to school usually is an exciting, enjoyable event for young
children. For some it brings fear or panic. Parents have cause
for concern when their child regularly feels sick from tension,
"plays sick" or with minor physical complaints wishes to stay
home from school. Not wanting to go to school is most common
in children 5-7 and 11-14, times when children are dealing
with the new challenges of elementary and middle school. These
children may suffer from a paralyzing fear of leaving the
safety of their parents and home. The child's panic and refusal
to go to school is very difficult for parents to cope with,
but these fears can be treated successfully, with professional
to go to school often begins following a period at home in
which the child has become closer to the parent, such as a
summer vacation, a holiday break, or a brief illness. It also
may follow a stressful occurrence, such as the death of a
pet or relative, a change in schools, or a move to a new neighborhood.
may complain of a headache, sore throat, or stomach-ache shortly
before it is time to leave for school. The "illness" subsides
after the child is allowed to stay home, only to reappear
the next morning before school. In some cases the child may
simply refuse to leave the house.
with an unreasonable fear of school may:
are common among children with separation anxiety disorder.
unsafe staying in a room by themselves
excessive worry and fear about parents or about harm to
the mother or father around the house
difficulty going to sleep
exaggerated, unrealistic fears of animals, monster, burglars
being alone in the dark, or
severe tantrums when forced to go to school
long-term effects (anxiety and panic disorder as an adult)
are serious for a child who has persistent fears and does
not receive professional assistance. The child may develop
serious educational or social problems if away from school
and friends for an extended period of time.
and child can benefit from seeing a child and adolescent psychiatrist,
who will work with them in an effort to immediately return
the child to school and other important daily activities.
Since the panic comes from leaving home rather than being
in school, frequently the child is calm once in school. Refusal
to go to school in the older child or adolescent is generally
a more serious illness, and often requires more intensive
fears about leaving the home and parents can be successfully
treated, and parents should not hesitate to seek professional
help. The child's physician can refer the parents to a child
and adolescent psychiatrist.
information see Facts for Families
Anxious Child," and
Disorder in Children and Adolescents."
#7 Updated 11/98