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School Phobia

How to Get Children to School When They Don't Want to Go.
Susan R. Johnson MD, FAAP 3/31/2000

When my son doesn't see enough of me or when I don't really give him my full attention (body, soul, and spirit), then he becomes clingy and starts finding excuses why he shouldn't go to school. It is amazing how well children pick up on the moods of our souls. You can say whatever you want to them, and they immediately pick up the congruency or incongruency between your words and what you are really feeling inside. Last Thursday morning, my son announced that he wasn't going to school. I had been gone all day Wednesday and had not had the weekend with him so I was missing him. He and I were both deprived of each others attention and I also was upset and feeling stressed. I realized that I needed to slow down my schedule and had planned to spend the whole afternoon with him, but how was I to get him to school that morning?

I tried all the soft approaches. I tried to reason and empathize with him. I explained that we both had to do our work. His work was at school and my work was at the clinic and sometimes I wanted to stay in bed too. I tried to make a game out of the situation by racing him to the car. I tried the imaginative approach telling him that our rocket ship (ie the car) was about to blast off to the moon and we needed to quickly climb aboard. I even tried to bribe him with a special outing. None of these worked. I could have tried the not so adaptive approaches like just pick him up and carry him to the car, threaten to remove privileges, burst into tears (the guilt approach), or simply yell at him, but none of these seemed like the right thing to do. That was when the miracle happened. I paused, took a deep breath and just let myself be open to any ideas that might come.

A repair man had just arrived in his truck to replace our furnace. My son had met him briefly the afternoon before and was fascinated by all the pipes and equipment. He had been kind to my son. One of my son's reasons for not going to school was he wanted to watch the man fix the furnace. My son lay crying on the bed saying he wasn't going to school while I went out to talk to the furnace man. He was not the usual person you would pick as a role model for your child. He was unkempt with dirty blue jeans, long stringy hair, many tatoos, and he was smoking a cigarette. I aked him his name. I then told him I had a huge favor to ask. I had tried everything, but I couldn't get my son to go to school this morning. Could he help me? Could he somehow tell my son that in order to do the work that he did on the furnace he had to go to school too? He said yes and walked into the house and over to the bed where my son was laying down. Using very kind and gentle words, he told my son how important it was to go to school and learn. He said that going to school was how he was able to get the job he had. It was magic. My son popped out bed, wiped away his tears, put on his shoes and walked out to the car. The furnace man then asked if it was okay if my son could use one of his tools and help him remove the front panel from the furnace. I said sure and together they spent the next 5 minutes taking apart the furnace. My son then got into the car and waved goodbye and we were off to school.

I learned a lot that morning about choices, the needs of my son, being open to whatever comes, judging others, the importance of asking for help, and the value of community. It really does take a village to raise a child!


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© Susan R. Johnson, M.D., F.A.A.P.
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