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Just yesterday, my friend said to me, “I don’t know what’s going on. My son absolutely hates school. He’s acting really strange, and I don’t know what to do.”
He just entered a new school, away from his longtime friends -- one potential trigger for what some are calling “school phobia.” This fear hits two to five percent of kids, according to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America.
Never heard of it? The symptoms are similar to adult anxiety disorder, and are most typical in kids ages seven and older: nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, headaches, exhaustion and lethargy. Michele Borba, Ed.D, iVillage parenting expert and author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions says school phobia hits not only during school transition times, such as my friend’s son’s, but is also triggered by test anxiety, class being too hard, death of a grandparent or any other personal trauma.
“If you don’t get a hold of school phobia right away, it will get worse,” says Borba. If you suspect your kid is going through it, here's what she says you should do:
- Play detective. Volunteer to go on a field trip; bring cupcakes or find some other excuse to go to the school. While you're there, stay neutral and watch with your radar on. How is your child doing in relation to others? Do you see same personality in class as you do at home? The teacher is obviously the goldmine, but it could be someone else who knows your child well.
- Call the school psychologist. School phobia is an anxiety disorder and can be treated with cognitive behavioral therapy, and also by removing the major stressors (sometimes this means changing classrooms).
- Avoid jumping to conclusions. Don’t assume if your child has a bad day, he has school phobia. “It could be that her boyfriend dumped her or she has a test coming up or she knows she has to do that oral report and hates going in front of a group,” Borba says. “That’s normal and temporary. School phobia lasts.”
Have you experienced school phobia with your child? How did you deal with it? Chime in below!