A few weeks ago, out of no where, my daughter started complaining of dizziness, headaches and stomach aches. The first time it happened, I let her stay home from school and, miraculously enough, about an hour after school had started, she made a full recovery. But the next morning, it happened again. When I explained that in light of the absence of a fever or vomiting, she had to power through the symptoms, she threw a hissy fit so severe that I physically couldn't get her to school. This prompted a visit to the pediatrician and eye doctor (for the headaches) who ruled out anything physical. Since then, she's thrown several more fits resulting in several days of missed school.
I was at my wit's end. I called Diva's teacher, the school nurse, guidance counselor, and a therapist I knew. All agreed that it sounded as if she was just tired. Yet despite an earlier bedtime and fewer after school activities, the fits persisted. I was convinced she was manipulating us, but the more I pushed her, the harder she fought back. Just getting her into the car was a monumental task. I didn't understand what was going on until I found this book at my library: Helping Your Child Overcome Separation Anxiety Or School Refusal by Andrew R. Eisen and Linda B. Engler.
This fairly short (181 pages), easy-to-read book shed some light on what Diva was going through. Apparently some children cannot express anxiety in any other way than through feeling what they call “sick”, usually with non-specific symptoms like tummy aches, headaches, dizziness, etc. These feelings are so unpleasant that the child also becomes nervous about feeling sick. They may feel unsafe in school and trapped, desperately clinging to Mommy or a safe adult. This makes parents feel like they're being manipulated and powerless, since you never know when your child is going to “pull” these fits. Your life becomes disrupted and you have no idea why. The book's authors assure the reader that far from being manipulative, these episodes are really a cry for help on the part of your child.
It delves into the nature of a kid's phobias, what they are, why they happen, and helps you understand what your child's safety needs are. It points out that the worries must be faced, not avoided, and suggests ways to gently help the child face those fears. More than anything else, it helped me come up with an action plan so that I can help Diva get through these episodes. In my case, some of the things I needed to do were get her to bed much earlier than I'd originally thought, start giving her more responsibility for packing her own lunch and snack (thus giving her more power over her world), allow her to pack her own backpack (again, an empowering thing), and get her up earlier so that she had more time to transition from waking up to getting out of the house. This week, Daddy is going to work a little later, just in case I do have trouble getting our daughter into the car and our plan is to periodically have Daddy do this, just to help both Diva and me. It also shows our daughter than we are both committed to helping her through this.
The book does warn, however, that even though the fears may be eliminated, there's always a chance that the child will backslide into them if the coping strategies are not maintained or if the kid experiences stress or any kind of separation-related transitions (like the beginning of camp or school). It also points out we, as adults, need to attend to our own mental wellness because anxious kids result in very apprehensive adults. Lastly, the authors explain optional treatments for severe anxieties, such as different types of therapy or medication.
Helping Your Child Overcome Separation Anxiety Or School Refusal is an empowering tool that demands work on the part of the parents. I actually read it while parked in a parking lot waiting for my son to come out of church so that I could really absorb what it was saying in peace. I also took notes and gave a copy of my action plan to the school counselor so that both the school and our family are on the same page and to show her that we are committed to eliminating or at least minimizing my daughter's future school absences.
If your child is experiencing separation anxiety or is refusing to go to school, this is a must-read book! At the least, it will help you understand what's going on with your child; at the most, it's a valuable tool to help you get through this period and end the struggle between you and your child. Help yourself and your family by reading it today.
Note: This post originally appeared on thegeekparent.com. Visit me there, too!