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School phobia, an insidious evil not to be taken lightly

Your child has a stomach ache every morning, complains of migraines or nausea and refuses to go to school? Before calling him lazy, make sure he doesn’t suffer from school phobia, a serious disorder that affects 1 to 5% of students and can have dramatic consequences.

What is a school phobia?

Stomach aches on Monday morning, stress before a test… everyone has experienced these symptoms at some point in their schooling.

School phobia, also known as anxious school refusal, can be defined as an aggravated version of these disorders.

It must be considered as a serious pathology, because it gradually leads to school drop-out: the child no longer manages to overcome his fears and refuses to go to school, college or high school. In spite of threats, he refuses to leave the house, or turns back on the way to school, or leaves the classroom to take refuge in the infirmary where the somatic symptoms that accompany this school phobia are treated.

Indeed, school phobia often leads to associated somatic symptoms: dizziness, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, tachycardia…

Do not confuse school phobia with disinterest in school or antisocial tendencies.

It is very important to make the difference between a real school phobia and a refusal to go to school simply because of a lack of interest in schooling or because the child has an antisocial, rebellious, violent attitude, running away from home and getting into fights.

The child who suffers from a real school phobia is often a good student before the disorder is revealed. He takes an interest in his studies, gets involved in school… Moreover, when the first signs appear, the child does not hide his absences from school, he makes believe that he is sick and, most of the time, the parents, more worried than angry, cover him with words of apology.

Then, little by little, absences increase and the child is unable to return to school despite threats, negotiation or the gentle manner used by his parents. He refuses to leave the house, cuts off contact with his friends, stops playing sports and becomes increasingly isolated.

This behavior, which disrupts the family balance, shows deep psychological suffering.

What are the causes of school phobia?

There are 2 main causes of school phobia: separation anxiety and generalized anxiety disorder.

Separation anxiety

It occurs most often in young children and can be defined by a panic fear that one (or both) parents will die during school hours or that the child himself will be involved in an accident on the way to school.

Usually, this anxiety stems from a very specific situation: a death, a move, the parents’ divorce or sometimes even the departure of a teacher.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

It is more common in adolescents. Rather, it manifests itself as an inordinate amount of anxiety about school issues. This disorder is sometimes accompanied by acute stress and mood disorders (withdrawal, anger…). Obviously, this problem is aggravated by the pressure put on the child by those around him (or sometimes simply by himself) about his school results: the young person prefers not to go to school rather than get a bad grade.

Other psychological causes or those related to classroom events can also lead to school phobia. The fear of going to class may be motivated by a problem of harassment or racketeering. The “Turkish head” phenomenon is also involved, particularly with the multiplication of social networks and cell phones, which often give it a magnitude that did not exist before (mockery or threats on Facebook, for example).

Disorders associated with school phobia

Although not to be confused with school phobia, some disorders may accompany it:

  • depression, with permanent sadness, a general slowing down, a lack of interest in everything, dark thoughts…
  • obsessive-compulsive disorders: repeated rituals gradually invade the child’s daily life: washing hands, specific organization of objects, closing doors, etc.
  • Agoraphobia (fear of open spaces or crowds)
  • hyperactivity
  • Schizophrenia that sets in during adolescence: the child presents memory and concentration problems, becomes bizarre with inappropriate speech or behaviour, or even hallucinations.

What to do in case of school phobia?

The child’s care must be comprehensive: parents, doctor but also school establishment in order to avoid recourse to distance learning. We try, as far as possible, not to take the child out of school.

An individualized integration project must be set up with all the actors and, in particular, with the child who must set his therapeutic follow-up and his school objectives.

If the child really cannot go to school, pedagogical support can be offered at home.

On the medical side, medication is generally not used (except in cases of depression or associated psychiatric problems).

However, psychotherapy is essential; it can be individual but also family-based.

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