You are here

"No, I won't go and you can't make me"

School phobia: how homeopathy can help

If you have
ever faced the heartbreak of your school-aged child clinging to you desperately,
screaming that he will not set foot in that school, then you know the anguish
of school phobia. Surely, a parent assumes, attending school is just part and
parcel of growing up.

School phobia at any age
Preschool, kindergarten, grade school, middle school, high school—a natural,
inevitable progression for most youngsters. Yet, at any one of these stages of
maturation and development, a child can become anxious or terrified to the point
that he or she cannot bear the idea of going to school. Preschool and grade-school
aged children may have a tantrum, clinging to their mom's legs and shrieking.
Older kids may retreat into sullenness or isolation, experience frank anxiety
or panic attacks, or fall into a failure mode.
     However the condition manifests itself, it is torture
for the child as well as for the parents, who are often left bewildered as to
what to do to help. The longer the refusal to attend school or participate in
peer activities persists, the more difficult it becomes to snap out of it.
     In my practice, which focuses largely on children
with behavioral, learning, and other mental and emotional difficulties, I have
treated youngsters with extreme school phobia—children who hyperventilate
or grip onto the open car door for dear life so the parents cannot drive them
to school. They may develop a variety of somatic complaints as an excuse to stay
home from school, and may even have acute psychotic episodes. If your child's
school phobia is this serious,
I definitely recommend that you consult a homeopath. If your child's phobia is
milder in nature, some of the homeopathic medicines below may do the trick.

Don't underestimate your child's fear
It is essential to pay attention to your child's fears at any age, no matter
how irrational their fears may seem to you. Explore with your child the reason
for her reluctance to enter the school or classroom. If it is a reaction to bullying,
a harsh teacher, exclusion from cliques or the group, or other specific factors,
you might be the only ally your child has; you can help her resolve these matters
with her teacher or peers, perhaps with the guidance of a counselor or therapist.
If learning disabilities or attention problems are the issue, they will need
to be addressed in order for your child to feel comfortable returning to school.
If the reluctance to mix with other children is an indicator of a deeper problem
such as despair or social anxiety, this needs to be addressed as well.

Hayley
Hayley, four years old, was a sweet child with beautiful platinum locks and deep
blue eyes. A member of a loving, tightly-knit family with six children, Hayley
was "mommy's girl." She slept in a bed with an older sister, but regularly crawled
into her parents' bed in the middle of the night. Hayley draped herself across
her mother's lap whenever possible. Even when she slept, she clung tightly to
her mother or her sister. When the family attended church, Hayley refused to
go to the church preschool with the other kids, holding tightly to her mom. Nor
did she want to attend preschool during the week.
     As an infant, Hayley had been quite fussy, suffered
from recurrent middle ear infections, and begged to be carried. Now, at four,
quick to burst into tears when she became upset, Hayley rejected consolation
from anyone except her mother, to whom she immediately went running. A chatterbox,
Hayley was a perpetual source of questions. She expressed great frustration when
she didn't think others were listening to her or when they tried to finish her
sentences.
     If her mom was around, Hayley wanted her to do
everything for her. Otherwise she could be quite independent. She usually behaved
very well, but when she didn't, everyone in the house knew about it. On a bad
day, she demanded even more personal attention from her mother, which was often
impossible with such a large family.
     Hayley's only health problem at the time I first
saw her was a thick nasal discharge whenever she got a cold. At these times she
wanted, as always, to be on her mom's lap.
     Because of her clingy, tearful nature, her history
of recurrent ear infections, and her thick nasal discharges, I prescribed Pulsatilla.
As sometimes happens, this first prescription had only a partial effect on her
clinginess. (When a homeopathic medicine is not the best match for a person,
there is typically a slight response or no response at all.) I then restudied
Hayley's case and prescribed a less common medicine, one known for its extreme
clinginess—Bismuth. In fact, a keynote symptom for Bismuth is that the
child does not want to let go of her mother's hand.
     Hayley responded very well to the Bismuth, and
her mother did not bring her back for a year. She became more content to play
by herself, and she willingly attended her regular and church preschools. Hayley
no longer grilled her mother constantly about where she was going nor ran down
the driveway of their house begging her not to leave. Nor did her mother have
to give her three hugs and three kisses before Hayley would let her out of her
sight. Other symptoms improved including bedwetting and a fear of big dogs. Her
symptoms returned, however, after she ate devil's-food cake flavored with espresso,
so I repeated Bismuth for Hayley at that time. Her mother called one week later
to say that Hayley's symptoms had already begun to improve again. (This case
was excerpted from Ritalin-Free Kids, 2nd edition, 2000.)

