For most children, a new school year brings the end of boredom which may have set in and the beginning of a new year filled with friends, social activities, sports, and learning. But for others, approximately 1% of school aged children, returning to school after summer break is a terrifying experience.
Anxiety related school refusal or school phobia is a very real problem for many families. Often, the child complains of stomach aches, headaches, . . . and adamantly refuses to attend school. Other times there are calls home from the nurse’s office due to similar complaints. These physical symptoms, which may very well feel real, often come not from a physical cause, but from anxiety.
School fears for young children are often related to anxiety about separating from a parent. Worries include what will happen to the parent or the child during the separation.
Another type of fear occurs when children are fearful of the school environment. These students may set very high expectations for themselves and fear failure or imperfection. They may worry about not fitting in, or about not feeling safe. Especially after last year’s incidences of violence, these fears are not easily set aside. Often labeled truants, the child who experiences these fears is not a bad, lazy or irresponsible kid. On the contrary, these children are generally experiencing intense anxiety.
Remember, the key to success is firm and loving limit setting by parents, gradual exposure to the classroom, and therapy to teach children and families coping skills, lessen anxiety, and help the child to be successful in the job of going to school.
Understand that physical symptoms of anxiety feel very real
Send the child to school every day
Reinforce that you and the child will be fine during the school day
Schedule a physical exam to rule out physical problems
Limit exposure to violence in the media, including the news
Be ‘matter of fact’ that the child will attend school daily, except for fever
Seek help from school counselor/teachers
Let child stay home/come home from school unless ill
Expect child to take on adult roles
Show anxiety yourself about school
Punish the child for being afraid to attend school
Therapy appointments are available in our offices near Pittsburgh in Wexford, Robinson Township and Squirrel Hill.