If your Child Dreads going to School

When children dread going to school, it is cause for concern.    Refusing to attend school has been associated with social phobia or separation anxiety disorder ; basically, it is great emotional distress such as anxiety or depression. It occurs more commonly among children beginning school between the ages of 5 to 6, at the beginning of their school years and the ages to 10-11 towards the end of elementary school.  It then crops up in middle school and can continue to the age of 17.

Specifically the National Health Information Center states that 13 out of every 100 children suffer from some form of anxiety. Examining the above age groups more closely, it is obvious that the anxieties are related to periods of school transitions (kindergarten to first grade, elementary to middle school, middle school to high school and finally, high school to the obligation of deciding what next).

The symptoms can be:

Complaints in the morning of headaches or stomachaches
Nausea or dizziness
Chest pain or joint pain

Of course these are symptoms which can accompany different illnesses.  That is why the parent must observe the child carefully to see if these are valid symptoms of an illness that needs treatment or due to some sort of anxiety.  As a rule, when it is the latter, once the child feels safe within the boundaries of the home, the symptoms disappear.

Other symptoms include the child gaining weight, preferring to stay inside, the afore mentioned complaints are not coupled by fever, vomiting or diarrhea and when the child is not in school  he/she is symptom free and generally, in a better mood. 

In some cases, the child may have recurring nightmares, worry unnecessarily or may be too attached to the family, especially the mother.   At this point it is wise to wonder about the underlying causes which vary from learning difficulties to a death in the family.

Separation anxiety:

This is naturally common among the first group of children who must give up the familiar home environment and move on to their first contact with a social environment; school.   It is basically the fear of being separated from the familiar but especially from parents. 

~If a parent has been ill or one of the parents has died, this, to a child, is a threat that while he/she is away something terrible may befall the parent at home. 

~If the parents are experiencing marital problems and there are fights carried out in front of the child; this causes insecurity and fear that something horrible may occur while the child is away.

~If the parents have separated, it may create the fear that the parent the child is with may not be home upon his/her return from school.

~If there is a smaller child at home, the kindergartner may be jealous that the sibling is receiving all of the mother’s care. 

~If the family has recently moved to a new neighborhood, the very young child may feel uprooted from his/her home while older children may be stressed about the new school and classmates; fitting in.

School provoked anxiety (which can lead to social phobia):

The school is the first place a child learns to interact with others within the first form of community.  It is therefore, essential to feel accepted in that community.

If the child is new to the school he/she may not have any friends leaving him/her out in the cold.

If the child has a problem finding his way around.  For some children it takes longer to become familiar with the school building and learning where things are; he/she may feel lost.

If undetected, learning difficulties may not only stress the child and parent as to what is actually happening and why, but it may also cause friction between him/her and the teacher.  This is especially true in older classes where some children with learning difficulties try to disguise their weaknesses by becoming the class clowns.  To them it is better to be ill-behaved than stupid.  Being impertinent, in their minds, is being brave since the rude student must face the consequences of such behavior.

If the child complains frequently of stomach aches and the desire to remain at home tucked away safely in bed, it is a sign he/she does not feel safe at school.   It is a sign of bullying.  Oftentimes victims of bullies complain at home about a particular bad boy/girl at school without reference to themselves. Most children who are bullied do not tell their parents or teachers for fear of acting cowardly or that if it is found out in school, the bully may hurt them in a worse way.

If the parents show great stress over the fact that the child refuses to go to school, it may further induce the child that there are sound reasons for his/her refusal to attend school; especially if the parents’ concern is not met with action towards solving the problem.

What to do:

1. The first thing to do, always, is to speak with the child.  As a matter of fact, parents who are close to their children in a positive manner usually do not face this problem.  What that entails is helping the child feel independent, relied on and providing feelings of security.

Speak with your child every day by asking about his/her experiences in school.  It may sound like this:

“How was your day?” 

“What was the most interesting/the most boring thing you did today?”

“Did you make any new friends?”

“Did you learn something new?”

“How was the new unit in English/Math/Science?  Did you understand the new phenomena?  Will you need my help?” 

Remember to listen to what the child replies.  Sometimes parents think they listen, but the mind strays off to adult problems, which in comparison, seem more important.

Responses may vary like:

“If you do need help, let me know.  I had problems in school on that subject, as a matter of fact.”

“I understand how scary some kids/subjects can be.”

“It’s okay to be scared.  Together we’ll take care of the problem.  Don’t worry.”

2.  Keep your own anxieties and fears about what the child is going through to yourself.  The child needs to know everything will work out and that his parents are strong people who can deal with it. 

3. Should the problems come from the family (divorce, separation, a change of neighborhoods, etc.) make certain to calm the child and show him/her how much you (both parents) love the child and no matter what his family will always be united and there for him/her.

4. In the case that the problem is in the school, develop a good relationship with the teacher by expressing your wish to cooperate so that there can be a smoother school year (even if at first it seems that the teacher is the source of the problem). 

Speak with him/her about the symptoms and about possible measures to take.   If the teacher does not know how to help, chances are you will both visit the school counselor for help.

5. Get it across to the child that you will always be at school to pick him up and if possible, arrive at school a little earlier so that the child can build faith in you.

6. Let the child know through action, not only verbally, that he/she means just as much to you as his/her new sibling.  Tell the child that you cannot wait until he/she returns so that you can listen to everything that went on at school.

7. Have the child take part in solving the problem (older ages).  By asking the opinion of the child as to what can be done, you are expressing your trust and respect in your offspring.  

This way you let the child know he/she is valued apart from helping to learn how to take matters in his/her own hands. This is especially important in the case of bullying.  Please click onto the link for further information or help on this serious problem.

Refusing to go to school is the façade of several underlying problems indeed, but with understanding, love and a proper investigation into the matter, it can soon be a thing of the past and a bonding experience for parent and child.