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Managing your child's anxiety about attending school


Some young people experience periods of mild to severe anxiety when they are intially separated from their parents at school drop-off. This can happen when children first begin a school year or at anytime throughout the school year. It typically occurs when the child has had stressful disruptions or changes in their life.  The anxiety frequently manifests as a refusal to attend school, and displays of extreme fear and distress if the parent attempts to insist the child should attend. If you are struggling to manage to get your child to stay in school it is advisable to seek help from a child/adolescent clinical psychologist as soon as possible to avoid further school absences. 


What to do while you wait for professional help

Make an appointment with your GP to obtain a referral. If you would like to access Medicare rebates for consulting a clinical psychologist ask for a Mental Health Care Plan. 


Make some time to talk to your child's teacher and explain the issue as well as checking if your child is being bullied at school. If so this issue needs to be resolved. 


Ask the school teacher for help at drop off perhaps by distracting your child once you leave - sometimes they can help the teacher with some jobs or may be asked to stay close to the teacher until settled. 


Once you have a plan in place with the teacher don't allow your child to stay home even if they are severely anxious - it will only make the anxiety worse in the long run.


When your child is calm and relaxed talk to them gently and firmly about the fact that  at school time their mind and body is telling them that they are worried or scared but it's just a false alarm. School is safe and they will enjoy their day. Sometimes we get unhelpful  thoughts that aren't real and that can make us really scared. But its just thinking and not real -school is fun and safe.  Let them know their fear will pass the more they face it. Do not have this discussion when your child is being dropped off  at school and/or is extremely distressed.


When you take your child to school remain calm and be firm and repeat an encouraging but brief statement like "You can do this your fear will pass."   Try to distract them immediately prior to school with a conversation or activity that will engage their attention in something other than their school fears. 


Do not try and stay with your child until they are settled - this will prolong their distress. Act like you believe they can manage and leave as soon as possible.


Even if your child settles back into attending school it is still a good idea for them to see a therapist to learn general strategies to help manage feeling anxious to avoid further issues.


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