As carefree summer vacation draws to a close, be aware of DIDASKALEINOPHOBIA (fear of going to school). School avoidance, school refusal and school phobia are more common terms interchangeably used to describe a constellation of behaviors occurring among 1-5% of school aged children. School avoidance occurs most often in 5 to 6 year olds and 10 to 11 year olds. Rates are similar among boys and girls. The behaviors happen after a prolonged break like vacation, returning to school after an illness or after a traumatic event the child or family has incurred.
Behaviors among 5 to 6 year olds
- Clingy to parent/caregiver. Child refuses to separate from parent at car or door to school
- Temper tantrums
- Excessive crying
- Vague complaints like sore throat, headache, stomach
Behaviors amount 10 to 11 year olds
- Openly defiant, angry
- Sleep disruption
- Appetite change
- Trying to run away
These behaviors are meant to be generally descriptive and not exhaustive in nature. Children are rapidly changing both physically and emotionally. Many times the behaviors listed above cross over from one age group to another.
- Behaviors arise most commonly when transitions are happening to a different teacher, new school or changing grades
- Overly protective, anxious parent
- Highly sensitive, emotional child
- Child fears parent’s well-being and safety (for real or imagined reasons)
- Past history of trauma with child or family
- Underlying medical or psychiatric condition
- Victim of bullying
- Academic Challenges
- Poor self-esteem/confidence
- Fear of weather
- Recognize and be aware of your own anxiety, worry and fear. Children frequently mirror the emotional tone of their caregiver. Family stress (such as martial conflict, financial trouble, physical/emotional illness, moving) can inadvertently be transferred on to the child.
- Arrange a school tour BEFORE school begins to familiarize surroundings and teachers. This helps begin a relationship with school personnel and will help lessen the stress and anticipatory anxiety.
- Identify the source of the child’s distress and act accordingly.
- The actual physical transition to school can be the most challenging and difficult. You may have to leave your child crying but eventually the crying will subside.
- Speak with other parents/family members/caregivers to learn from their experiences. You are NOT alone.
- Consult with a healthcare professional as needed.
- Encourage children to talk about their fears and worries. Talking about it is a way to build healthy coping skills and further the child/caregiver bond.
- Contact your Employee Assistance Program through work for resources available.
- For younger children, give them a small meaningful object (like a photograph or inexpensive piece of jewelry) which can serve as an emotional “security blanket”. Confirm this is ok with school policies.
- Talk with school counselors about how to best handle the situation and ask for their help.
- Remember to always focus on your child’s strength.
School (both learning and socialization aspects) should be a fun, exciting time for your child and family. Staying positive will help ensure your child to have a successful school year. If we can be of further assistance, contact us at: MehraVista Healthat (866) 864-2007.