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Ad­vice on par­ent­ing, ed­u­ca­tion and nu­tri­tion

Friday - - Beauty -

RUS­SELL HEM­MINGS

MY CHILD HATES SCHOOL

Q My nine-year-old son doesn’t like school and this time of year, af­ter he’s en­joyed sum­mer, he starts to get very anx­ious about re­turn­ing. He has missed a lot of school al­ready. What can I do?

AThis is a com­plex is­sue and the longer it con­tin­ues the more lay­ers it de­vel­ops.

Ob­vi­ously, you must be wor­ried that this is go­ing to af­fect his aca­demic out­come and have an im­pact on his emo­tional de­vel­op­ment too. It sounds to me like his be­hav­iour has also set up a re­sponse in you that cre­ates a cy­cle of dreaded ex­pec­ta­tion each morn­ing. I think your son is show­ing signs of school pho­bia and if this isn’t ad­dressed now, it will be­come in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult to turn around.

School pho­bia can develop be­cause the child ex­pe­ri­ences some­thing called sep­a­ra­tion anx­i­ety. This means that at some point, usu­ally dur­ing their early-school ex­pe­ri­ences, they’ve felt real anx­i­ety about be­ing sep­a­rated from their par­ent. This then sets up a con­nec­tion be­tween that des­per­ate feel­ing of fear and school. It’s worth think­ing back to when your son first en­coun­tered school. Was he ex­ces­sively clingy and if so, how did you re­spond? Of­ten par­ents’ own anx­i­eties about a child start­ing school are sub­con­sciously picked up on by the child, who then sees school as a place to fear.

Al­ter­na­tively, there may be some­thing spe­cific about school that your son finds dif­fi­cult to deal with. This could be a sub­ject or it could be an is­sue with the so­cial side. Some chil­dren find mix­ing with peer groups very chal­leng­ing. It could be that they’ve so­cial anx­i­ety, or it could be an un­di­ag­nosed is­sue with their abil­ity to in­ter­act with others. I’d urge you to try and get to the bot­tom of the is­sue first, and that way you will have a solid un­der­stand­ing of how to be­gin to make changes.

I sug­gest that you ar­range a meet­ing with the school to for­mally share your con­cerns and ask them to sup­port you with this.

In the mean­time, there are a num­ber of ap­proaches you could take to help him pre­pare for the re­turn. First, sit down and talk to him about how he feels. Lis­ten­ing to him, no mat­ter what you feel about what he tells you, is re­ally im­por­tant.

Do this in a re­laxed en­vi­ron­ment and try to ask open non-judge­men­tal ques­tions that’ll al­low him to ex­plain his feel­ings in greater de­tail. Try not to show your own anx­i­ety as you do this and make it a pleas­ant ex­pe­ri­ence rather than an in­ter­ro­ga­tion. Ask him to tell you what he thinks could help him – when you al­low a young per­son to take own­er­ship of the prob­lem, they can come up with so­lu­tions they feel in­vested in rather than feel­ing they have been im­posed upon them.

Keep a diary over the first month of his re­turn to school as this will al­low you to see the pat­terns form­ing more

TALK to him. Do this in a re­laxed en­vi­ron­ment and try to ask OPEN non-judge­men­tal ques­tions that’ll AL­LOW him to ex­plain his feel­ings. Try not to show your OWN ANX­I­ETY as you do this

ob­jec­tively. And fi­nally, it’s vi­tal not to give into al­low­ing him to stay home, un­less he is gen­uinely ill. The more he is al­lowed to do this, the more fear­ful of school he’ll be­come. So stand firm and keep your cool. Have a plan be­fore­hand that you are go­ing to stick to if he be­gins to get up­set, and share this with the school so they are aware that you are do­ing your best to tackle the is­sue and can be sup­port­ive.

60 is a life coach, and clin­i­cal and cog­ni­tive be­havioural hyp­nother­a­pist

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