This article reprinted courtesy Amy RothenbergND. It first appeared in Homeopathy Today Autumn 2013.
With the start of the school year, many children and teenagers suffer with worry and anxiety about going to school. For some it’s a new place with new people; for some kids, leaving parents and home is stressful; and for others, there is a fear of what may happen at school or what might happen to loved ones outside of school during the day.
I recommend treating school anxiety with homeopathy, which helps the overall anxiety in a child and can help make mornings easier and lead to more success both cognitively and socially.
In a child with mild school anxiety, it is fine to go right ahead and start out with homeopathic care. For children who are severely anxious or have slipped over into school refusal, a complete diagnostic workup should be done with someone who specializes in this area. Some children do not want to go to school because there IS something bad happening at school, whether bullying from other children, or a particularly stressful environment in the classroom. As caregivers, parents or doctors, we need to understand what drives a child’s behavior as the first step to being able to help.
Though most any remedy could be indicated for school anxiety, the ones that I most frequently prescribe in my office are: Baryta carbonica, Silica and Pulsatilla. I will lay out my understanding of these remedies as they relate to school anxiety; please note there is so very much more to say about each of these remedies but I am focusing narrowly here on this particular complaint.
With Baryta carbonica we find a child who seems younger than their age. They do not have a strong sense of who they are, so it can be difficult to know how to act in a group. It can be challenging to make basic kinds of decisions. There is a desperate need to fit in, so they may well act like others, follow along, but deep down, big classroom settings are a nightmare for this child and the anxiety can mount. This is especially true during times of transition. So the student moving from preschool to kindergarten for example, or middle school to high school can be overwhelmed, worried, anxious, even to the point of school refusal. By July or August they start to talk about it, or to develop physical body symptoms as a response to the stress of the school year beginning. The sore throats with swollen glands or perhaps tummy aches with constipation. If you think about it, school is all about being part of various groups, making choices, putting forward who you are, so it’s no wonder this is a difficult place for a person needing Baryta carbonica.
It is not that Baryta carbonica is unintelligent, but in ways their understanding of the world around them is small, they keep it small so it is more manageable. They are not wide-eyed and curious about their environment; they want to know everything ahead of time, they are very concrete in their thinking. So beyond homeopathy or whatever sort of therapy a parent might choose for this child, being sure to explain things fully, go to the new school ahead of time, parse it out for the child, all these things will help. It is not so much that the parent is micromanaging every little bit for the child (though someone needing this remedy would love that,) rather, mom or dad is helping to acclimate the child or teenager to a new setting, to help them see it, feel it, know the hallway routine, meet the teacher etc.
This tendency to be more concrete in Baryta carbonica leads to a kind of rigidity in their thinking and actions. If they decide that this is the kind of pants they should wear, they will wear them every day. Or they will only walk this one way between classes and will be aggravated if forced to make a change. They might get the same school lunch every day for years, it’s easier that way, they don’t have to think about it and don’t have make any decisions. Patients needing Baryta carbonica are not our big picture thinkers, rather they take small parts, one at a time. This is another reason school causes anxiety for Baryta carbonica children and teens. For instance, in high school, so much of what is being asked of a teen relates to the ability to infer, both in the academic and most certainly, in the social realm—and this not a great strength of this remedy. The rigidity can also manifest as being exceedingly concerned with the rules. As we all know, there will always be children for whom rules seem optional and this stresses out the Baryta carbonica child to no end. They cannot understand and it causes worry and anxiety and a feeling of things not being in control. When your world is small, the details are important and if someone is not following the rules, you feel unsafe.
When you give this remedy to a child or teenager who needs it, what you see is a kind of strength being poured into the child, more confidence, more opinions, more clear likes and dislikes. Of course the anxiety lessens and any physical body complaints should also decrease, but it is the person growing in, coming to the forefront that is most notable. In some families this can also be a challenge!! The parent that is accustomed to the obedient, almost docile, if anxious child, all of a sudden has someone on their hands who is more challenging, who has more overt needs and opinions. I have had to directly inform parents that this is the right direction for the child and we should applaud these changes, not resist them. Of course, some parents will need help navigating this evolution, too, but for the child this is exactly what we want. In their healthiest states, the Baryta carbonica child or teenager will retain some of these characteristics but will not be so impacted by the external stressors or anxiety, in other words, the healthier and more balanced the child is, the less the external world will impact them negatively, they may have these tendencies, but will only be pushed over into symptomatology when the stressors or transitions mount.
