We found this story of courage, support and positive thinking on the web:
Mom Amanda Egan (who is also a writer) and husband chose a school in South London for their son that was known for its caring environment. Her son Ben, who was then 11, seemed a little anxious on his first day, but the parents didn’t think it was anything abnormal. But next week when she walked with her son to his class, a practice that is allowed internationally to help children get used to a big school, her son was struck with panic.
‘I can’t do it,’ he said, the fear on his face. The mother assured him that everything would be fine, nudged him into class, waved and turned away. ‘It wasn’t until I reached my car that he caught up with me. Tears were streaming down his face and he was gasping for breath. I had never seen him like that. ‘I can’t stay there,’ he shouted. ‘I just can’t!’ recalls the mother.
The teacher, who was very understanding, and Ben’s mother both tried to calm him, but as he started complaining of headache and sickness, she decided to take him home. ‘My husband, who is very laid-back and quite the reverse of me, assured me it was nothing to worry about,’ says Amanda.
But the next morning, the same panic happened, and the next and the next, and soon Amanda was worried. Both the parents tried talking to Ben, but nothing was helping. Says Amanda – ‘As any parent who has ever dealt with this condition knows, when it first hits you have absolutely no idea what you’re dealing with. In fact, you think the very things that others have asked. Is he playing up? Am I spoiling him? And you try everything – from confiscating his PlayStation to bribing him with new games or breaking down in tears yourself. After two weeks, we were referred to the school counsellor. I saw the counsellor on my own at first and straight away she mentioned the words ‘school phobia’.
‘Once he was diagnosed, it was a question of encouraging him to take baby steps: enter the form room, sit through a full lesson, stay for a half-day, then a full day. Meanwhile, I remained in the background – for the first term this meant sitting outside his classroom reading. From then on, I could sit in the car outside.’ Mom Amanda carried on her dog-minding business from there, booking pets in with various minders on the phone. She managed not only to be a full-on mom to her son, but also kept her working schedule on, with help and support from her husband.
Progress was slow and there were many setbacks. Sometimes Ben would curl into a ball and cry for an hour before even daring to walk through the school gates. I can’t tell you how helpless you feel witnessing something like this. For his entire first year, Ben only ever attended school for half the day – during which time he would visit me after every lesson. At lunch, I would drive him home, where I insisted he continue reading or working until the end of the school day. Sometimes other mums knocked on the car window: ‘Why don’t you just tell him you’re going home and he has to stay here.’ If only it was that easy!’
Of course there were times when I blamed myself – was this a result of my parenting skills? I hoped the problem would evaporate over the summer holiday, but the day before his second year began, Ben burst into tears again. This is when I started staying in the car for the entire school day – Ben no longer returned home at lunch but continued to come and see me after every single lesson. I developed a routine, bringing a packed lunch and chick-lit. I got through a book a day. The school allowed me to use the staff loos.
I stayed in position outside the school throughout his third year, but in his fourth, in 2009, the counsellor drew up a plan to gradually move him towards independence. For the first few weeks, Ben visited me only at morning break-time. Then we limited it to only once or twice in the afternoon. And, in January 2010, Ben spent his first day at school without me there. We kept in contact by text.
There were times, I must admit, when I felt a bit sorry for myself. Particularly when rain pelted down on the roof or when it was so hot even winding down the windows didn’t help. This is what happens when you spend three years cooped up in a car from 8.30am until 4pm each day. And six years on, it has paid dividends: not only is Ben now a committed student, but I used all that spare time to write a novel. Of course, I’ve grown used to people’s ridicule over the years. ‘Any child would want to be diagnosed with school phobia!’ is a common response. And there were those who accused me of making it worse by indulging his fears. But school phobia is scary and crippling and very real, as only those who have had panic attacks can tell you. And it strikes without warning. It sounds extreme, but I kept my side of the bargain because, well, that’s what mothers do, isn’t it?
Ben, now 17, has put those dark days behind him. Despite his limited time in class, he is now studying for A-levels in French, graphic design and business studies. He’s also a member of a band and performs in school assemblies and fairs – something we never could have imagined a couple of years ago. He jokingly refers to his phobia as his ‘mad phase’.
Ben, now 17, with mum Amanda Egan.
(story courtesy Daily Mail UK)