When illness is actually avoidance

January 31, 2012 | Posted in: Early Learners, Elementary, High School, Middle Years

The symptoms seem mild: headache, stomachache, fatigue. But the complaints are fairly regular – and typically surface on school days.

If there are no obvious signs of illness, such as fever or vomiting, and a check with your pediatrician rules out physical factors, your child could be suffering from what psychologists call “school avoidance.” School avoidance is a child’s reaction to real or perceived pressures at school.

Among the issues that can trigger school avoidance:

  • anxiety about school work
  • fear of failure
  • problems with other children (teasing)
  • perception that a teacher is “mean”
  • threats of physical harm (from a bully)
  • actual physical harm

What can you do?

  1. Talk to your children about the reasons they don’t want to go to school. Ask them if there are any situations that are making them anxious. Be specific, such as, “Is someone giving you a hard time during lunch?” Give your child strategies to help resolve the issue.
  2. Enlist the help of school staff. Talk to his teachers, the principal and school nurse about the situation. The school nurse can help your child if he develops symptoms while in school and encourage him to return to class.
  3. If your child is being bullied, school intervention is necessary. Talk to school staff to determine if measures can be taken to ease the pressure on your child in the classroom or elsewhere at school. Be an advocate for your child.
  4. Let your children know you understand their concerns, but insist they return to school. Remind them that attending school is required by law, and the longer the absence, the more difficult it will be to return. Be encouraging but firm.

If school avoidance persists, talk to your child’s pediatrician. A consultation with a child psychiatrist or psychologist may be recommended.

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