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“I don’t wanna to go to school.” This is a plea many parents hear from their child at the beginning of the school year. All you want is your child to get dressed, eat breakfast and happily skip off to school. Instead, mornings have become a battle as your child refuses to leave the house.
It’s common for a child to feel nervous about returning to school. Sometimes back-to-school anxiety resolves itself pretty quickly once kids get back into the typical routine. But other times, anxiety lingers.
A child who refuses to attend school is often struggling with intense emotional difficulty. Anxiety-based school refusal affects two to five percent of school-age children. It usually happens around ages 5-6 and 10-11, and at times of transition, such as entering a new school.
How does school anxiety show itself? Shortly before it’s time to leave for school, your child may complain about physical symptoms like headache or stomachache, or even have tantrums or experience panic attacks. These symptoms usually disappear quickly if your child is allowed to stay home. At school, your child may repeatedly ask to visit the school nurse.
Other signs that your child may be experiencing school anxiety include:
Your child may be very open about their level of distress regarding attending school and ask you to call school and report them as “sick.” If you give in, you may truly believe you’re acting in your child’s best interest. In reality, the anxiety may increase.
Missing school reinforces fear and anxiety rather than alleviating it. Through avoidance, your child lowers their ability to tolerate distress, and it will become increasingly more difficult to go to school. Serious educational or social problems can develop if your child’s anxiety keeps them away from school for any length of time.
Your child needs to learn that avoiding problems is not a healthy long-term solution. As a parent, you can take this opportunity to help your child learn how to manage difficult situations — a skill they will need in adulthood.
Here are some ways to help your child develop strategies for coping with school anxiety:
Get more strategies to help ease your child’s back-to-school jitters.
Over time, if your child continues to struggle with school anxiety, seek help. Talk with your child’s pediatrician or family medicine physician, who may refer you to a behavioral health professional.
Learn about school refusal treatment programs at Linden Oaks Behavioral Health.
Learn more about children's services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.
Need a family medicine physician or pediatrician for your child? Get started here.
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