As a fun summer comes to an end, butterflies nerves fill the bellies of many children as they get dressed for their first day back to school. Parents assure their child that they will do “just fine.” For most children that's where the anxiety ends; they reach the classroom, catch up with their friends and get on with their day. But for some children, the anxiety of leaving home and going to school is so overwhelming that they are unable to attend school at all; these children have become school phobic.

About 5-10% of American school children suffer from a mild form of what is commonly known as school phobia. About 1% suffer from a more severe form, leading to serious problems and school absenteeism. Chronic school absenteeism leads to greater risk for problems in later life - alcohol abuse, criminal behavior, underemployment and even marital problems.

School phobia isn't just about a child having a tummy ache when it's time for a long division test, but a serious, long-term anxiety disorder that's on the increase, particularly among young children. School phobia is now a condition recognized by the National Phobic Society.

Causes of School Phobia

In the under-eights school phobia is usually attributed to separation anxiety - the child's unwillingness to be parted from a parent. In the over-eights it's usually about having uncomfortable feelings about school - this could be to do with friendships, fear of under-performing or a more general lack of self-esteem. In some cases home or family factors can play a role; for example, if there is an illness in the family, a recent divorce or if one parent is stressed or depressed.
The phobia can be triggered by general anxiety about school or a single traumatic event; a change of school, an embarrassing incident in class, a learning difficulty or returning to school after an illness are all recognized triggers. Symptoms can be physical as well as psychological. Children may suffer panic attacks, vomit or become withdrawn and socially phobic - real physical reactions to their unhappiness.

Other Possible Triggers for School Phobia

Being bullied.
Starting school for the first time.
Moving to a new area and having to start at a new school and make new friends or just changing schools.
Being off school for a long time through illness or because of a holiday.
Bereavement (of a person or pet).Feeling threatened by the arrival of a new baby.

Having a traumatic experience such as being abused, being raped.
Witnessed a tragic event.
Problems at home such as a member of the family being very ill.
Problems at home such as marital rows, separation and divorce.
Violence in the home or any kind of abuse; of the child or of another parent.
Not having good friends (or any friends at all).
Feeling unpopular
Feeling an academic failure.
Fearing panic attacks when traveling to school or while in school.

School Phobia: What Parents Can Look For

Children with school phobia will be terrified of going to school and will be facing prolonged periods at home. For parents, it's a confusing time; they are torn between their child's misery and the need to get them educated. If your child has developed a phobia about school, he or she may have become withdrawn, will be making continued excuses for not going to school, and will probably be crying before school and during the school day. Sunday-afternoon syndrome may set in - the child will become miserable, anxious and tearful as the school week approaches.

How Parents Can Help A Child With School Phobia

If you think your child has developed a terror of school, talk to them and try to establish a root cause for their fears - try to unlock the problem in your child's mind. Encourage them to talk about their feelings: they might have difficulty talking about the source of their anxiety, so take time to listen and to empathize. The key to kicking school phobia is to reintroduce the child to school gradually.
If your child's symptoms are physical as well as psychological, you should talk to your GP and possibly get the child referred to a counselor. It's important that the child can discuss their fears - and talking things through with a third party is often easier on a child.
Reassure your child. Tell her that she will be fine once she has got over the part she dreads.
Explain that her fears are brought on by thoughts that are not true thoughts: she is reacting to normal things in an extreme way.
Tell her she is brave for going to school. Although her friends find it easy, she has a private battle she has to fight every school day.
Tell her you are proud of her for being so brave.
Tell her you love her.
Keep to the same routine. Make life boring for your child so that she has less to be anxious about (no surprise trips out).
Make her go to bed and get up at the same time every day (even on weekends) so that she has some secure framework to live around.
Find things that your child can look forward to each day.

Expert advice

Once you've talked to your child, then talk to the school. Meet with the school counselor, school psychologist or school social worker. Set up a meeting with one or all of these individuals and include at least one of your child’s teachers. Explore clues from home and school to determine how the child's needs are not being met. Schools, according to the National Phobic Society, need to be better informed about the condition and often treat it as a form of truancy. It’s important that parents involve the school from the start.

School phobia is clearly a very distressing condition for children and parents, but if the problem persists, there are lots of organizations that can help with counseling, home tuition and legal advice about school absence.

Author's Bio: 

Scott Wardell is the creator and author of ScottCounseling.com. ScottCounseling offers parents hundreds of free parenting articles and online e-mail counseling services. Scott Wardell is the SelfGrowth Official Guide to Child Development.

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