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School's On Fire



Throughout my career I've always had a nagging worry at the back of my mind about children being home from school for the holiday. Of course, young people deserve a rest - and educators most definitely need it too. But a number of facts can influence whether the school break is a pleasant experience or not. Financially it'll be a strain for many families. Once, after the winter break, the school roll was one child fewer; attending an 8-year old's funeral is not an event I'd want anyone to experience.


It's also a time when emotions are gradually bubbling to the surface for young people who have emotionally-based school avoidance. The longer the holiday, generally the greater the anxiety and two weeks is plenty of time for the dreaded symptoms of nausea, trembling, insomnia and sheer panic to appear.


Rationalising the experiences associated with emotionally-based school avoidance is difficult. Many people believe the "they'll be fine when they get there" narrative, but it's not quite as simple as that. There are young people for whom any semblance of safety has disappeared - and not only school feels unsafe, but home does too. Read on ...



School's On Fire


If a child has an anxiety disorder and if school is one of the triggers for them, then school is effectively a burning building. The child knows that flames are dangerous. They know that smoke is dangerous. The child senses danger.

 

There's a threat. Adrenaline over-drive. FEAR. The child does not want to enter the burning building. They might have lots of friends there. There might be things they like there. But the school is on fire.

 

People might be kind and patient. They offer comfort and reassurance; they're trying to dampen the flames, at least. People might be frustrated and stern. They can tell you off for not conforming. They stoke the fire. Some of the flames are higher than others but a fire's a fire.

 

The parent tries to reassure their child that school will be ok but the child sees a school on fire. The teachers and support staff try to encourage the child to come in but the child sees a school on fire. You can offer the child less time in school but it's still on fire.

 

You can offer the child a different room or a particular member of staff but the building is still on fire. Compassion is good. Adjustments are good. But there's still danger all around.

 

If the child won't go into the fire, the school might send a member of staff to your house, to check on their welfare. They knock on your door. Now the flames have reached the child's own home. Home was safe but now home doesn't feel safe. The flames are getting closer.

 

Some children might make it in to school. They might even seem ok there. They're trying really hard to do what is expected of them. They're masking but it's not a gas mask. They're suffering quietly: suffocating from fumes. It'll take its toll. The school's on fire.

 

In the safety of home, you try to talk to your child about school. But this stokes the fire too. The anxious mind can't discern the difference between perceived threat and real threat. So it's "just" a conversation but the child responds with fear. School's on fire.

 

Burning school. Burning home. Burning conversation. Burning thoughts. Adrenaline wreaking havoc.

 

The anxious child finds themself in a burning world. It's not their fault. They don't want to get burned and they don't like the feelings of imminent danger and being on high alert. It's exhausting. It's confusing. It's consuming. It's painful. And it's misunderstood.



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