Health

Jes­si­caMayoh, 34, put her lit­tle girl’s pleas not to go to school downto nerves butwhenEl­lie be­gan scream­ing and be­ing sick in the class­room sheknewit­was­some­thing­more­se­ri­ous

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The lit­tle girl who de­vel­oped a pho­bia of school.

To get her to the school gates I’d have to drag her to the car, pin her down and fas­ten her in her seat

Watch­ing my lit­tle girl skip into school, I smiled, though inside I felt like cry­ing. El­lie looked so smart in her uni­form but I couldn’t be­lieve my baby was all grown up. Like ev­ery par­ent, I was ap­pre­hen­sive. She’d al­ways been a con­fi­dent lit­tle girl and was one of the old­est in her year but I still had my con­cerns about how she’d set­tle in.

I needn’t have wor­ried though. “I’ve made lots of new friends,” she an­nounced that evening. She took to her new rou­tine with ease.

But then one day a year later, El­lie, five, came home and didn’t seem her usual self. She was quiet and un­usu­ally re­served. Out of nowhere, she started cry­ing be­fore go­ing in to school each day, com­plain­ing of feel­ing ill and beg­ging me not to make her go.

“But you love school,” I’d soothe, dab­bing her tear-stained face with a tis­sue. “No, I hate it, Mummy,” she sobbed. I just couldn’t un­der­stand the sud­den change. My part­ner, Ja­son Miller, and I tried to rea­son with her, ask her what was wrong, but she’d refuse to an­swer us. Within a fort­night El­lie was dis­traught ev­ery morn­ing, hid­ing un­der ta­bles and re­fus­ing to get ready. As soon as the week­end ar­rived, she was like a dif­fer­ent lit­tle girl, re­laxed and happy. Come the first day of the school, the cy­cle would start all over again.

“Come on, you must go to school,” I pleaded, as El­lie shook her head. Ja­son and I tried ev­ery­thing, from be­ing strict with her to us­ing plain bribery – a nice day out or a toy if she went to school with­out a fuss. Even the prom­ise of a trip to Dis­ney­land didn’t work. It showed us she wasn’t just do­ing it to be dif­fi­cult and it be­came ob­vi­ous the thought of school ter­ri­fied her.

Friends, fam­ily and teach­ers all told me it was just a phase, but you could see it was more than that. She looked phys­i­cally ill. Her face would go pale and she’d com­plain of feel­ing sick or hav­ing a stom­ach ache, and I could see the fear in her eyes. Some days she got so wound up she was phys­i­cally sick. We per­sisted though. We live in Mar­ket Har­bor­ough, in Le­ices­ter­shire, UK, and the law dic­tates she must go to school and it was my job to get her there, how­ever much she cried or was sick.

It was by no means easy. To just get her to the school gates I’d have to phys­i­cally drag her to the car, and pin her down to fas­ten her into her seat. Then she’d kick my seat all the way to school, try­ing to get me to turn around and take her back home. It tore me in two, but I wasn’t giv­ing in.

By the time we ar­rived at school, she’d be shak­ing. She’d look up at me with plead­ing eyes when the bell rang, beg­ging me not to leave her. Of course, part of me wanted to scoop her up and take her back home, she was so dis­tressed. ”I have to be cruel to be kind,” I thought, ex­hausted. It was a bat­tle we faced ev­ery sin­gle morn­ing. El­lie would be up­set and though I tried hard to keep my emo­tions steady, I couldn’t help but mir­ror her feel­ings.

The worst part was I had no idea why she hated school so much. El­lie just re­fused to open up.

Ihad spo­ken to El­lie’s teacher as soon as she seemed up­set to see if she could give me any an­swers. “Has any­thing hap­pened in class?” I asked. But she couldn’t shed any light on it ei­ther.

As the sit­u­a­tion be­came worse, the teacher showed her support by com­ing out to the school gates each morn­ing to walk in with El­lie. But it didn’t help.

Some days El­lie seemed so ill I had to let her stay at home. As soon as she knew school wasn’t on the agenda, she’d perk up. As the weeks turned into months and noth­ing changed, Ja­son and I were des­per­ate for some help, but we didn’t know where to turn.

