ERIC Identifier: ED260368
Publication Date: 1984-00-00
Author: Frenza, Mary
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Counseling and Personnel Services Ann Arbor MI.

Selected Issues in Elementary Guidance. Highlights: An ERIC/CAPS Fact Sheet.

Many of the problems which interfere with the elementary educational experience arise from difficulties outside the school. Some are the result of such changes in the traditional family structure and function as increased numbers of working mothers with school-age children, higher divorce/separation rates, increased numbers of single-parent families, and increased geographic mobility.

Other problems may stem more specifically from ineffective parent-child relationships. Whatever the source, the elementary school counselor is in a unique position to help students, school personnel, families, and the community to work toward overcoming these difficulties.


School phobia is defined as absence from school because of emotional disturbance in the child. Family relationships are clearly involved, and the phobic reaction often stems from separation anxiety, based on exaggerated parent-child dependencies.

Diagnostic criteria for school phobia include: morbid fear of school; somatic complaints such as nausea, headaches, drowsiness; disruptive school behavior; and prolonged absence, where the child stays at home with the parents' knowledge and, to some extent, cooperation.


The behavioral approach is the most practical way for the school counselor to be involved in treating school phobia. The behavior intervention plan formulated for practicing mental health specialists by Blagg (1981) incorporates the following steps.

l. A detailed clarification of the problems, involving elimination of possible medical causes and identification and investigation of precipitating and maintaining factors

2. Desensitization of child and parent worries

3. Elimination of maintaining factors through contingency management (parent education is important in this phase)

4. Return to full-time attendance even if it must be forced

5. Follow-up to monitor subsequent absences


Nearly 6 million children, aged 5-13, are involved each year in moving. For many, moving is not a new experience; research indicates that families who have moved several times are more likely to move again than families who have never moved.

Although the effects of geographic relocation are not clear, moving requires new students to face several difficulties: problems of integration because of delayed records; peer rejection until they win acceptance through a system they must first discover; adjustment to an unknown building, principal, and teacher; and adjustment to a different curriculum. On the positive side, there is evidence that young children benefit from moving by gaining self-reliance and adaptability.


How effectively young children cope with moving can be influenced by the assistance they receive. Counselors can work to develop a systematic program for dealing with new students. The following steps have been found to be successful:

l. A planned, prompt transfer of records, within and between school districts, to ensure continuity in the educational process

2. An orientation program for all new students and their families

3. Guided discussion in the classroom or in group counseling sessions, to help students acquire understanding and empathy for the difficulties new students encounter. Student-generated ideas for helping, growing out of such discussions, are more likely to be carried out


Latchkey children are those left in self-care or in the care of a sibling under 14 years of age for a significant portion of most days, usually 2-3 hours (sometimes longer). While the exact number is uncertain, a conservative estimate suggests that at least 25% (possibly 6 million) of school-age children with working parents are in self-care regularly.

Interviews with latchkey children, parents of latchkey children, and former latchkey children from all socioeconomic groups reveal a common set of concerns and experiences. The children express unusually high levels of fear (of assault, noises, the dark, storms), loneliness, and boredom. These feelings are related to the safety restrictions imposed by parents (for example, going straight home from school, staying inside, having no friends over). Parents expressed feelings of guilt and concern for their children's safety.


School counselors can help latchkey children, without being seen as judgmental of the parents or interfering in family arrangements. When possible, the counselor should identify students in self-care. Group and individual counseling can help them express and deal with their fears.

Survival skills training, including steps for dealing with emergencies, can be incorporated into the curriculum for children and offered as parent education programs. Numerous publications are available on this subject, some specifically for latchkey families. Basic child care/development instruction can be given to help older siblings left in charge.

On a broader scale, counselors can actively seek to bring about community and system changes that will alleviate the problems of latchkey children. Examples of exising programs include after-school care programs (not just more school), check-in programs, and after-school call-in lines to provide help in problem solving, emergency assistance, or simply listening and responding.


It has been estimated that by 1990, one-half of all children will spend at least some time in a single-parent family. Research on children's adjustment to changes in family structure has shown the following to be influential: age at the time of change, quality of the relationship with one or both parents, the reasons a child attributes to one parent's absence, and the attitude of others toward the changed family structure.

For elementary school children, research has identified several possible changes in personality, behavior, and academic performance: feelings of helplessness, fear of abandonment, and loneliness; increased attention-seeking behavior, aggressiveness, and rebellion; increased restlessness, daydreaming, and difficulties in concentration; and decreased cognitive functioning as measured by IQ, achievement and scholastic tests.


A review of current literature yields suggestions for ways in which counselors can help children, parents, and school systems deal with the problems facing single parent families:

--Implement group and peer counseling sessions in the school setting for children of single-parent families; ensure that children do not feel stigmatized or singled out for their participation

--Initiate inservice training for teachers and other school personnel to provide information on changing family patterns and to help eliminate bias and stereotypes toward single-parent families

--Provide counseling groups for parents and children

--Update school records to include information about the non-custodial parent and whether or not he/she should obtain report cards, school notices, and other information.

--Promote school functions that do not require the presence of a parent of a specified sex, or attendance during the parents' working day.


Blagg, N. R. "A Behavioral Approach to School Refusal." BEHAVIOR MODIFICATION IN EDUCATION, PERSPECTIVES, 5. University of Exeter: School of Education, 1981.

Hale, L. C. DIVORCE AND SINGLE-PARENT FAMILY COUNSELING. SEARCHLIGHT PLUS 26+. Ann Arbor, MI: ERIC Clearinghouse on Counseling and Personnel Services, 1983. ED 165 083.

Klungness, L., and L. Long. "The Diagnosis and Behavioral Treatment of School Phobia." TECHNIQUES: A JOURNAL OF REMEDIAL EDUCATION AND COUNSELING 1 (1984):31-38.

Long, T. J., and L. Long. LATCHKEY CHILDREN. Urbana, IL: ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education, 1984. ED 226 836.

Riley, B. EDUCATION AND THE CHILDREN OF ONE-PARENT FAMILIES: A BACKGROUND PAPER. Winnipeg: Manitoba Department of Education, Planning and Research Branch, 1981. ED 222 838.

Smardo, F. A. "Geographic Mobility: How Do We Help Children Cope?" CHILDHOOD EDUCATION 51 (1981):40-45.

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