Grade-Schoolers Their Lives Expand : Why does not She Like School? Phobia, loneliness, bullying (part 1)

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Q: My daughter forwarded a cruel email about a classmate on to her friends. Is that cyberbullying?
A: Yes it is. It is easy to be caught up in someone else’s bullying activity and to feel pressured to be part of the joke without realizing the harm it can do.

The important thing here is that she felt uncomfortable about what she did and told you about it. Because you don’t have face-to-face contact with your victim online and the whole interaction can remain anonymous, sometimes rules of acceptable behavior are broken before you realize what you have done. It is worth stressing the message that the rules of behavior online are just the same as they are offline, and get your child to think how she would have felt to have seen something like that written about her. Encourage your daughter to continue talking to you about what she is involved in online. Reinforce the message that by forwarding something unpleasant you become part of the bullying. Emails, text messages, and activities in chat rooms can be traced, and site administrators can ban people. If you are unhappy with what your child is involved in, contact the website administrator, internet service provider, or mobile phone service provider.

Q: I feel like confronting the bully’s mother because no one is doing anything about it. Can I?
A: If your child is being bullied and people don’t seem to be taking it seriously, it is easy to get angry and frustrated. You are probably not at your most effective when you are in this frame of mind, so do not try to take matters into your own hands. Remember that your goal is to stop the bullying and to show your child how to be calm, assertive, and effective. Go back to the teacher and make it clear that the bullying has not gone away and that it is distressing your child. Ask the teacher what is being done about moving the bully farther from your child’s desk, how other teachers are keeping an eye on things outside the classroom, and what is being done to change the bully’s behavior. Perhaps bullying and its impact can be discussed in class. Find out how your child can be helped to tell an adult when a bullying incident happens, without incurring further intimidation for “tattling” to the teachers. Once you and the school have agreed how you will work together to combat the bullying, ask for a review appointment in a couple of weeks to check on progress.

If you still feel that you are not being taken seriously, go and see the headmaster or the school counselor. Take a list of all the incidents that have happened. Ask to see the school’s anti-bullying policy and ask what actions the school will take to protect your child. Follow up your meeting with a written account of what was agreed. If all else fails, speak to the school board: They have to ensure that school policy is adhered to.

Q: I try to ask my child if he is being bullied, but he just closes up. Should I push further?
A: Try just chatting about your day and his day on a regular basis. Choose your timing—don’t pounce on him the minute he comes out of school, but perhaps in the car on the way home or at bedtime when he is relaxed. Try not to grill him but, rather, have a general chat about work time and playtime, what he did and what others did.

If he does talk about things that have upset him at school, your reaction is crucial to whether he tells you any more or decides the information is too hot to handle. Stay calm and try not to overreact. Once he has found a way of talking to you about the bullying, you can think of effective ways in which he can tell the teacher. He may think that it is his fault and feel ashamed to tell, or he may worry that there will be further bullying. Help him practice the best way to tell his teacher or school counselor. Think about who is the most approachable.

Once you’ve got him talking, you can start to think of ways in which he can deal with the bullies: How to walk away with his head held high as if he doesn’t care, or deliver a witty response or a dismissive laugh. It takes courage to sound braver than you feel, so help him rehearse and reward his efforts and bravery. Safety must always be paramount, so don’t encourage him to take any risks, but remember the confidence-boosting kick he can get from dealing with an incident himself and coming out on top.

Q: What is meant by school refusal and school phobia?
A: It often starts with a tummyache on Sunday night and can develop into an aversion to going to school that affects on your child’s education and emotional well-being. School refusal and school phobia describe a range of reactions—from mild apprehension to crippling anxiety—about going to school.

There are a range of factors that may be relevant to school phobia that have to do with the individual child, home and family, or the school and community. Your child may be a generally anxious child who has always struggled to separate from you. Or she may have had an illness resulting in absence and then find returning to school problematic. She may be struggling with the schoolwork but is unable to articulate this or appropriately seek help on her own.

Something may have happened at home to precipitate this anxiety, such as marital difficulties, parental illness, or other family stresses. School factors may very well include bullying, or it may be that your child is having difficulties with a particular teacher. She may not have made friends in this school and be dreading days of loneliness. She may be struggling academically in all areas and see school as a gruelling catalog of failure. Finally, there may be some aspect of the community surrounding the school that is frightening her, such as unpleasant encounters with children from neighboring schools.

Q: My child seems afraid to go to school. What is going through her mind?
A: There is a particular way of thinking that characterizes anxieties such as school phobia. It may be apparent to you that your child is overestimating the perceived threat of attending school and underestimating her ability to deal with it. She may say things like, “I know the teacher doesn’t like me because she always shouts,” or, “I’ll be the last one chosen in PE.” You can gently challenge her thinking by asking questions to show her that there are other ways to see the situation, and that her thoughts are not facts. You could ask how many times the teacher has shouted, or whether being last to be picked happens to other children, too, and whether there is anything you and she can do about it (for example, practice catching and throwing a ball together).

One of the most effective ways of challenging your child’s negative perception of the “danger” present in going to school is to get her to experience it in tiny, manageable steps. Sometimes school phobia involves a complex combination of child, home, and school issues and requires further help from a therapist. Common clinical practice is to advise that a school-resistant child MUST go to school, even if that means delivering the child directly to the school counselor who can help to wean her back into the classroom. Every day that a school-resistant child misses school makes returning the next day harder for all.

Q: My child goes to school very reluctantly. How can I get her to like it better?
A: This sounds like a situation that requires a meeting with your child’s teacher and a concerted effort on a number of fronts to improve her motivation and enjoyment of school.

Discuss ways in which the school can enhance her position in the class by giving her a special job, such as taking the attendance record to the office or feeding the hamster. Check whether she has particular areas of difficulty academically, and arrange to focus on doing some practice at home for which she can be rewarded in school. Find out if the school can set up some sort of group work or buddy system to encourage friendship-building in the class and playground. If she is finding recess and lunchtime particular lonely, perhaps she can come in to play with a friend or do a task together to help the teacher out. You could follow this up by arranging for the new friend to come over after school one day.

Find out what her strengths are and work to them. If she is good at reading but a shy child, see if she can help out with the younger children, or be the narrator in the class play. Try to identify something that she is really interested in and work out a way that she can access this through school. Plan fun things to do after school as a reward for going in every day. Talk about the good things that happen at school or even the things that were all right or the boring things but comment that it is not all bad and few children really love school!

Minor disagreement or bullying?

Your child has probably developed a fierce loyalty to her close friends. Her bond with her best friends means she’ll be ready to defend them if they’re in conflict with other children or in trouble at school. This loyalty has a flip side, since she’ll be hurt when it comes to the day-to-day disagreements that are common at this age. Falling in and out of friendships often occurs over minor issues such as not getting invited to play or mild negative comments. Your child may come home in a state of anger or distress. However, if you go into overdrive to mediate or take action to help her make new friends you could be wasting your time. It’s often the case that, by the next day, all will be smoothed over and the friendship will be back to normal as if nothing has happened. Your best strategy, if your child comes home feeling rejected, is to listen to her woes and console her, but wait and see what happens before you step in.

It can be very difficult at this age to determine whether your child is simply falling out with her friends or being bullied. If she is repeatedly left out, physically or verbally attacked either by individuals or groups, and feels hurt and distressed, this should be treated as bullying.


Although your child probably has a group of close friends (see image), fallings out and disagreements are frequent at this age.


Don’t discourage your child from speaking to friends after school (see image); this is one of the methods of building a close-knit social network.


It takes courage to sound braver than you feel, so rehearse with your child and reward his efforts

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