Remedies for phobias
Arsenicum album. These children tend to suffer from general angst and
a strong need for routines and order in school and life. An underlying fear of
dying, losing their parents, or catching a contagious or serious illness can
become extreme. Heartburn, diarrhea, and burning rashes may accompany the anxiety.
     Baryta carbonicum. This is one of the most
common medicines for children with learning delays and disabilities. They are
hesitant to raise their hands in class for fear of being laughed at or ridiculed.
Kids needing this family of medicines may be slow to walk, talk, read, speak,
or mature. These youngsters are likely to describe themselves as "stupid" or
to insist that their parents help them with even simple tasks.
     Bismuth. Such a strong fear exists in these
kids that they literally grasp the hand of the parent and won't let go. Following
the mom or dad around like a little puppy, they dread being by themselves. Acute
stomach aches and a thirst for cold water may be part of the picture.
     Calcarea carbonica. One of the most commonly
used homeopathic medicines, these kids, would just rather stay at home. Cautious
and reluctant, they find daunting many experiences that other more adventuresome
kids would relish. They prefer safety to high-risk behaviors. These children
can be obstinate, and they tend to love cheese.
     Calcarea phosphorica. Kids needing Calcarea
phosphorica often suffer from school headaches and stomach aches. The word they
use most to describe the challenge of learning is "frustration." Athletics come
much easier to them than classroom learning. These youngsters suffer from fractures
and growing pains. They love bacon, pepperoni, and smoked meat or meat substitutes.
Natrum muriaticum. This is a medicine for sensitive, thin-skinned children who
get their feelings hurt easily. Though they are excellent confidants for their
friends, they resist showing their feelings or tears for fear of appearing vulnerable.
The most likely reason for school phobia in these youngsters is loss of a close
friendship or other relationship, which leads them to retreat into their rooms
to read and listen to melancholy music.
     Pulsatilla. Children needing this remedy
are sweet, mild-natured, sensitive, and cry easily. They depend on others for
love and affection, and they try hard to please. Like Bismuth and Calcarea phosphorica,
stomach aches are common. They tend to be thirstless.
     Stramonium. Terrified, clingy, and extremely
afraid of the dark, these children insist on having a light on in their rooms
at night. On the outside they may manifest violent, threatening, behavior, but
underneath they have tremendous fear. Besides fear of school, these youngsters
are typically frightened of big dogs, ghosts, and wild animals.

Dosage guidelines
Give three pellets of 30C potency once a day for up to three consecutive days.
Stop after one or two days if you see an improvement. After you first notice
improvement, give another dose only if symptoms begin to return.
If you see no improvement after three doses, give a different medicine that fits
the symptom picture clearly.
     The medicines described above are only seven of
the more than two thousand homeopathic remedies—any one of which might
benefit
your child. If you do not notice a significant improvement in your child's willingness
to go to school within several weeks,
be sure to seek professional homeopathic care. School phobia usually responds
quite well to homeopathic treatment.

About the author:
Judyth Reichenberg-Ullman has been a licensed naturopathic physician board certified
in homeopathy for 19 years. Co-author of six books on homeopathy including the
bestselling Ritalin-Free Kids, she practices in Edmonds, Washington. You
can visit her website at www.healthyhomeopathy.com.
Look for her upcoming book on the homeopathic treatment of Asperger's Syndrome,
co-authored with Drs. Robert Ullman and Ian Luepker.