What to Do When Your Child Is Anxious About School

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Marcia (not her real name) was having serious issues with her son who refused to go to school.  Some days, he refused to go. Other days, he’d walk to the bus stop and just disappear. Later in the day, the school would call her to inform her that her son had never shown up.  After being contacted by a truancy officer, Marcia knew that she had to do something about her son’s behavior.  Marcia took her son to a counselor who diagnosed him with school phobia.

About 5-10% of American school children suffer from school phobia according to experts.  School phobia is a type of anxiety disorder.  Children who develop this type of phobia become obsessed with avoiding school in an effort to reduce their anxiety.  Some children with school phobia also develop panic attacks when they attend school.  About 1% of children develop serious problems with school phobia.  School phobia is highest in children ages 11-14.

Symptoms of school phobia can include: stomach pains, intestinal discomfort, vomiting, headaches, chest pain and panic attacks.  Eventually, many children with school phobia become tardy or truant in an effort to relieve their anxiety about school attendance.  Most experts agree that the key to helping your child overcome school phobia is to deal with it soon after the onset of symptoms.  It’s best to find a mental health care professional who is experienced in dealing with school phobia.  The best cure for school phobia is school attendance.  The longer your child remains out of school, the greater the problem will become.

Why does school phobia occur? Most children with the disorder are dealing with some sort of trauma at home, trauma at school, or both. Traumatic events at home which can trigger school phobia can include divorce, death, severe illness of a family member, or a move. Examples of trauma that can occur at school which can trigger the phobia include: excessive teasing, bullying, school violence, difficulty in school, and learning disabilities.

Cheryl’s son was constantly being teased about the fact that he was short and thin.  Although he excelled in school, he eventually refused to go.  Cheryl, a teacher herself, decided to take her son to counseling where he was given medication for his anxiety.  Cheryl also contacted his teachers and they developed a plan to help him overcome the social issues with which he was struggling and to re-integrate him into the school environment.  After many months of therapy and re-integration to school, her son is doing moderately well.  Cheryl is cautiously optimistic about her son’s improvement.

Sometimes, you may need to seek out alternative educational options for your child. Faith (not her real name) was having difficulties at both school and home.  Faith’s parents were in the middle of an extremely nasty divorce. Due to the divorce, Faith changed schools mid-year.  She had a hard time fitting in at her new school and was being teased by students in her class because of her learning disabilities. Faith’s mother took her for counseling to get help for her daughter.  She eventually went to her teachers and the guidance counselor for help at the suggestion of the counselor, but the school was not willing to address the issues causing Faith’s anxiety.  Faith’s mother explored other educational options for her daughter and Faith is now attending a small school designed to address the needs of children with learning disabilities.  She is doing much better, and her mother is relieved.

After witnessing a violent episode between two students in the high school hallways, Angel (not his real name), became concerned about attending school.  When he received threats from the other boys in his class, he became fearful about going to school.  Angel’s mom had him transferred to another school, but his anxiousness increased.  Eventually, she enrolled him in a virtual charter school.  Angel is doing well in school now and he enjoys attending the activities that his charter school teacher co-ordinates for social opportunities for her students.

As you can see, there are a number of different solutions to the problem.  It all depends upon your child and the cause of his or her anxiety. School phobia is not easy to treat, but given time and the help of caring professionals both in the school and mental health fields, it is possible to help your child overcome school phobia.


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