top of page
  • Writer's pictureIra Hays

Helping Children with School Phobia and School Anxiety Over the Long Holiday Break

By: Ira Hays, LCSW

Since the return to school after COVID-19, helping students with school phobia has become more important than ever. In 2020 when COVID first shut down our schools, our communities, and our lives the world's first priority was to preserve life. Now in 2022, our attention has shifted to the unintended consequences of remote learning and the consequences of telling millions of adolescents “people are dangerous, stay away from them”.

Many students have been able to make the shift back to the classroom, however, there are still many children struggling with school phobia and attendance concerns. Some have not been in school for years while others still struggle with attendance, accumulating absences from school of 30,60, or even 90 days. The holiday breaks are notoriously difficult for students who suffer from school phobia. Here is a list of ways to support students who suffer from school phobia over the holiday break. If you're a parent teacher or counselor this could get you started with the perfect plan to support the struggling student.

1. Help the student continue with a healthy schedule. If the student does not have a healthy schedule this could be the perfect time to start one. Healthy schedules are important for students with school phobia. Tolerating high levels of anxiety and working through one's limbic response to attend school it's difficult as it is, and adding additional vulnerabilities like being tired or hungry only makes school attendance harder. Help your student create a schedule preferably one similar to that they used during the school year. Help them maintain the schedule by providing support, this could mean planning early events with them and providing positive reinforcement when they follow through on the schedule. For example, plan a trip to the gym, a park, or just a diner around the time school would normally start. This keeps the student involved in their daily routine. Don't just focus on getting up at the same time, also help them plan a nighttime routine that helps them go to sleep at a healthy time. Typically, 8 to 10 hours prior to that waking time.

2. Have the student do things that are difficult and uncomfortable for them. This may seem counterintuitive to many parents. We spend a lot of time in our lives trying to make life easier for ourselves and easier for our children. Remember that easy doesn't always equate too healthier or happier. Fast food is easier than cooking a healthy meal, but it won't lead to happiness or a healthy lifestyle. The same is true for our children in terms of tolerating discomfort. If they never have to practice it, they'll rarely be able to do it!

If they sleep in and play video games and watch TV, they may be comfortable, but it won’t help them cope come back to school day. It may even make it harder. However, we can help them withmini-exposuress throughout the holiday break. Crowded hallways at school affect your student? A great exposure would be going with you to return a gift at a crowded department store. Discuss with the student how this will help and provide education about exposure treatment. If you're not sure what to do consider what Angela Duckworth says in her book “Grit”, and provide high expectations and high levels of warmth. Be the parent that nurtures the success of your child, not the one that enables their negative coping response to fear.

3. Use language to help your child adopt a growth mindset. Carol Dweck changed so many lives by helping people to change their mindsets. My wife and I are both therapists and have two young boys. It seems as though the universe uses a language that encourages a fixed mindset. Neither my wife nor I am perfect parents, but we have both decided, to attempt, to use language that promotes a growth mindset. Instead of complementing our children's attributes, we try to focus on the work behind those attributes. For example, my older son plays baseball and when many parents ask questions like, how was practice and make comments like you’re an amazing baseball player, we ask questions like, did you work hard at practice today

we are so glad all your effort paid off in today's game. Adopting a mindset like this can transform an anxious child. If they feared failure or judgment, they realize through a growth mindset that all things can change with guidance and hard work. This is especially helpful if these children need specialized treatment like exposures.

4. The final thing you can do to support your child over the break is seek treatment if you're concerned. This is a week off from school that could be spent on self-improvement. Some schools may have specialized programming. (If you’re a school counselor in NJ and your school doesn’t have specialized programming and you're interested in how to get started with little money to no funding) check the professional development and consultation section of our website or call for more information. If you’re a parent or family member or a student who is struggling in New Jersey, call me 973-580-9432 to speak to someone from Hays Health and Wellness.

11 views0 comments


bottom of page