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School Phobia and Anxiety in Young Children

School phobia is sometimes known as ‘school refusal’ because the child refuses to go to school. It is a complicated and severe form of anxiety about going to school, not of
the school itself.

The disorder can have many different causes and sometimes includes related anxiety disorders such as selective mutism and agoraphobia. Possible indications of the disorder include fatigue, stomach-aches, shaking and nausea with numerous trips to the bathroom.

One of the most common causes of school phobia is separation anxiety as the child cannot easily contemplate being apart from the parents and other family members. This often occurs in children from six to eight years of age.

Children over the age of eight are more likely to be diagnosed as having social phobia as the anxiety is more about their performance in school. They become anxious that they won’t perform well if asked to read in front of the class or to play games.

Children with anxieties about attending school are likely to suffer panic attacks if forced to go to class. This makes them fear having another panic attack increasing the possibility of the need for treatment.

For older children who have been in school for a few years, or who have had a summer break, returning to school can be a traumatic experience. They may not feel welcomed there any longer because their friendships might have changed by moving to a different classroom or going to a new school.

Or they may have become used to being at home and being close the parents. And the thought of suddenly going back to school can cause feelings of insecurity and anxiety.
Some of the possible causes of school phobia can be starting school for the first time or being bullied by the older children. The most common cause of school phobia among the older children is moving to a new area and having to make new friends and meet new teachers.

Some children have a specific sensitivity to school phobia because of a medical condition such as Asperger Syndrome and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
Children diagnosed with Asperger syndrome need to be dealt with differently as compared to children without the Asperger syndrome. For example, teaching them relaxation techniques can make them more anxious because they fear they won’t perform well.

School phobia is a treatable disorder if diagnosed early. Most major cities offer free child and adolescent mental health services with a referred from the school nurse or counsellor.