Does your child refuse to go to school? His results are lower, while his absences are increasing? He or she probably has a school phobia, an anxiety disorder becoming widespread and affecting about 5% of students. But how can you help your child overcome this fear? Odile Mangadaran, president of the association “Phobie Scolaire”, gives valuable advice to parents.
What is school phobia?
We also speak of school anxiety disorders, anxious school refusal or school refusal behaviour. But watch out, school phobia has nothing to do with truancy† What makes it different? It is the great suffering that comes with it. Odile Mandagaran explains to POSITIVR that this: “Children who want to go to class, but can’t, it’s not a whim. Absenteeism and drop-out are only the consequences of the child’s malaise.
Today, 3 to 5% of young people suffer from severe forms of school phobia. Odile Mandagaran explains that, according to an American study, “28% of students would one day be more or less severely and permanently affected by episodes of school anxiety disorder during their school years”ie more thanone in four children† An alarming figure that shows the urgency to intervene.
Contrary to popular belief, it is not so much the school that worries young people, but rather what happens inside or on the way to school. According to a study by the National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM), one in two children with school phobia have already been bullied† This pest to be controlled is therefore the main cause of this malaise.
“The pressure of results, crowded classes, competition, Baccalaureate reform, Parcours Sup… French students are in the top 3 of the most stressed young people in the world.”
What are the warning signs?
There are not one, but several signs that should challenge parents:
- physical symptoms : abdominal pain, vomiting, insomnia, migraine, lump in the stomach, knot in the throat… that appear the day before or before leaving for school.
- Absences with beads
- Frequent visits to the infirmary
- Behavioral changes at school or at home : withdrawal, devaluation, aggressiveness, eating disorders
- Behavior that endangers them : threats of running away, dark thoughts, scarifications…
The president of the association “School phobia” recalls that 9 times out of 10 these warning signs diminish or even disappear outside school hours and every time you return from vacation and come back very violent on Sunday evening.
Are profiles more at risk?
“Children with school phobia are generally good or very good students† They like to study, are often more mature than their peers, who are often more sensitive and anxious.” says Odile Mandagaran. This anxious school refusal affects both girls and boys, as well as all social classes of society.
But there is not really a risk profile, in reality the causes can be several:
- the harassment
- Generalized Anxiety Disorders
- performance anxiety
- Learning, Attention and Autism Spectrum Disorders : Badly tracked or without the necessary facilities, they are exhausting and learning becomes hell.
- The emotional shocks : death or illness of a loved one, an animal, serious family events, a move, can be the cause of school phobia.
- Questions about gender/sexual orientation : transidentity, homosexuality, etc.
A growing disease
Since the health crisis linked to Covid-19, France has experienced a sharp increase in cases of school phobia, as Odile Mandagaran states: “Since the start of the school year in September, the association has welcomed between 100 and 200 new families a week.”
“School institutions, devoid of the number of cases, often two per class, come to us to help them find solutions. Child psychiatrists speak of a therapeutic emergency, of an epidemic of school phobia.
Unfortunately, the dismal news of recent months, even years, is not helping the situation. School phobia is on the rise for many reasons:
- A very strong increase in harassment casesoften reduced or not covered
- An anxious social climate : health crisis and war in Ukraine
- A school system that is getting worse : overloaded classes, the pressure of results, etc.
- Teachers themselves in difficulties
- An inclusive school that doesn’t work for lack of resources
- Accommodations not respected for children with disabilities : autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention disorders (ADD/H), etc.
How to overcome school phobia?
The president of the association “Schoolphobia” gives valuable advice to parents: don’t blame† The main thing is to put the child in front of the pupil, to listen to him and, above all, to accompany him on a daily basis.
“In the best interests of the child, the priority is to put him at the center of the problem to achieve a more serene schooling. We talk about WINNING TRIO because a good constructive understanding of the family, the school and the therapists is essential.
If your child refuses to go to school for fear of what awaits him in the establishment, don’t dramatize the situation† It would take the risk of triggering “a real tsunami for the family”† Odile Mandagaran even advises parents to ease their child’s school, not to punish him for his absence, in other words, to be kind and understanding.
And of course, if your help is not enough to alleviate your child’s suffering, contact a therapist† “The path can be long and winding, remembering yourself is important. Psychological help is often needed to stay on track.”
And for the kids, “Dare to talk to your loved ones, your parents! Have faith in yourself, there are always solutions. There is not only a school career, but paths, and there is no failure, but experiences that make you grow.”
As a reminder, bullying at school is a scourge of our society, but not inevitable. Here’s how to respond if your child is a victim.