Typically (though not always) school anxiety occurs after a transition. That transition could be from nursery to primary school, from primary to secondary school (most common) or after a change of schools as a result of a change of circumstances (such as moving house to a new area for example).
School anxiety can be just as terrifying for the parents to experience as it can be for the young person who is anxious. The young person may become physically sick or respond with such extreme behaviour such as crying and screaming that the parent can be caught off guard and end up reacting in a way which is unhelpful in getting the anxiety to pass.
The vast majority of the time, and certainly with younger children, the anxiety will pass quickly once the child realises that the parent will persist with taking them to school. In fact, as a nursery nurse, the majority of the time a young child would react badly when the parent brought them to nursery, they would be totally settled and having fun within a matter of minutes. The parents were left feeling rotten and the child was simply making a protest at having the parent leave them.
However, with much older young people the motivations behind feeling anxious will likely be very different to a protest about having to go to school.
Here are just some of the thoughts that might underpin someone’s school anxiety:
Fear of not being liked by their peers
Fear of a specific teacher
Fear of being bullied
Fear of not being able to cope with the work
Fear of getting lost in the school grounds
Fear of being shouted at
Fear of older/bigger children
Fear of being sick in front of others (emetophobia)
Fear of parents not returning or something bad happening to their parents whilst they are in school.
There may be other fears and there may well be a combination of many of these fears.
As an NLP4Kids practitioner, our role is to ‘chunk down’ on the problem of ‘school anxiety’ so that we get the details of what is behind the anxiety and work on those specific worries. It’s easy to buy into the idea that it’s everything about the school that is a problem all of the time. It’s important that we help the child and the family put the problem into perspective and begin to disprove the idea that this is a permanent, totally stuck problem.
Finally, it can be helpful for the young person to be offered the opportunity to see the school from other perspectives and it really comes down to the school at this point to offer some flexibility in supporting the child in overcoming the anxiety.
I’ve noticed that when I am public speaking, I like to ‘scope’ out the venue somewhat – even if it’s just a room with a stage, I really prefer it when I can have a moment to get on that stage and take a look at the place before the delegates arrive. It helps me to feel as if I own the space somewhat.
Is it possible for the child to visit the school out of school hours. To get familiar and comfortable with the place, to feel like they own that space a little more. It could begin to offer them a greater sense of comfort and authority so that their anxiety begins to reduce.
By Gemma Bailey