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School Phobia in Children

School Phobia: How Can I Help My Child Cope With This Condition?

If your child appears to be nervous about going to school, frequently skips school or simply refuses to go to school, then he/she may be suffering from school phobia, also known as school avoidance. A phobia is characterized as an intense and/or unrealistic fear of an object, person, situation, animal and/or idea. Undiagnosed and untreated phobias can lead to anxiety, panic attacks and/or depression. A school phobia typically begins during the ages of five and seven years old, but it can also arise earlier or later then this time frame.

It is not uncommon for teenagers to experience school phobia. If your child suffers from school phobia, you may first notice it after he/she has been absent from school for a lengthy time due to an illness (chickenpox, the flu, etc.) and/or after returning from a vacation.  It is important to understand that going to school may be traumatic for your child so it important to get him/her the help he/she needs a quickly as possible. 

Causes

The exact cause of school phobia varies depending on the child, but separation anxiety (the fear of being separated from a loved one, even for brief amount of time) may play a significant role in the development and progression of this condition. In other words, your child may develop school phobia because he/she is afraid of being away from you. In reverse, if your child sees how upset you are about being separated from him/her, he/she may develop school phobia. No child wants to see his/her parents distressed so he/she may develop a fear of going to school because he/she does not want you to be upset.

Other possible causes of school phobia include:

Illnesses and Medical Conditions

Accidents and Injuries

Family-Related Deaths

Divorce

A New Baby

A Blended Family

Moving (Schools, Homes and/or Locations)

Criticism and Ridicule from Peers

Fear of Authority Figures (Teachers, Principals, Coaches, etc.)

Fear of Gym Class (Undressing and/or Showering in Front of Peers)

Warning Signs

If you child suffers from school phobia, he/she may cry uncontrollably when it is time to go to school. In fact, you may find it almost impossible to get your child out of bed, ready for school and on the bus. If you try to force him/her to go to school, he/she may sneak out of school or run away until school has competed for the day. Moreover, your child may complain of dizziness, headaches, stomachaches, body aches, heart palpitations, nausea, diarrhea, shakiness and vomiting when it is time to go to school.

School phobia is a real condition that can interfere with your child’s daily functioning. In addition, you may notice that your child becomes despondent and/or angry when it is time to go to school. He/she may isolate himself/herself from peers and have trouble focusing at school. Furthermore, it can also lead to depression, social isolation and anxiety later in life.

Other warning signs that your child suffers from school phobia:

Excessive Tardiness

Frequently Absences

Early Morning Psychosomatic Illnesses

Constant Peer-Related and/or Teacher-Related Complaints

School-Related Crying and/or Tantrums

Unrealistic Reasons For Wanting To Miss School

Treatments

A school phobia is typically treated with a combination of medication and counseling.

The following medications can help your child manage this condition:

Anti-Anxiety Medications: Anti-anxiety medications may help reduce your child’s school-related nervousness, anxiety and fear.

Anti-Depressants: It is common for children with school phobia to experience depression. Anti-depressants can reduce your child’s depression symptoms.

Mood Stabilizers: If your child has a school phobia, he/she may be happy one moment and depressed and/or angry the next. Mood stabilizers can regulate your child’s moods.

Psycho-stimulants: If your child’s school phobia causes him/her to experience inattention and/or unexplained fatigue, psycho-stimulants can improve your child’s energy and help him/her focus while at school.

Sedatives: Irregular sleep patterns can trigger a school phobia, in some children. Sedatives can be used at night to calm your child and help him/her sleep better.

The following psychotherapies can help your child manage this condition:

Family Therapy: A family therapist can help your child work through his/her school phobia. During a family therapy session, a mental health professional (counselor, social worker, therapist, psychiatrist or psychologist helps you, your child and your family understand what is causing the school phobia. He/she also teaches you how recognize the signs and how to effectively manage your child’s condition.

Group Therapy: During group therapy, your child attends counseling sessions with other children who have a school phobia. During these therapy sessions, a mental health professional helps your child, along with others in the group, come up with effective ways to cope with their fear of going to school.

Individual Therapy: Your child may also benefit from individual therapy sessions. During individual therapy, your child attends one-on-one counseling sessions with a mental health professional. The therapist, social worker, psychiatrist, counselor or psychologist teaches your child how to handle his/her school phobia so that he/she can excel at school.

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