Didaskaleinophobia is a fear of school phobia where children are afraid to attend school. They can feel very isolated, scared, sad, depressed, and physically ill when they are asked to go to school. Symptoms of this phobia can manifest itself in many different ways making the child react in a completely panicked or sickly manner. Children can show symptoms when entering preschool, but teens can also show signs of this phobia too.
According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), a phobia of school can include the following symptoms:
- trouble getting to sleep
- fear of being without a parent
- exaggerated fears of monsters or supernatural beings
- fear of the dark
- an inability to let a parent out of their sight
- unexplained worry about harm coming to a parent or the child
- temper tantrums
- a refusal to attend school
- physical aches and pains like stomach aches or headaches
School phobia symptoms can also include:
- tremors and unexplained shaking
- excessive crying
- an absolute refusal to go to school
- unrealized fears of the teacher or students
- weakness or feelings of being extremely ill
- trouble concentrating at school
- social disconnection
- not listening to the teacher
There are treatments and steps that can be taken to help a child who is suffering from didaskaleinophobia. A school phobia treatment must include a team of people who are willing to work with the child or teen to help them overcome their fears. In the mind of the person who is suffering from a phobia, the fear is as real as anything else in their life and must be managed to help them overcome it. Aspen Education Group says that the team of people needs to include the parents, a teacher, school professionals, and a mental health specialist like a psychiatrist or pediatric counselor.
Treatment of school fears
Step 1: Contact the child’s doctor
The first thing to do when a child is showing an unnatural reaction to school, like having an excessive fear of school, is to contact the family physician. The doctor can do a physical examination and rule out any sickness or pain that the child may be experiencing. Kristina L. Keifer, a teacher at Frostburg State University, says that “…statistics say that acute school phobia exists in about 1-1.5% of the population”. Diagnosing the problem correctly is an extremely critical step to treating children afflicted with an extreme fear of attending school.
Step 2: Observation
Children and teens that are afraid to go to school can be helped. One of the biggest steps used to treat a person with a fear of attending school is to observe them at home and at school. Watching the person at home is just as important as observing them at school because they will show symptoms in both environments. A child will be likely to cling to one parent or the other at home, they will not be able to sleep through the night without having bad dreams or nightmares, and they will have a hard time going to bed and falling asleep. Watching the child or teen is a necessary step in correctly identifying those with a real phobia. When observing a child in both environments, the possibility of an extreme dislike of the class, grade, or teacher can be eliminated.
Step 3: Correct diagnosis
A child who has been observed must be correctly diagnosed as having a legitimate fear of going to school and not simply having separation anxiety. A child or teen who has separation anxiety will have the same types of symptoms as a child with a legitimate fear of attending school. The main difference between these two conditions is that children with separation anxiety often settle down after being in school for a little while. Once a child or teen is in class or away from the parent for a long enough period of time, their fears will ease, and they will begin to act normally. A child that has a real fear of class does not get better after time, these children and teens look for ways to get out of the situation constantly. They will become sicker and show more symptoms the longer they are away from their parents or in the school setting.
Step 4: Create a plan
Once a child has been seen by their doctor, observed, and correctly diagnosed, the next step is to work with the teacher, school officials, the mental health professional, the family doctor, and the child to create a plan of action. This plan includes the first steps of treatment like exposure to the environment. Short-term and long-term goals are identified and layed out in the plan for treatment. Timelines for achieving goals must be incorporated into the plan so that progress is easy to track. The group should schedule regular meetings, and the child will need to attend regular therapy sessions. Aspen Education Group suggests that these sessions often include desensitization methods, cognitive behavior therapy, educational support therapy, psychotherapy, and possibly medication.
Step 5: Desensitization and behavioral therapy
When a child or teen is in the recommended therapies and a plan has been put into place, the next step to help them is to desensitize them to the school environment. This is usually done by having them attend school for short periods of time, with or without a parent. Sometimes in the beginning, a parent is asked to attend school with a child to help relieve some of the anxiety. Afterwards, the child is asked to attend class for a while by themselves. Sufferers must learn to tolerate their fear, in the same way, that people with other phobias must tolerate fears. Students must spend time in the school environment with emotional support from their teachers, classmates, and school officials. Desensitization occurs when a person who is afflicted with a fear spends time with the object of their fear. It requires the child or teen to go to school for longer periods of time in increments to help them adjust.
Step 6: Continuing therapy
Emotional support, medications, and behavioral therapies must continue through the process of desensitization and beyond. Those afflicted with phobias can have relapses if they are not treated after symptoms have been alleviated. Some experts have suggested that students can return to school regularly in as little as one year after treatment begins. The main thing to remember is that every person is different, and their treatment should follow a timeline that is constantly monitored and adapted to their individual progress.
Treatment for fears of attending school is not a one-time visit to the doctor or as simple as prescribing a medication. This treatment has to be tailored to the child or teen and needs to be continually monitored, updated, and revised to fit their individual progress. Parents, teachers, school officials, and doctors treating the child have to work together to come up with the best plan of action to remedy the fears of the child or teen. Everyone involved should also keep in mind that the treatment is going to take months and possibly years, but it can be achieved. The key is to stay actively involved in the treatment.