How can we help our child overcome his terror of the school bus? The school is too far away for him to walk, and my wife and I both work, so it isn’t feasible to drive him back and forth every day. What can we do?

It would be helpful to have some more information about your child’s background and some of the specific factors that might be causing his fear of the school bus. Did some kind of traumatic incident occur on the bus? Is it a problem with bullies? Does the bus driver yell at the kids and threaten them?

Your child’s fear could be based on any one of these things, but without further details we can only assume that what he’s really afraid of isn’t the bus at all. It’s separation from mom and dad. Many children engage in something that psychologists call “school refusal.” They’ll whine, kick and scream, resist getting out of the car when you arrive at school or refuse to enter the classroom.

Unfortunately, there are some parents who inadvertently reinforce this avoidant behavior by giving in to their child’s protests. This only makes the problem worse. There’s just one way to find out if something happened on the bus that scared your child: you’ll have to have a conversation with him and the bus driver, and perhaps with the bus driver’s supervisor. If something did happen, you’ll need to discuss the experience with your child and enlist the driver’s help to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Helping to build a familiar, trusting relationship between your child and the driver can go a long way to building comfort and accountability (Asset #3: Other Adult Relationships). You are also showing your child that you will advocate for them and help to ensure that they have the right to experience a Caring School Climate (Asset #5).

If, on the other hand, there has been no such incident – if, for example, your child has never actually ridden the bus but is simply afraid to get on it – the issue is most likely “school refusal” and fear of separation. In that case, there’s only one thing to do: lovingly but firmly insist that he get on the bus and take it to school.

Here’s one way you might make that first ride a little less traumatic. Ask the bus driver if you might meet him or her later in the day following the afternoon run prior to your son’s first trip. Allow your child to get acquainted with the driver and tour the bus with you. Make it a fun experience – explore the different seats and ask the driver to let your son honk the horn. This will give him a sense of mastery and control over the situation – building a sense of Personal Power (Asset #37) and should make it much easier for him to get on the bus the next morning.

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