Your question: Why do you feel scared about going to school?

My reply:

Hi, I hope this message finds you well. My name is Cesar Guedez, a psychologist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy. Through this article, I will explain the origin of the fear of going to school, focusing on children and teenagers, looking into the different reasons that cause the fear of going to school and what strategies you can implement to deal with that overwhelming feeling of fear and feel better about yourself.

Going to school is a very stressful experience. Sometimes children and teenagers feel misunderstood by adults. How many times have you heard that your only responsibility is to go to school? Although some make it sound simple, it is not. School and education in general are complex processes because they involve socialization and interaction between several people, and also create specific dynamics.

That is to say, in your school there are particular rules, relationships and events that are not the same as those at home, at your parents’ work or at a supermarket, for example. Every space is different, and school can feel frightening because it demands responsibility and dedication, as well as because there can be experiences of bullying that create discomfort and general fear of detachment from home and parents. Here are some reasons why you may be afraid of school.

What are the causes of your fear for school?

There are several reasons why you may experience fear of school. This fear may appear the night before you go to school, in the morning while you are on your way to school, or you may feel fear in general every time you think about your school and the like. Some causes are (1):

  • Bullying: It is possible that someone at your school is picking on you, and that bullying makes you afraid to go to school because you might run into your aggressor(s). It is necessary to remember that bullying or school harassment is not only physical, that is, it does not necessarily involve blows, it can also be through rude and hurtful words, nicknames or nicknames and isolate you from groups.
  • Separation anxiety: This is the fear of being separated from your parents or caregivers. At school, your parents naturally cannot come with you, and if you feel a strong connection to them, you may be afraid of school because you worry about being away from them, imagining that something bad could happen to you or them if they are separated. This is also common in teenagers, so don’t feel bad if you think separation anxiety is just a childish thing.
  • Academic fear: This means that you are afraid or worried about your grades. School needs to give you homework and tests to evaluate what you have learned, and many people are anxious about doing poorly on their tests. This can have several reasons, either because they think their parents will be upset with them or because they feel humiliated and “dumb” for getting a bad grade.
  • Trauma: If at some point in your life, possibly a previous school, you suffered an experience of violence that scarred you, it is possible that this is the cause of your fear of attending classes.Many children experience bullying or acts of aggression at their school and then transfer to another school. Even though you are no longer in the school where something bad happened to you, your fear persists because you feel it could happen again.

How can you face your fear of going to school?

I would like to tell you first that fear is a normal emotion. It is natural for you to feel it from time to time, as long as it doesn’t make you feel bad about yourself. Coping with fear is difficult and in most cases you will need help from someone, whether it is your parents, friends, family or a professional such as a psychologist. Here are some things you can do to cope with your fear of school:

Talk about your feelings

It can be hard to approach your parents when you feel they won’t understand what you are going through, but many times, you get the wrong idea about them. Talking to your parents is a solution because they will be able to help you with what you are going through. Especially, if your situation is bullying, telling your parents or a responsible adult will allow you to feel more secure and protected, since they will be in charge of making adult decisions. Likewise, if you are going through an academic problem with a subject or in general, your parents can help you by getting a tutor or implementing different ways of learning to help you with that subject that you are so afraid of failing and getting bad grades.

Control your thoughts

Your thoughts can be upsetting when they make you feel bad. In the fear of going to school, many common thoughts are related to failure, violence, or worrying that something bad will happen to the parents. One thing you can do is to work on challenging the thoughts you have related to your fear of school. For example, if your thought is that something bad might happen to you or your parents when you go to school, you should say to yourself “my parents are safe at your job and I am safe at my school, nothing bad will happen to us”.You can do this out loud or in your mind, while breathing softly and closing your eyes. It may be hard to do at first, but over time you will find it is effective.

Normalize your fear

Finally, you should respect your fear and normalize it as a part of life. There is nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to emotions, they are all valid and common. Being afraid of school is no different than any other type of fear, such as being afraid of airplanes or an animal. It doesn’t happen because you are a “coward” or “lazy,” it happens because your brain tells you that there are dangers at school that can hurt you. You can’t control what you think and feel, but you can look for strategies to feel better, so don’t humiliate or self-criticize yourself for being afraid of school. Whether you are a child, teenager or adult, being afraid is okay and does not define your life.

In my experience…

We all deserve to express our emotions honestly and feel safe in environments like school or work. If your fear of school persists, I urge you to ask for help from a trusted adult. A psychologist can help you come up with different strategies to lessen your fear of school and become more self-confident. Apply the techniques at your own pace and I am confident that you will gradually improve. It was a pleasure to write to you. 

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