Healthy Living: School Phobia 

How to Recognize, How to CopeBy: Dr. David PrescottTimes of change and transition often mean excitement and anticipation. However, thinking about an upcoming change can also bring on stress, worry, and anxiety. For some children and teenagers, returning to school can bring on such intense worry that they develop an unhealthy avoidance of school. The causes of school phobia often differ between young children and older children or teenagers. In either case, some extra support and help can often help them overcome their fears. When Does Fear of School Become Excessive? It is normal for children and teenagers to worry. A recent study reported that 70% of children say they “worry every now and then.” Worries about school are also relatively normal. But for some children, school worries lead to not wanting to go to school or to a need for excessive reassurance about leaving home. Repeated episodes of trying to avoid school, or even missing school due to anxiety, is usually a sign of a more significant problem. Normal Transition Challenges – Elementary vs. Middle School: Helping your child overcome their anxiety about going to school will work best if you understand the likely cause of the anxiety. For elementary school students, anxiety about school or reluctance to go often has to do with separation from home. A child’s worries about things that are unfamiliar or unknown are often the source of the problem. For middle school students, the transition from elementary to middle school is often accompanied by struggles in keeping up with more difficult work and the focus on peer relationships. Research shows that many students experience an initial academic challenge when they start middle school. And, relationships with peers are often an additional source of anxiety or problems that may lead to a child not wanting to go to school. What Causes School Phobia or School Avoidance? While every situation is unique, some common factors which contribute to school phobia include: · Separation anxiety for young children: Particularly for children in their first or second year of school, the primary issue in school phobia is often difficulty with separation from a parent. · Fear of the unknown: Transitions to new schools often cause more stress than schools that are familiar.· Bullying or problems with friends: If school phobia develops during the middle of a year, it is important to find out if your child is being bullied or having conflicts with others. · Social Anxiety for Teenagers: Social phobia, or social anxiety, involves an intense fear of being embarrassed when talking to others. It often emerges in late teenage years, and can contribute to school phobia. What Can Parents Do to Help? A few common sense tips can help your child cope with any excessive fears of school. · For children of all ages, show interest: Listen, give encouragement, and ask questions. · For younger children, get on the bus with a friend. This can help children not feel so alone. · For children entering a new school, visit the school Help your child learn the layout and, if possible, meet their teacher. · If your child suddenly becomes stressed about school: Children may suddenly develop worries, resistance, or minor physical ailments once school has already started. Try to find out if something has changed such as problems with friends or a difficult class. · Organize the night before. If your child is anxious about going to school, try not to make the trip out the door full of stress and last minute running around. · Talk to a mental health professional or school counselor if your child begins missing school or leaving early due to stress or worry.