We’d taken El­lie to our GP, who didn’t know what was wrong, and were con­stantly in school talk­ing to the head teacher. No one had any an­swers or so­lu­tions. At home, El­lie still loved to read, write and draw. But her first school re­port said she was strug­gling and be­hind with her work. Sud­denly

On the worst days they’d carry her into school as she kicked and screamed. She’d beg me to help

it all seemed to make sense. If she was find­ing it hard to keep up in class, per­haps the pres­sure was too much for her? She was at a good, sup­port­ive school so I knew she’d get the at­ten­tion she needed. The only prob­lem was get­ting her en­gaged.

Ev­ery­one around us – in­clud­ing friends and fam­ily – seemed to think El­lie was just be­ing dif­fi­cult and that pan­der­ing to her would make it worse. The school agreed, say­ing it would be best to get El­lie into school as fast as pos­si­ble. I was will­ing to give it a go and let them take con­trol. They’d grab her by the hand and march her in or, on the worst days, pick her up and carry her in to school as she kicked and screamed.

It was aw­ful. She’d look back at me, beg­ging me to help her. Ev­ery ounce of my be­ing wanted to, but I forced my­self not to in­ter­vene. I’d cry some­times, the guilt was so over­whelm­ing, but what else could I do? If she didn’t go in she’d only fall fur­ther be­hind her class­mates.

To me, El­lie’s be­hav­iour clearly wasn’t the re­sult of a sim­ple dis­like of school. It was much more than that, but I didn’t know what. I had to help El­lie some­how, though. Sit­ting in the GP’s clinic for yet another ap­point­ment, Ja­son and I were both on the verge of tears. Thank­fully a new doc­tor re­ferred us to Fam­ily Steps, a support ser­vice set up to help chil­dren with be­havioural prob­lems. “We’ll give any­thing a go,” I said.

After just a few ses­sions, the coun­sel­lors agreed with me that El­lie had a gen­uine anx­i­ety con­di­tion. They re­ferred us to the Child and Ado­les­cent Men­tal Health Ser­vices (CAMHS). Talk­ing to one of the pro­fes­sion­als from CAMHS we learnt about school pho­bia, or school anx­i­ety, and it was pos­si­ble El­lie had it.

After do­ing some more re­search on­line, I be­came con­vinced El­lie did have it, and the school’s ap­proach to deal­ing with it wasn’t go­ing to work.

You wouldn’t treat some­one with arachno­pho­bia by throw­ing them into a room full of spi­ders. In­stead, grad­u­ally ex­pos­ing some­one to the thing they’re scared of works. “That’s what we should be do­ing with El­lie,” I told Ja­son, 40.

The re­lief was in­de­scrib­able. Fi­nally, we knew what was wrong – and CAMHS and our GP backed us. My lit­tle girl wasn’t naughty or dif­fi­cult. She was gen­uinely scared. So we all had a meet­ing to dis­cuss how we could help.

We started by let­ting her go into school ear­lier than ev­ery­one else so she could get set­tled in class with­out the hus­tle and bus­tle of the morn­ing rush. But she was just as dis­tressed as be­fore. So we tried go­ing in later, but that didn’t work ei­ther. El­lie felt un­com­fort­able walk­ing into the class with the other kids at their desks.

I was start­ing to lose hope again, un­til the school sug­gested El­lie started at the same time as ev­ery­one else, but I went in with her. I was ner­vous she’d still feel she was get­ting spe­cial treat­ment, so the teacher sug­gested I helped out in the class in­stead. So I told El­lie I’d vol­un­teered to help set out the art classes and read­ing. Luck­ily, I don’t work, so I was able to give up the time.

And thank­fully it worked. Just hav­ing me there in the back­ground seemed to give El­lie ex­tra con­fi­dence. I started off spend­ing the whole morn­ing in the class­room and grad­u­ally re­duced it un­til I was in the room for five min­utes be­fore slip­ping out. Within a cou­ple of months El­lie barely no­ticed I’d gone. Fi­nally we’d cracked it.

The tran­si­tion into a new school year went well; she has the same teacher so I think that helped. We still have the oc­ca­sional slip-up so we take noth­ing for granted and we still don’t know what trig­gered it. It was aw­ful see­ing El­lie so dis­tressed.

The worst thing is that peo­ple were so dis­mis­sive, think­ing El­lie was just be­ing naughty to get at­ten­tion. But I know my daugh­ter and she was gen­uinely dis­tressed. She had a pho­bia of school – one she has over­come.

Jessica and her

daugh­ter El­lie went through

hell and back

Now El­lie is en­joy­ing

school and pro­gress­ing well

in class

un­til her El­lie loved her lessons

school pho­bia took hold

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