fear of junior high school classes. She had transferred from a small elementary school and missed her friends and the close-knit atmosphere. Shortly after school opened in September she began cutting classes.

Her parents and the school counselor worked out a program to reduce her fear and improve her attendance. First, if she became anxious, she could go to the counselor’s office and call her mom and dad. Next, the counselor asked her teachers to sign a memo that she had attended their classes. After each class she returned to the counselor’s office and the counselor walked her to her next class.

Finally, at the end of the day she checked in with the counselor to talk about her progress and plan the next day. In a short time she had conquered her fear and was making new friends.

There are no easy answers to school phobia, and sometimes a child’s phobia seems permanent. Recognizing the problem is the first step in diminishing the fear. Then, you can make a concrete plan that focuses on decreasing fear while improving school attendance.

If Your Grandchild is Troubled and Distressed

How can grandparents recognize the trouble brewing in their grandchild’s life? Your answers to the following four questions will help you determine how well your grandchild makes friends and fits in socially.

  1. Is your grandchild teased unmercifully? Much of the teasing that goes on between peers is more or less good natured. But if teasing goes too far it becomes mean and hurtful. Your grandchild may be exposed to verbal taunts if he or she is overweight, wears a hearing aid or extra thick eye glasses, has learning problems, or lacks a sense of fashion, good grooming or personal hygiene.
  2. Is she left out of clubs and cliques? Kids need friends, and it is part of their normal psychological development to form groups and clubs, experts say. Potential members of clubs and cliques are accepted or rejected at the whim of the kids in power. The left out, rejected child is likely to be picked on by the “in” crowd. Watch for complaints that “nobody likes me” or “no one will play with me.”
  3. Do bullies pick on him? School psychologists estimate that up to 20 percent of school age kids fall victim to bullies. Bullies use fear to control their victims. Even the girl who shouts at your granddaughter, “I’ll never be friends with you again,” is a bully. If she complains of threats, fights, or stolen food and money, a bully may be making her life miserable.
  4. Is your grandchild depressed? Depending on what happens, your grandchild’s moods can swing overnight from bliss to the blues. The heart wrenching disappointment of being thrown out of a club or chased home by a bully, can send a child tailspinning into gloom. The key thing to watch for is a drastic change in behavior. If in doubt check with your pastor, family physician, child psychologist or psychiatrist.

More About How to Spot a Troubled Child

Watch for the behaviors that signal serious adjustment problems. Use the seven questions as a guide for evaluating your grandchild’s social adjustment. If your answer is yes to question number one and yes to one other question, thoroughly discuss your grandchild’s behavior with a mental health professional.

  1. Has the problem continued for at least six months? Do you hear from teachers, youth advisors and other adults that he doesn’t fit in?
  2. Does your grandchild repeatedly fight, argue, and violate the basic rights of others?
  3. Do temper tantrums continue, and is disobedience an issue at home and school?
  4. Are your grandchild’s poor social skills obvious when he participates in sports or social events?
  5. Is she uncooperative and labeled a troublemaker?
  6. Do words such as moody and low self-esteem describe your grandchild?
  7. Do you think peer pressure is forcing your grandchild to use drugs or alcohol?

How Grandparents should Deal with School Phobia

Children who fear school send warning signals that are hard to ignore. Mysterious illnesses that surfaced as excuses to escape school in the lower grades resurface in middle school, resulting in tardiness, cut classes, and unfinished homework assignments. Often a child’s normal living patterns, including eating, sleeping, and school success, are disrupted. For instance:

  • Ron leaves his reading class at least twice a week, complaining of an upset stomach. The family doctor has found nothing medically wrong with him.
  • Tina believes that someone in her family might die while she is at school. To relieve her anxiety she refuses to budge from the house.
  • Billy is afraid that a horrible accident will snatch his parents away from him. He carries a battered note in his pocket from his mom reassuring him that nothing will happen to them.
  • Pam’s erratic class attendance began during her second week in high school. She is frightened by her classes and worried about her grades. She can’t sleep.

Finding the Answer

If caught in time, the fears of children can be reversed before they develop into full-fledged phobias. But what if your child’s fear of school seems uncontrollable? To help you understand why your grandchild detests school ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do I have a clear idea of the problem? If not, ask your grandchild’s teacher if she has a clue to the cause.
  2. Why does my grandchild hate school? Is the fear related to a problem with one or two classmates or a larger group of peers? Does she having learning problems?
  3. How does she express her feelings about school? The symptoms she shows may be all you have to go by. Listen to your grandchild’s side of the story, and don’t suggest that your child is lying.
  4. Who else can I talk to? Ask to talk to the school psychologist or school counselor and thoroughly discuss your grandchild’s problem.

What Grandparents Can Do

  • Share the hurt you experienced as a youngster. Did a bully throw your notebook in the trash can or chase you home from school? Did your classmates vote you the least likely to succeed at anything? Discuss how you felt and how you solved the problem.
  • Promote self-confidence. Build on your child’s skills or interests. Many city recreation programs offer youngsters music and art activities. Baseball, football and soccer leagues encourage physical conditioning, and teamwork.
  • Role play problem situations. Play the part of a teaser and say something provocative. Ask your child to reply to the teasing. Then switch roles. Afterward talk over the best way to respond.