The remedy Baryta carbonica is easily confused with Silica. However there are clear differences and distinct presentations of each remedy. With Silica patients, the underlying issue is weakness. This can be in the physical sphere certainly, but also there can be a weakness cognitively. Due to this weakness Silica kids become quite oversensitive, to other people, to the environment. So it is easy to see how going to school can be a kind of affront to the Silica child. All the exposure to noise, to light, to chaos, does not work for a kid needing Silica; with all that exposure as a typical aspect of most school settings, they suffer. The anxiety manifests as their wanting to control everything they can (which may be confusing with Baryta carbonica!) They can get into the “what if,” posture, where the imagination runs away and they think of every bad thing that can happen. Silica will seek protection, from parents, as in they do not want to leave the parent or the teacher. This may be the child who basically sticks to the teacher’s side when they are in the younger grades, may become the “goody-goody,” so they stay in the teacher’s good graces and within the teachers sphere of protection.
Silica children and teens develop physical ailments in response to their anxiety and of course the physical ailments can also make them more anxious! They may have headaches, sinus issues, chronic earaches or upper respiratory tract infections, often with swollen glands and lots of perspiration. They may be of small stature, having difficulty gaining weight. Overall, there is low stamina and a general sense of weakness which underlies much of their pathology. In healthier states, the Silica child may do fine in school, but they will not be the child on a sport every season and in many clubs, they will instead find a small group of good friends and do one thing they love. They will not socialize widely and may be known as shy. As their anxiety lessons, they will be able to shine in whatever they have chosen, even seem quite confident, but they know their limits and will not over-do.
With the Pulsatilla child, school anxiety can also be prevalent. Pulsatilla kids have an underlying fear of being abandoned, of being forsaken. So for some, going to school they can feel as if the parents are trying to get rid of them. Especially if there are younger children at home, they cannot understand why they have to go to school, when the sibling gets to stay home. The neediness in Pulsatilla is well known. So if the teacher can address that, be a surrogate person who loves and adores them, everything will work out fine. But in the younger grades, if the Pulsatilla child has a teacher that is not “warm and fuzzy,” things will not go as well. Difficulty at drop off time will be common, with lots of crying and maybe even tantrums. The parent cannot understand it, the kids seems fine at home. That’s because the system is not being stressed! We all respond to stress in the environment around us in predictable and patterned ways, according to lots of things like genetics and our environment and also according to our constitutional homeopathic remedy type! So, make the stress big enough for a person needing Pulsatilla and they will react in this way.
What the Pulsatilla child or teenager needs when they are under stress or in this case of school anxiety, is consolation, support and encouragement. They need to be reinforced and cajoled, reminded of how much they are loved. This is not the child that needs “tough love.” When we know the constitutional type of our children and what kinds of things make them better or worse, it can guide the way we parent!( See my article on constitutional types & parenting.)
Sometimes it can seem like the Pulsatilla child has no real opinions. They want to please others so much so they will be loved, they can seem like they just go with the flow on everything. (Baryta carbonica can seem that way too, but that’s because they actually lack opinions; in contrast, Silica can appear that way as well, because for them, it just takes too much energy and effort to express and carry out an opinion, but rest assured they have a strong opinion in there even if it’s not overtly expressed!)
It can also happen that though the Pulsatilla teenager or child wants and seeks lots of attention, love, affection, hugs, etc., that if they get too much of all that, they will feel overwhelmed and suffocated in a sense. They can get irritable and blow up, the parent may begin to feel there is no pleasing this child and at some moments that seems especially true.
Physical ailments that go along for Pulsatilla include upper respiratory infections, asthma, skin issues. Remember, this as the other two remedies, are very broad reaching remedies, which can manifest with symptoms on most every physical body system. It will always be important to recall the physical general symptoms such as body temperature (Pulsatilla nearly always very warm vs. Silica and Baryta carbonica who are more commonly chilly,) food cravings and the general kinds of pains or physical body symptoms each of these remedy types generally manifest. In other words, while the physical particular symptoms are important, do not forget to look for the general symptoms and seek to understand what drives the child in the more emotional realms. Try to understand what underlies their behavior, their fears, their anxieties and that will lead you to the best possible remedy with the widest sphere of influence, including having a positive impact on the treatment of school anxiety.
Thank you to Paul Herscu ND, DHANP, my perceptive, prolific (& wonderful!)
husband for his ongoing ability to articulate nuanced differences among closely related remedies and his ongoing commitment to sharing that essential and applicable information. My own understanding and prescribing for patients is always improved by my learning from Paul.